Exclusive Interview: Abbi Jacobson On The LEGO Ninjago Movie

Abbi Jacobson is one of the freshest voices in comedy with Broad City, and now she lends her voice to The LEGO Ninjago Movie. Jacobson plays Nya, the only female ninja in the film.

Nerd Report met Jacobson at LEGOland for the LEGO Ninjago Movie press junket. We were both impressed by the themed LEGO hotel rooms and the theme park. The LEGO Ninjago Movie opens Friday, September 22.

Nerd Report: Is this your first time at LEGOland?

Abbi Jacobson: Yes.

NR: What do you think?

Abbi Jacobson: I mean, so cool. I would’ve loved this as a kid.

NR: Disneyland doesn’t do themed rooms.

Abbi Jacobson: They should, but just being in the park for a second, it’s so cool to see big things built of LEGOs. It’s kind of unreal.

NR: How did you like playing this badass ninja warrior?

Abbi Jacobson: I mean, dream job. It’s the coolest. I have two young nieces and they’re a little bit too young to see this just yet but I felt like this is so cool to have, especially because she’s the only girl in the gang. Olivia’s in it but in the gang of ninjas, she’s the only girl. I’m excited to be hopefully a role model for young girls, and kids, and boys.

NR: Did you record your own fight noises?

Abbi Jacobson: I did. It was so fun. I lost my voice almost every time we recorded because it’s battle scenes. I was yelling and lots of grunts and stuff. So fun and also so bizarre to stand in a studio by yourself doing that.

NR: Would you do any risque takes for the guys in the sound booth?

Abbi Jacobso: Oh yeah. Sometimes it’s hard, especially if you’re improvising sometimes, and I’m used to improvising for my demo. So sometimes it’s like well, we can’t do that. And just if I would riff on something, there is such a level of humor you can’t cross because it is a kids movie.

NR: Did you play with LEGOs growing up?

Abbi Jacobson: Yes. It was one of my main toys. I loved LEGOs. I actually have a box before I got the movie at home. For a while I had them sitting out.

NR: What sort of things would you build?

Abbi Jacobson: As a kid, the two main things I remember building, they used to have, they might still have it, this pirate ship which was the biggest instructional thing I remember doing by myself and it was a big deal. I feel like it was very difficult. I actually think they must be so much more difficult now. They just look so much more intricate as the toy has evolved. The other thing I built which is so weird, I don’t understand why I did this, but do you remember banks used to do drive-through and to deposit a check, you could put it in this capsule and it would be suctioned up. So as a kid, I just thought that was the coolest, weirdest thing. So I built this whole bank, like a drive through bank, and you could also go in. There were cubicles and tellers and stuff. I think as a kid, the most basic, boring places that your parents take you are cool. Then you grow up and you’re like, “I hate going to this place.” So it’s just funny that that’s the thing I built.

NR: Did you play a chicken in the Master Wu short too?

Abbi Jacobson: Yes, which was a day of me just making chicken noises in emotional ways.

NR: How did that come about?

Abbi Jacobson: Charlie [Bean] just asked me to come in to do it, which is not something I ever thought I would do.

Exclusive Interview: The LEGO Ninjago Movie Director Charlie Bean

The LEGO Movie briefly touched on all the different LEGO worlds that are available for kids to build. The LEGO Ninjago Movie is a whole world set on the island of Ninjago, with Master Wu (Jackie Chan) leading the six ninjas to defeat Garmadon (Justin Theroux).

Charlie Bean makes his feature film debut directing The LGEO Ninjago Movie. Bean joined the cast at LEGOland for the film’s press junket, where Nerd Report got to sit down with him to discuss the making of the movie. The LEGO Ninjago Movie opens Friday, September 22.

Nerd Report: What theme is this room?

Charlie Bean: Looks like Indiana Jones maybe, I think. There’s a bunk bed in here if you want to do it from there.

NR: So is Meowthra all CG or some live-action cat?

