By Marc Snetiker
February 08, 2019 at 11:00 AM EST
Warner Bros. Pictures; Inset: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

By now, the breathless animation style of every LEGO movie is a hallmark of the billion-dollar franchise — which only highlights just how unexpectedly, wildly, kinetically dynamic the best new character is in The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part.

Tiffany Haddish voices Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi, a shapeshifting alien monarch whose perennially-changing body knows no LEGO instruction booklet. As The Second Part evolves from desert apocalypse thriller (picking up five years after the first film’s attack on Bricksburg) into a stellar space saga, it’s Haddish’s fluid, freestyle character that marks the peak of the sequel’s creative expansion; in real life, the actress’ versatile voice adds a fresh dynamic to returning cast members Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, and the rest of Warner Bros.’ brickbuster world.

Plus — she sings!

“I was surprised they didn’t use as much Auto-Tune as I thought they would!” the comedian, 39, jokes to EW. Haddish isn’t sure whether producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller or director Mike Mitchell knew she had such a strong singing voice before casting her as the rhapsodic Queen, but she points to her performance of “Proud Mary” at the 2017 Comedy Jam as possible evidence. “I think they had an idea. I mean, I sing all the time. In my mind, I’m like the Beyoncé of comedy,” she says. “But maybe it’s because our first day in the booth, every time I’m behind the microphone, I always try to act like I’m Mariah Carey for a little bit. So when they asked if I would be willing to sing a song, I’m like, ‘Oh yeah! Sure.’”

If Haddish’s comedy has found its deserving recognition these past two years after her breakout in 2017’s Girls Trip, her distinguishable voice has also found a home in the recording booth. The LEGO Movie 2 marks her first animation role of the new year, with The Secret Life of Pets 2 (in which she voices another major new character, a Shih Tzu named Daisy) and Netflix’s Bojack Horseman spin-off Tuca & Birdie (which she’s also executive producing) on the horizon as well. Even before Girls Trip, she was a cast member on Comedy Central’s animated series TripTank and Legends of Chamberlain Heights and voiced a stoic coral sidekick on Animal Planet’s Animal Nation with Anthony Anderson.

Haddish relishes any of her stints in voiceover. “She gets to wear whatever the hell she wants to,” she jokes. “She doesn’t have to wear makeup. And she gets to do a line five or six different ways, which is always fun.”

Even six takes is an eagle shot in the world of animation. Haddish’s LEGO character posed plenty of technical burdens to the film’s animators, but the chaotic potential of Queen Watevra also tested the actress, who broke a sweat bringing herself to meet the manic role. “She’s always moving, so I was always moving… I always [left] work ready to go to bed,” she says. But Haddish points out that finding the foundation of the character at rest was the bigger task. “At first I was trying to find different ways in, but then it was like, no—let me just be me. I would add little punch-ups here and there, and it all panned out. The challenge is you have to just be willing to be yourself, because that’s the beauty of Queen Watevra. She is who she is, but she can be whatever she wants to be, and I think all people should hear that. Be your real self, but be whatever it is you want to be. You don’t have to change who you are to be what you want.”

It’s one of the themes Haddish is proudest to represent in the film — the power contained in assured individuality, in knowing who you are even if others don’t. (LIGHT SPOILERS) In one of the Queen’s introductory moments, she sings an entire Disney-villain-adjacent song explaining how not evil she is — a premise that, at least in her eyes, is absolutely true. “When I first read [those lyrics], I was like, ‘This is just like how Maya Angelou says when people show you who they really are, believe them.’ She’s right there saying she’s not evil, but the other characters don’t want to believe that, and I just feel that all the time in my life,” Haddish continues. “I tell people who I am constantly, and they still see me this other way. People go, ‘Wow, you really can do all this stuff!’ and I’m like, ‘I told you that from the beginning. I told you who I am.’ So this really resonated with me. They may not use the right words, and everybody might see them one way, but people always tell you who they are — within the first conversation they let you know. You may choose not to pay attention.”

To Haddish’s point, she’s laid out the histories of her own fearless life—with frankness in her book The Last Black Unicorn, with playfulness in her stand-up, and with wit and sensitivity in interviews — both before and after her overnight rise to the A-list. So if her LEGO role happens to find her at her most unbridled, breakneck, breathless animated energy, perhaps it also marks just the right breather in Haddish’s live-action career at just the right time — making sure old and new audiences take a moment to stop and pay attention to every shape this comic can take.

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