In Netflix’s latest animated film nimonathe down-on-his-luck ex-knight Ballister Blackheart (Riz Ahmed) When young Nimona transforms, his life changes dramatically (Chloe Grace Morris) broke into his life and insisted on being his assistant. After Blackheart is accused of murdering the Queen, the two are determined to prove his innocence and must go into hiding. Along the way, Blackheart must face the pursuit of his former lover Ambrosius Golden Waist (Eugene Lee Young), while also learning that his new protégé is far more complex than it appears on the surface.
In a one-on-one interview with Collider, Ahmed sat down to talk about the process of making his first animated film and working with his co-stars and director, troy quinn and Nick Bruno. He also digs into what makes Nimona’s friendship with Ballister so special, as well as his favorite impromptu moments.
COLLIDER: Drill down, what is it about nimona What drew you to this project?
Riz Ahmed: Everything. I mean, I know it’s an evasive answer, but the source material is so cool, so beloved, and so imaginative; the character is so relatable to my own and a lot of people’s experiences; cast – Crowe Everything Yi does in this movie, Eugene (Lee Young), all of these guys are just at the top of their game. But really, I would say, maybe what holds it all together is our wonderful directors, Troy (Quinn) and Nick (Bruno). I mean, most of us recorded ourselves, and when we did, Troy and Nick played every other character for everybody, you know? They are so loyal, playful, and meticulous, their stamina and enthusiasm know no bounds. So when you work with people like that it just motivates you and I could feel the enthusiasm from them from the first meeting. So, yeah, I think they drew me into the project, and everything they showed and everything they put together was exciting.
So I know it’s based on a graphic novel, and Ballister obviously already exists in some form, but have you had the opportunity to work with the director and writer to expand him beyond what’s already on the page?
Ahmed: No, I can’t take any credit for it. I mean, Nick and Troy are already pushing every moment in this movie, trying to get everything out of it, trying to deepen it, trying to make it more interesting, trying to make it more surprising. I’m really just in their grip, you know, trying to understand their vision and try my best to make it happen. Then they also encourage me to improvise, experiment and play, which is more immediate. In terms of the overall arc and vision of the characters, I’m safe and know they’re always going to do their best.
When you think back to the recording, is there a great improv moment that comes to mind?
Ahmed: It all blurred for about four years. I don’t know if it was a riff, but I loved the moment when Mona said, “That guy pissed in his armor, that guy pissed in his armor!” I was like, “What?” (Laughs) So many amazing lines and I think Chloe does a fantastic job with this.
So no spoilers, but aside from the comedy parts, what are the specific moments that you most have people experience while watching the movie?
Ahmed: Honestly, it’s not a specific moment, but I just want people to meet Nimona and fall in love with her. Like I said, I think what Chloe has done with this character is amazing. I think Nimona is first and foremost a really cute, funny, mischievous character. I think this might be one of people’s favorite animated characters of all time. I really do feel that way. She’s certainly one of my favorites.
You speak highly of Nimona – and you should, she’s a great character – and I think the energy of her and Ballister throughout the events is central to the story. I was wondering if you could talk about what it was like to bring that dynamic to life.
Ahmed: It’s interesting because like I said, we’re often recording alone, so we rely a lot on Nick and Troy for the other roles. But what was amazing was when I did hear what Chloe was doing, when I was able to see what she inspired the animators to do, the power of her performance and the character of Nimona came through. Honestly, when you work with great people, great writers, characters and directors, you just have to respond to what you get.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a real workout. They put me through my paces. I don’t just relax and hit the ball back, they don’t let me slide. I’d say, “Yeah, yeah, I think we’ve figured it out,” and they’d say, “No, do it 50 more times. That’s it, that, that, that.” So, you know, it’s my first First time doing animation, but it feels like playing with friends.
Would you say this was probably the biggest challenge of the production, since this is your first animation project and you’re trying a new way of doing things?
Ahmed: Yes, I think so. It’s just a new process, really, and it’s really physical, probably quite technical, and it’s a very, very long and detailed process. You know, you document everything, and then you come back and do it again, and you go back, and you come back and do it again, and the animation and the story and everything just evolves over and over again. It’s like going back and forth between what you’re recording and what you’re animating for years, I think three or four years now, you know? So the commitment it took to make it happen was really inspiring, and of course I have more respect for animators after this.
nimona Coming to Netflix on June 30th. Check out Collider’s interview with Chloe Moretz below.