"He is this street-level con-man guy who then gets embroiled in stuff that's way too big for him. And he has to make a choice."
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Kumail Nanjiani is living the dream. More specifically, the dream of every fanboy ever. Not only did the former X-Files obsessive land a guest-starring role on his favorite TV show, but then he nabbed a plum part in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, playing Kingo in Chloé Zhao's Eternals. And now Nanjiani has completed the Holy Grail franchise trifecta with his role in Disney+'s Obi-Wan Kenobi.

But what exactly is that role? With the limited series' May 27 premiere date now a week away, we still have no official details on his character… until now. Nanjiani joined us on Entertainment Weekly's new Star Wars podcast, Dagobah Dispatch, to exclusively share the first intel on his character.

So who is this mystery man Nanjiani will be playing?

"His name is Haja," says the actor. "And he's this guy who works on the streets of Daiyu, which is this new Star Wars location that we haven't seen before that's absolutely gorgeous. And he's the guy who's worked really hard to stay out of the bigger conflicts at play. He just kind of wants to be his own guy. Survival for him is all that matters."

But it seems the way Haja has been surviving is not exactly completely above board, perhaps veering dangerously close to fabled "scum and villainy" territory.

"He's this sort of con-man guy who cons people for money," explains Nanjiani. "That's what's important to him. And then he has a run-in with Obi-Wan and suddenly he sort of gets stuck in the bigger conflicts at play, which is the thing that he really tries to avoid. So he is this street-level con-man guy who then gets embroiled in stuff that's way too big for him. And he has to make a choice."

We spoke to Nanjiani more about his character (including about some cool tricks he picked up along the way), the differences between Marvel and Star Wars, and the possibility that Haja may pop up elsewhere in the galaxy far, far away. (Read our interview below and listen to it on the Dagobah Dispatch podcast.)

Kumail Nanjiani in Obi-Wan Kenobi
Kumail Nanjiani as Haja in 'Obi-Wan Kenobi'
| Credit: Lucasfilm Ltd.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How big a Star Wars guy were you when you signed on for this madness?

KUMAIL NANJIANI: Really big. I don't remember a time when I didn't really love Star Wars. Obviously, I collected the action figures when I was a kid. I don't know where they went, but [I was] just really big into sci-fi and definitely very, very big into Star Wars since I can remember. So it was a very exciting phone call to get.

I went off to college and my mom threw away a bunch of my Star Wars stuff, and I was really upset about it until I realized she probably didn't understand why her college-aged son was still playing with action figures.

Yeah, but she should have run it by you.

That's what I told her.

I don't want to reopen old wounds, but you know... My mom threw out all my Mad magazines when I went to college, and it still gets brought up.

As it should. So, do all rules just kind of go out the window when it comes to considering a Star Wars offer? I mean, is there still, "Well, I'd like to see a script first…" or does that all fall by the wayside?

Oh, it falls by the wayside. I got the call from my agents, and it's always exciting when you get a call and everybody's on the phone — all the agents, even the ones you never talk to. You're like, "Okay, this is either really good or really bad." They're like, "We really want everyone to be on the call." And so I wait an hour, and then they called and they said, "Hey, they want you to be in Obi-Wan." And I remember exactly where I was. I was in my kitchen, and I was like, "Are you serious?" I yelled to Emily [V. Gordon, his wife] like, "Ah, they want me to be in Obi-Wan!" And then they were like, "They won't tell us anything about the character or anything, but they want you to talk to Deborah Chow, the director."

And I said "Yes, of course!" And then I go had a Zoom with Deb. And she was kind of trying to pitch it to me to convince me why I should do it. I was like, "Deb, I'm going to do it. It's Star Wars. You don't need to, like, talk me into doing Star Wars." So it was a very, very, very easy decision, especially since I'm such a big fan of Ewan's [McGregor, who plays Obi-Wan] and I've never gotten to meet him or work with him. So that was another exciting piece to the whole thing.

Did you have a favorite Star Wars character growing up?

It's really kind of a boring answer, but Han Solo. I know it's a boring answer, but I really, really love that character so, so, so, so much since I can remember. I just thought he was the coolest motherf---er in the world.

I'm an Empire Strikes Back guy. What your favorite Star Wars movie?

I think A New Hope for me, just because it's the first one. I think it's hard to top because I don't know if my memory of watching it for the first time is real, but even if it's fake, it feels real. And whenever I watch it, I can't shake the feeling that there was no Star Wars in the world, and suddenly out of nowhere, this is what people saw. They saw A New Hope. There was not A New Hope. There was no Star Wars. And then suddenly there was Star Wars. And I try to imagine people seeing it, grown-up people even seeing it for the first time, and how earth-shattering it was. I mean, it changed the world. So, for me, I think A New Hope is — just for all the heft of it, the significance of it, everything it means.

I remember when it came out and you're right — that first shot of the Star Destroyer going over your head, you were just like, "What is happening?"

It's the scale of it, so much bigger than anything. I mean, when it came out, I was 0 years old, but still, it looms very large.

Is it kind of surreal to have been on The X-Files, be part of the Marvel universe, and now be in Star Wars. That's pretty much the trifecta.

Yeah, it's really, really surreal. I kind of can't believe it. But each thing I have to approach is just like a job. If I'm like, "Oh, my God, I'm going to be in Star Wars," then it's very hard to actually do the work and be there. Although in all these things, there is a moment where you really can't deny that you're doing it.

So, on this, I met Ewan, he was lovely, wonderful. They yell "Action!" and then he started speaking and I was like, "I'm in a scene with Obi-Wan Kenobi right now! That is what is happening!" And it's completely undeniable because it looks like him, it sounds like him, you look around, and it looks like Star Wars all around you. So there is always that moment where you're like, "Okay, I have to figure out a way to get past this and turn it into just another job," which is very challenging because so much of the stuff we did was practical.

When you're in the Volume, you see everything, it's not blue screen anymore. And so you just kind of have to think about the scene and your character and try and really focus on what you are actually doing rather than the bigger thing of... I don't let myself. Honestly, it wasn't until the newest trailer where you see a split second of my character that I was like, "Oh, wow. Yeah, it really looks like I'm in Star Wars."

So your game plan when you're sharing a scene with Obi-Wan Kenobi — you don't even give yourself a few minutes just to geek out a little bit before you then get into game-face mode?

I really try not to. And especially in the beginning. When you're there and it's the first day, those nerves can really overtake you. And you're like, "I'm in a scene with not just Obi-Wan, it's Ewan McGregor. Who's one of the greatest actors of all time. I have to be good in this scene." And if I give myself a moment to geek out about what I'm doing, there is the possibility that I just won't be able to actually do the scene. And if I'm like in my head, "Oh, my God, I'm doing Star Wars," that can work against the actual work of it.

Kumail Nanjiani on Marvel Studios’ Eternals
Kumail Nanjiani's Kingo doing with that actor calls 'finger guns' in Marvel's 'Eternals'
| Credit: Marvel Studios

What are some of the similarities or differences of working on Star Wars and Marvel projects? Did you notice any commonalities or were they vastly different just in terms of the setup and production?

I think with Star Wars, the difference was... Obviously working on Eternals, it's the MCU. Everyone's such a fan of the MCU, but we are sort of working with new characters, right? The people don't really know these characters and don't really know this part of the MCU. So it's a new universe that's being created as you're going. With Star Wars, you're really stepping into something that has been established for a very long time. It still is the same visual language, people know these characters.

So, to me, the thing that sets Star Wars apart from really any other job I've done is how the entire crew was a massive fan of Star Wars. Every day, people would wear Star Wars clothes, T-shirts with Chewbacca on them. And just everyone was really, really every single day excited to be working on Star Wars. And I've never done a job where every single day you could feel that everyone was grateful to be there.

I would go into work and they'd be like, "Oh, you know what we did yesterday? We did this. And then we did this, and then we did this." And everyone was just really excited to go to work every day. This is stuff that everybody's loved since they can remember, and the fact that they get to work on it was not lost on this crew. So the joy of it for the crew really was unique and special.

So whatever happens to your character of Haja, whether you live or die by the end of the show, once a character is introduced in this franchise they do tend to pop up elsewhere. Even ones that have been killed off somehow manage to find their way back onscreen. So have you thought about that? Has there been any talk about potentially showing up beyond this series at some point?

It's all I've thought about. I don't know what that does, but yeah, I would love to play this character again. Not just because of Star Wars, but it's a really, really, really fun character to play. I've never gotten to play a character like this before. I think it's a type of character that we haven't exactly seen in Star Wars either — with a con man, you know?

He can talk people into stuff, so that's a really fun character to play. And I actually did a lot of research online on con men, and on magicians too. Because magicians, let's face it, they're kind of like a con man, right? They're tricking people. So I really looked up a lot of stuff about that to learn how to really play a character like this. And I love this character so much. It would be genuinely a dream come true to play him again. Can we get Kathleen Kennedy on here?

Yeah, let me ring her up right now. We'll conference her in.

Make it sound like it's your idea.

Have you tried to use any of these con-man techniques you learned in your actual life?

Oh yeah, I say people's names back to them a lot just to get them to trust me. That's a big con-man trick. People subconsciously trust people who say their own names back to them. We're all obsessed with ourselves.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Listen to the entire Kumail Nanjiani interview, along with our chat with the Grand Inquisitor, Rupert Friend, on the latest episode of the Dagobah Dispatch.

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Ewan McGregor returns to Tatooine to fill in the gaps of what happened to the Jedi Master between the events of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope.

 

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