Kumail Nanjiani is, at long last, ready to talk. He is, after all these years, finally* breaking his silence. It’s here, today, that he throws caution to the wind and speaks openly and candidly about two subjects that he’s never discussed publicly before: the 1982 Don Coscarelli film The Beastmaster, and the 1983 Peter Yates epic, Krull.
*So, when this interview was being set up, Nanjiani mentioned that he wanted a break from the more standard set of questions about his new film, in which he co-stars with Issa Rae that premieres on Netflix this week, The Lovebirds. A movie in which Nanjiani and Rae play a couple on the verge of breaking up who, after witnessing a murder, are thrust into an all night adventure in the seedy underbelly of New Orleans. Which, as Nanjiani pointed out, does lead to a question like, “Was there any improv on set?,” more than you’d probably think. When I asked him what he wanted to talk about instead, the speed in which he replied The Beastmaster and Krull was pretty remarkable. So, it was set, we’d both rewatch The Beastmaster and Krull – two movies neither of us have seen since we were children – and discuss what these movies are like watching through adult eyes.
As for the title, about a week ago there was an article about Matt Damon living in quarantine in Ireland and the headline was something like, “Matt Damon breaks his silence about living in Ireland,” and I just thought it was perfect and wanted one of my own. So here it is.
Are you finally ready to break your silence about The Beastmaster and Krull?
That should be the headline. Accompanied with a photo where you look somewhat forlorn like, “I’ve got something important to say.”
Yes, exactly. I finally worked up the courage to talk about this. I know you’ve been waiting.
Just like Matt Damon breaking his silence about living in an Irish village.
People have been beating down his door.
I haven’t seen either of these movies since I was a little kid. But rewatching now, Rip Torn is the villain in The Beastmaster. I had no idea.
Obviously, I didn’t know who Rip Torn was back then. But I think of Rip Torn as such a contemporary personality. And then he’s playing some sort of evil priest. I think he’s a religious sorcerer, but we don’t see him do any actual magic.
His magic trick is picking up children and throwing them into fire. He does this a few times. It is an evil thing to do.
He hates children. He is very cool just murdering children.
This movie is disturbing. I do remember a kid being scared of those creatures that have the wings that turn people into slime.
Yeah, they do an external digestion thing. I did not remember that. First of all, when you said disturbing, I thought you were going to talk about the sexual assault that our hero lays on the heroin the first time he meets her. He has his ferret steal her clothes as she’s bathing naked. Then he forces a kiss on her. It’s like, really?
Yeah, Kodo and Podo steal her clothes. Overall, this movie is a lot more, let’s say, “erotic” than I remember? I’m surprised my parents were cool with me watching this on a neverending loop.
I know. As I was watching it, I understood why nine-year-old Kumail was very intrigued by this movie. The other thing I want to say is I think Kodo and Podo steal the movie. The entire time I was like, if anything happens to these two little fuckers, I’m going to be so upset. Then Kodo or Podo sacrifices himself to kill Rip Torn.
That was Kodo. Then Podo has kids at the end.
Right. There are more Kodo’s coming.
My memory of Kodo’s death is much more graphic. In reality he just kind of jumps at Rip Torn then they both fall and that’s it.
In little Mike’s brain that was all filled in. What I remember most about this movie was, and I didn’t realize until I watched, was the eye and the ring. That was the image. As soon as that came on, I was like this is burned into some part of my brain. By the way, eye in a ring is the most obvious spy tool ever. Obviously, that thing is checking out what you’re doing. The eye, put shades on it.
Right, it’s a ring with a giant eyeball, just looking around. And to kill it, John Amos uses a flaming hot wood stick poker. And even an eyeball inside a ring, it’s really gross to see it hit with a flaming stick.
And it’s cool when it gets hit by the stick, and then it cuts to the witch woman getting it in her eye. I thought that was a cool image. What I noticed was that this was directed by Don Coscarelli, who has done a lot of great horror movies. You could definitely see that a horror director made this because there are horrifying things in this movie. Like the winged people who do the external digestion, as you were saying.
Yeah, I don’t like them at all. So, Marc Singer…
If you told me back then that in 2020 Marc Singer isn’t the most famous actor on earth right now, I would have be shocked. He’s Beastmaster and he’s Mike Donovan in V.
Yeah, exactly. At that time, I think he was looking in the mirror going, “This shit is too easy.”
Mike Donovan in V was my first Marc Singer experience and when I first saw him…
“The Mark Singer Experience” is pretty good title…
You should title your next podcast that.
What were you going to say when you first saw him in V?
Well, he just looks like this normal guy in V. And then you see him in The Beastmaster and he’s huge. Then I watched V again and it’s like, oh, yes, he’s huge, but he’s just wearing clothes.
Yeah, I was surprised watching The Beastmaster. I knew Marc Singer was in both, but re-watching The Beastmaster now, I was surprised at how big he is in the movie. He looks the part in V because in my head I was like, “Oh, they took normal city guy,” which is how I remembered my Mike Donovan.
I think Mike Donovan was a television cameraman?
Yeah. He was just a normal guy. And I was like, “What? They put him in The Beastmaster?“ When I started watching it last week, I was expecting it to be a guy who’s a little soft around the edges, but he looks great. He looks like a barbarian!
Are you at a stage now with your workout regiment where you look at Marc Singer and you’re comparing notes? Do you think, “I know what he did. I know how he got to Beastmaster shape”?
Yes. I was thinking it the entire time I was watching the movie. This is embarrassing to admit, but I was like, “Okay. He stayed away from carbs and he dehydrated himself a little bit. I know what kind of workout you did.”
