CARLSBAD, Calif. — In “The LEGO Ninjago Movie” (opening Friday), the voice of the music-obsessed ninja Cole is provided by Fred Armisen, who brings plenty of rock ‘n’ roll credentials to the role.
The “Late Night With Seth Meyers” bandleader and “Portlandia” star’s career began in Chicago, “back when I was in music,” said the veteran of 11 seasons on “Saturday Night Live.”
“I spent 10 years in Chicago with our band Trenchmouth and have such great memories of the place,” said Armisen during an interview at the Legoland California theme park. “They always seem to come back to great times spent at Lounge Ax [the rock club that operated in Lincoln Park from 1987-2000]. Every time I come back to Chicago now, I want to go there and then remember, sadly, it’s gone.”
Quite a few of the actors who voiced “Ninjago” characters have thoughts and memories about Chicago. Kumail Nanjiani, the voice of electrical whiz Jay, grew up in the area and says, “Chicago summers, of course, are the best — I think mainly because we so look forward to them, after surviving yet another tough, bitterly cold winter. People in Chicago start wearing shorts so early, I think faster than any other place! You see people wearing shorts outside in like late February or early March! The moment the temperature goes maybe about 40 degrees, you see all those people in shorts.
“When I see that, I think, ‘You guys are SO bold!’ Chicagoans are so proud of proving they don’t feel the cold — and looking like they don’t feel it. I think that’s hilarious.”
His “Silicon Valley” co-star Zach Woods, from Pennsylvania, had his own take on the city. “I once was in Chicago and was given a private tour of the Chicago Tribune building. They showed us these secret passages where people would sneak off to have affairs. Can you imagine? Infidelity hutches in the Tribune building!” said Woods, who then asked this reporter, “Do you have any tunnels or passages like that in the Sun-Times building?”
I quickly assured him that I was unaware of any.
For Jackie Chan, who appears in a couple of live-action sequences in “The LEGO Ninjago Movie” as well as voicing the sage Master Wu martial arts guru and philosopher, a favorite Chicago memory harkens back to the first time he ever played softball. It was back in the early 1990s, and Chan was in town to promote one of his films.
“All of a sudden we were are this baseball stadium [Thillens Park on the Northwest Side] and they wanted me to play softball with a bunch of people — some who were professional athletes,” said Chan with a laugh. “I remember I was wearing an all white suit and white, patent [leaather] shoes that were brand new and very slippery on the bottom. … So, I just kicked of the shoes and played a bit. It was fun!”
Chan also choreographed the animated martial sequences for the ninja-centric LEGO movie. “When I saw the finished version,” he said, “I was so impressed! It was 10 times better than my action movies — and no one suffered any injuries.”