CB: I don’t know, you tell me. There is a live-action Meowthra in the movie, but yeah, it’s a lot of CG work there. It’s very difficult.Meowthra

NR: I imagine there are some things you can’t train a cat to do?

CB: We were just talking about this. The cat that you see in the live-action footage at the beginning and end of the film is the same cat that we model the character after. We shot a bunch of footage of that cat, trying to get the cat to do stuff in a green screen set. Cats are not like dogs. You can’t train them to do things in the same way. They just do whatever they want to. They’re pretty difficult. She was quite the diva.

NR: How did you decide that LEGO Ninjago Movie should be a story about a son trying to connect with his absent father?

CB: That comes from the canon. We’ve got this story about Lloyd, the Green Ninja and his father is Garmadon. That goes all the way back to the show. I think that for early discussions with Chris and Phil, that seemed like the red meat to go after. That seems like such an emotional story there that that was the story we really wanted to tell because it had so much potential.

NR: Since there have been LEGO Ninjago cartoons before, were the voices established by other actors?

CB: In terms of casting, when you get into a big cinematic experience, we wanted to not just do the same thing that people have heard. We wanted to broaden what we could do with the cast and the voices. The characters are based on the television show but an opportunity to work with Jackie Chan, we leapt at that kind of thing, and bringing other comedic voices in too. And I mean that not in just the sounds of the voices but the comedic voices like Justin Theroux and Abbi Jacobson. These are all writers that brought a lot to the movie as comedic writers as well.

NR: How did you want Mark Mothersbaugh’s music for LEGO NINJAGO to be different from The LEGO Movie?

CB: Mark and I talked a lot about this and talked a lot about genre. We talked a lot about marital arts films and we looked at and listened to a lot of Shaw brothers movies. We looked at monster movies and genre stuff, like Godzilla and this kind of stuff. We looked at and started to access styles and go after genre stuff for these types of films. Ultimately, I think it came down to us thinking about theme and the themes for these different characters and that felt really fun. We had a theme for Lloyd and a theme for Garmadon and a theme for Wu and that started to take shape really thematically like that in a traditional score.

NR: How do you do the anime fight motion scene in brick form?

CB: You mean the speed lines when the dragon’s shooting missiles and things? That was a lot of different trial and error. I knew that the feel and the look that I wanted from that based on anime, stuff that I love and those types of films that I’m obsessed with and that stylistic choice of speed lines. I wanted to do a nod to that. I just love the way it feels and looks. So we tried lots of different techniques and how to do it. I knew I wanted to do it with bricks and do something that was physical. We do it with actual bricks racing past. It was strangely similar to how you do it in 2D. It’s not that dissimilar. The thought behind it, the technique behind it is based in the same theory.

NR: What classic martial arts movies were inspiration for The LEGO Ninjago Movie?

CB: So many. From Tai Chi Master and Drunken Master, The Shaolin Assassin, 36th Chamber of Shaolin, STephen Chow movies are so great. All Wu-Ping’s stuff, Jackie’s movies, Police Story, PRoject A, Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, The Five Deadly Venoms, Enter the Dragon. So many of these films. We were constantly watching these movies. They’re so great.

NR: When you chose the live-action martial-arts montages did you have to pick PG-friendly fight scenes?

CB: We found those little fight sequences on Shutterstock. The M.O. for those was what’s the cheapest version of a martial arts film first? That was the determining factor.

NR: Did you have fun creating the fake titles?

CB: Exactly, that is the fun of all those things, play on words. Judo Future Boy. The challenge to the editors, Doug and Todd who were with me on this movie from the very beginning worked on Batman, worked on The LEGO Movie, they have the spirit of these movies embodied in what they did in those sequences. Find funny footage and create a funny Kung Fu title to go with it.

