The Last Jedi’s director did something highly unusual for Hollywood: He was nice

Nice guy and The Last Jedi director, Rian Johnson
Nice guy and The Last Jedi director, Rian Johnson
Image: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP
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Based on the earliest signals (okay, tweets) from Hollywood, The Last Jedi, which opens this weekend, is unlike any other film in the Star Wars franchise—in a good way. Critical reviews suggest it may also prove to be among the most acclaimed.

Its director, Rian Johnson, whose work is behind several top episodes of Breaking Bad and three well-received features, is now the new creative mind to know. But on Twitter yesterday, comedian Kumail Nanjiani, star of the HBO show Silicon Valley, offered what he called “reason 4,908,786 to go see Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” and it had nothing to do with Johnson’s directorial skills. Instead, he paid tribute to Johnson’s basic humanity.

Being earnest and grateful on Twitter has been a trend of late, a natural response to the endless stories of grotesque behavior by famous people and politicians that have defined the last quarter of 2017. A few weeks ago, one thread solicited stories of celebrities being as nice as you’d imagine them to be, and more recently a popular thread asked followers to thank people who opened doors for them in their careers, when the extra effort wasn’t expected.

Nanjiani combined those themes by sharing an anecdote about Johnson in which, at Comic Con in 2012, a younger Nanjiani made a rookie mistake while interviewing the director on the red carpet for the films Looper and Total Recall. He asked Johnson about the wrong movie.

“Can’t wait to see the remake of Total Recall you’re directing,” the comedian recalls telling Johnson, adding, “I know Looper. I’m excited for it. I know his work. It was just 1 of those stupid brain things. He says ‘I wish! I did Looper.’ I’m mortified. My ears turn hot, my producer gives me a look.” 

Here the reader cringes, remembering the flavors of minor public humiliations we’ve tasted.

“I’m like “Dammit. I messed up another interview & look like a fool in front of someone I’m a huge fan of,” Nanjiani continues. “But, instead of being upset, he started laughing. Not in an ‘at me’ way. In a ‘with me. way. He saw how upset I was, put his hand on my shoulder, laughing.”

Writes Nanjiani:

Years later, the thread also revealed, Nanjiani ran into Johnson at a party. “I told him how much his kindness meant to me. He said it was no big deal. But it was a big deal to me,” he explains. “You can tell a lot about someone by how they are to ppl they don’t have to be nice to.”

Managers, please take note of Johnson’s default kindness, especially during a moment when no one would have judged him for responding in a less generous way. Hopefully the heart-melting story is enough motivation to check your own behavior as a person with power. If not, think of your firm: Research has shown that leaders who are “nice” foster the same niceness in employees, who therefore behave civilly to each other and are more productive. They’re also more likely to stick around and feel less stressed. (Nanjiani also says he has tried to live by Johnson’s example.)

Recently Quartz at Work argued that more Silicon Valley companies are indeed naming kind, quiet types of leaders as CEOs, seeing the opportunity in it. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, professor of leadership practice at the Yale School of Management, agreed, saying the attitude among investors and the public has shifted: Those who “are not placing themselves in center of universe” have fresh appeal.

Should you recognize that you’re an egomaniac by nature, however, or that becoming “a somebody” has brought out only your most callous traits, there’s still hope. Managers who worry they’re not kind enough can work on it by practicing “perspective-taking” as a habit, David Dubois, an assistant professor at the French graduate business school INSEAD told the Chicago Tribune last year.

“In other words,” he explained, “they can develop the habit of asking, ‘What does the person in front of me think and want?’ or ‘If I were on the other side of the table, what would seem fair?’”

With training, the force will… you know.

Read the entire thread Kumail Nanjiani thread here: