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A spoiler-free conversation with one of the stars of the 'Knives Out' sequel

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Imagine this. A friend - a very successful friend - invites his old gang, his besties, to a weekend away. It's a time to hang out at his amazing island estate, have some food and drinks, and play a murder mystery game. But it soon becomes clear it is not all fun and games.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY")

DANIEL CRAIG: (As Benoit Blanc) Your relationship with these people may seem complex, but, look, what you've done this weekend is crystal clear. You've taken seven people, each of whom has a real-life reason to wish you harm, gathered them together on a remote island and placed the idea of your murder in their heads. It's like putting a loaded gun on the table and turning off the lights.

MARTIN: We won't say who, but someone does indeed end up dead. And now that weekend away turns into a classic whodunit with friends pointing the finger at each other and wondering who could be next. That's the premise of "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery." And, yes, it is a follow-up to the 2019 hit. And, yes, it brings back ace Detective Benoit Blanc, played with panache by one-time James Bond Daniel Craig. But there's a whole new cast of stars that writer and producer Rian Johnson wraps up in a series of shocking twists and turns. And one of the key players is the award-winning actress and singer Janelle Monae, who is with us now to tell us as much as she can about the movie without spoiling it. Janelle Monae, thank you so much for joining us.

JANELLE MONAE: Wow, what an introduction. Oh, thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: So we have been duly warned not to give anything away. And having seen the film, I can certainly see why. But has it been hard to talk about the movie without revealing anything?

MONAE: I mean, yeah, it is like, oh, you know, you are - it's a tightrope. It's absolutely hard, you know, trying not to spoil things. But I think we're doing a pretty good job. Thank you guys for doing everything you can not to spoil it because, you know, you want people to have that experience, especially with a whodunit. You know, something as special as "Knives Out," you want them to, like, go on that roller coaster ride with you and be really shocked and surprised by the ending.

MARTIN: You have had such a remarkable career. I mean, it's hard to remember just how young you are. But you've done all these different things, and you have been accomplished in all these different genres. And, you know, "Hidden Figures" is a much beloved film in which you starred, and then your albums - you know, eight Grammy nominations. So I guess what the reason I'm saying is that - because your projects are also different, I was wondering what attracted you to this project? What made you want to do it, and how did you get connected to it?

MONAE: This role, I got to play. I got to really play and go to different places that I hadn't gone as an actor and show my range as an actor - and doing those comedic moments, to the deep, heavy emotional lifting, the dramatic moments. I did action in this film. I mean, I had a ball becoming Andi and working with Rian Johnson, a director and writer that I've wanted to work with since I saw his film "Looper." Obviously, I've seen the original "Knives Out" and I was a fan of that. And so I'd already said kind of yes to Rian and everyone involved in reaching out for me to this role before I even read the script.

MARTIN: Oh, is that right? Interesting.

MONAE: Yeah.

MARTIN: So he had a sense of...

MONAE: I was like, oh, if he calls me, it's a guess. Like, I love his taste. I love how he writes characters. I love - I just love how his mind works.

MARTIN: You have a lot of scenes with Daniel Craig, who I think, you know, will forever be known as one of the coolest James Bonds ever.

MONAE: I know.

MARTIN: And you have a lot of scenes with him who plays, as you said, Benoit Blanc. Let me just play a short clip - very short clip - from one of them.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY")

MONAE: (As Andi Brand) Hey, this kind of looks like the Clue notepad.

CRAIG: (As Benoit Blanc) Yes, yes, yes.

MONAE: (As Andi Brand) You must be really great at Clue, huh?

CRAIG: (As Benoit Blanc) I'm very bad at dumb things. My Achilles heel - ticking boxes, running around, searching all the rooms. It's just a terrible, terrible game.

MARTIN: (Laughter) It's just hard to - again, we're trying to avoid, like, messing it up for people. But I think you all had great chemistry in the film. I think neither of you is really known for comedy. So what was it like for the two of you to, you know, work together and kind of bounce off each other?

MONAE: I hadn't done comedy - a lot of comedy. And I think even for Daniel, like, both of us just stretched ourselves as actors and went outside of our comfort zones and tapped into places that have always been there. You know, you just have to get that role, right? And I think what really helped all of us - you know, not just me and Daniel's chemistry on screen, but everybody got an opportunity to really bond.

We shot this in the middle of a pandemic, and we shot it when the cases were going up around the delta strand. And we just couldn't go anywhere. We couldn't hang out and go party in Greece. We had to, like, be with each other. And I'm thankful for that time because we got to really bond as humans, you know what I'm saying? Like, we got a chance to know about each other's families and we got a chance to drink with each other, get drunk with each other, play murder mystery games on the weekends with each other and all of that. I'm so happy about it because I think that it made our chemistry real, you know? It made us trust each other in different ways as actors.

MARTIN: One of the things that this film does - it is a mystery and it's twisty and turn-y (ph) and it has all those, like, crazy turns. But it does have a commentary on a lot of things that are very present in our country and in our culture right now.

MONAE: Yeah, I think that Rian talks about it - you know, he wrote this, first and foremost, as, like, a form of entertainment. I think all of us, we want to entertain. It does take you on this wild and twisty ride. And I think also, you know, he talks a lot about Agatha Christie, who was writing those murder mystery books and things to her time. And I think what you're getting at is that these characters do feel familiar. We see them. We feel like we know them. And I think Rian gives you a deeper look into them as these people. I mean, a lot of these people are just bad people. They just are. And some are, you know, complicated and some, you know - or things appear to be one thing and you find out that they're not.

That's going to be the interesting thing is just seeing the audiences watch this and, first and foremost, be entertained and then walk away with, like, you know, like, we know these folks and it's good to see them on screen at a murder mystery party on a Greek island - these rich folks - and having lots of problems. We get to watch them have all these issues. There's something about that, too, that people, I think, will show up for and want to see - you know, this train wreck happen.

MARTIN: (Laughter) OK. That was actress and singer Janelle Monae. She's one of the stars of "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery." It's out in theaters on November 23. Janelle Monae, thank you so much for talking with us.

MONAE: Thank you.

MARTIN: Congratulations. Best wishes for whatever comes next.

MONAE: Thank you so much. I look forward to talking to you again. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.