Exclusive Interview: Dave Franco On The Lego Ninjago Movie

I went to LEGOland for the first time to cover the press junket for The LEGO Ninjago Movie. I stayed in a pirate room and got to see other Egyptian adventure themed rooms going from room to room interviewing the stars of the film. First up was Dave Franco who was equally impressed by LEGOland.

Franco plays Lloyd, the son of the villain Garmadon. Garmadon doesn’t know his son is the Green Ninja who leads the ninjas that foil each of his evil plans. They’re going to get a lot closer when a new adventure forces them to work together. The LEGO Ninjago Movie opens September 22 and we’ll have more interviews this week on Nerd Report.

Nerd Report: Have you ever been to LEGOland before?

Dave Franco: First time.

NR: Mine too.

Dave Franco: Yeah, what do you think?

NR: This is the most adorable hotel I’ve ever stayed at.

Dave Franco: It’s kind of surreal. It really is a kid’s dream.

NR: Are you staying in one of the rooms?

Dave Franco: I am not. They did not put us up here. Were you a huge LEGO fan as a kid?

NR: I think so.

Dave Franco: I think we all were at some point, right?

NR: I don’t think there was as much variety when I was a kid.

Dave Franco: I’m sure. I was just hearing the rooms were $500-700 a night. You’re really doing your kids a solid.

NR: Do you get to play with LEGOs while you’re making a LEGO movie?

Dave Franco: If you want to. No one’s stopping you. They definitely didn’t have LEGO kits in the recording booth with us but I probably would’ve played around with it if they did.

NR: What does it mean to you to do a movie that’s really for the whole family?

Dave Franco: It’s fun. Again, one of the brilliant things about these movies is that they play equally well to my nephews who are all under the age of five, as they do to my friends who are in their 30s. That’s a fine line to walk and something that’s very difficult to pull off but they do it really well. When I was recording, every joke, even if it’s technically a joke for kids, it’s really clever and well thought out and character driven. It never felt like I was doing a silly kids movie. It feels like I was performing for my friends who are my age. Just the jokes happen to work for all ages too.

NR: Did you do your own fight noises?

Dave Franco: Oh yeah, oh yeah. I remember they wanted me to do dragon noises for my dragon mech and they literally had me say “roar.” That did not make it in the movie, probably for the best. That was my scary dragon noise.

NR: You’re not only Lloyd, you’re the voice of the mech too?

Dave Franco: Exactly, I should be getting paid more.

NR: They always film your voice recording. Is it harder to see yourself in a LEGO minifigure?

Dave Franco: I think more than anything it’s a testament to the creative team behind these movies because essentially you’re watching these plastic figures that can’t move in many different ways. Yet, these movies elicit so many emotions from the audience. The writers and everyone involved really make very defined characters that you immediately fall in love with. Again, this is all working with plastic figures where they only have a handful of facial expressions.

NR: Do you see any of your expressions in Lloyd?

Dave Franco: That’s interesting. They claim that they tried to match my smile in a way. I don’t see it but if you ever watch the movie again, maybe look out for that. I think they’re conscious about trying to infuse some of our own physical traits and gestures into the characters.

NR: You may not have had a famous father but did your brother James have a reputation that preceded you in school?

Dave Franco: In school? Definitely in the industry. It’s been a double edged sword where he helped me get a manager which I don’t take for granted but from there on out, no one was going to hire me because I was his little brother and I didn’t want anybody to hire me for that reason. I’ve been trying to carve my own path for a long time now. I made a conscious decision to distance myself from him work-wise because I didn’t want everyone to associate me with him whenever I was working on a project. It took many, many years but I finally got to a point where I was like, “Screw it. I love my brother. We have very similar sensibilities. We work well together.” So we just started collaborating together recently. It’s been really fun.

NR: Did you go to the same schools as James?

Dave Franco: Yeah, yeah, we went to all the same schools growing up except he went to UCLA and I went to USC.

NR: Were you far enough a part that there was no shadow over you?

Dave Franco: Yeah, he’s seven years older than me. We were never actually in the same school at the same time.