Were you thinking to yourself, finally in your life you could go pound for pound with the Beastmaster?
Nowadays, when you’re doing a movie like that, you prep for the one day where you’re going to be shirtless. That dude was shirtless the entire time. Watching the movie was actually a stressful experience for me, because I imagined that he had to watch his diet the entire time. This movie was shot, I looked it up, for five and a half months.
Five and a half months that dude had to eat like that!
How many pushups do we think Marc Singer did on set?
I bet he could do a hundred pushups without pausing. And I bet he did those once every other hour or so.
Rip Torn, the main enemy of the movie dies, and I swear I thought that movie was over. It goes on for like another 30 minutes.
Oh my God!
They just keep fighting people. I don’t even know where they were coming from.
I remember when Rip Torn died, I was like, listen, I enjoyed the movie, but I was like, Okay, I can live my life now. And then I hit to see how much time was left and it was about another 25 minutes. It’s crazy that the main bad guy, whose name we know, whose face we can see, is killed and then the faceless bad guys show up.
It would be like killing Darth Vader. And then, well, I guess we need to spend 45 minutes killing Stormtroopers.
Exactly! You’re like, “Kodo is dead! What else is left to do?”
What are your thoughts on Krull? God, what a weird thing we’re doing…
Okay, here’s my thoughts on Krull! Krull, I was very excited of the theme anesthetic of this movie. It’s swords and lasers! I love Masters of the Universe. It’s got technology and magic. Immediately I’m like, I love this. In the beginning, there’s a couple of surprises in the credits. You’ve got Liam Neeson.
Right. Liam Neeson’s in this movie. It was just like Rip Torn in a “what are you doing here?” way.
Liam Neeson in a pretty small part of the movie, too. He and Robbie Coltrane are sort of in the gang and not big members of the good army. They’re sort of fringe members. And I thought that the beast, the main bad guy in this, looked awesome. I thought the design of the black fortress – which is the spaceship capital of the bad guy, with the matte paintings and stuff – I thought that that was awesome. I was very surprised at the overlaps in both movies. Both movies have prophecies, obviously. Very prophecy heavy movies. Both movies have eye stuff. In the first one, you have an eye in the ring. In the second one, you have the cyclops, which is the image that I remember really well from this movie. And then both movies have quicksand in them, too.
Yes, these are both quicksand movies. Quicksand used to be very popular.
Which can explain why I was terrified. Oh my God. This explains why I was terrified of quicksand as a kid. I really thought I’d encounter it in my life.
So, there were a lot of moments in The Beastmaster I remembered. I didn’t have that with Krull except one. The advertising for Krull focused on the weapon, which is called Glaive and looks incredibly cool. About 100 minutes into Krull I was like, “When is he going to use Glaive?!?” Which is the same reaction I had as a kid. He doesn’t use that thing until the end.
Yeah. If you have that, just use it all the time!
Well, he wants to use it right away! And then his trainer is like, “No, you can’t use that. You’ll know when to use it.” Apparently, that’s two hours later.
Also I thought that the weapon was named Krull because, in my defense, in the beginning, you see the weapon spinning around, and as it goes by it leaves the title of the movie behind. I was like, okay, it’s spelling out its name as it exits screen right. But it’s called the Glaive. Krull is the name of the planet. I don’t like that.
See, I thought the guy was named Krull. Ken Marshall, who plays the lead character, Colwyn, when he shows up I was like, “Here comes Krull. He’s going to save the day.” I knew the weapon was called something else, but I couldn’t remember what it was called. But I thought the guy was Krull.
What’s his name?
And Beastmaster’s name is like Arg or Barg, or something like that?
These iconic characters today that we can’t forget.
[Laughs] Yes. Oh my God. Now they have to be like, “Are you a Dar, or are you a Colwyn?”
Nothing against Ken Marshall who played Colwyn, do you think there was any moment on set Peter Yates. who directed this thing, was like, “Oh man, we really should’ve maybe cast that Liam Neeson guy as the main guy”?
Anytime Liam Neeson has a line, you can tell he’s really good.
I would watch him in the background of scenes and even when he had no lines, he was fully present, really giving it his all. He was pulling focus without being the focus just by being such a great actor. Also, I was surprised to realize that Krull is a much bigger budget movie than The Beastmaster was. In my memory I was like, “Krull‘s the low budget one and The Beastmaster was a huge movie.” It’s the other way around.
The other thing I kept thinking, Peter Suschitzky is the cinematographer, who was also the DP on The Empire Strikes Back. I wonder when he’s filming if he’s thinking, “I know what they’re going for, but this ain’t it.”
Right. Exactly. This was definitely a “you’re no Jack Kennedy moment.”
So, some two hours later Colwyn finally uses the Glaive and it basically just bounces off some rocks and knocks some rocks down. Then it stabs the bad guy, but doesn’t kill him. The bad guys like, whatever, and just dismisses it. Then Colwyn shoots fire out of his hand and kills the bad guy.
It’s a lot of mixed messaging. The fire out of his hand, you forgot before the fire scene, while the beast is there, he and the princess have a weird romantic moment that they take their time with before he shoots the fire.
Right. She somehow hands him the fire.
Yes, that’s right. This movie really leans into the romantic chemistry between Colwyn, and … Lyssa?
Princess Lyssa, yes.
This is the emotional spine of Krull, that relationship. That movie starts with the two of them and it ends with the two of them. They had sizzling romantic chemistry, and I think they really missed the trick in separating them for most of the movie.
[We are told there’s time for one last question.]
Was there any improv on the set of Lovebirds?
[Laughs] No, we just stuck exactly to the script.
‘Lovebirds’ begins streaming via Netflix on May 22. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.