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Richard Curtis discusses Celebrity Ninja Warrior’s important role on Red Nose Day

The famed writer and director is leveraging the Ninja Warrior fans for a great reason.

Montclair Film Festival 2016 Richard Curtis Conversation And Filmmaker Tribute Photo by Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images for Montclair Film Festival

Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted last year, for Ninja Warrior’s first partnership with Red Nose Day. Celebrity Ninja Warrior returns for its second Red Nose Day on May 24 at 8 pm on NBC!

Richard Curtis is arguably responsible for defining the romance aspirations of a generation. In his long career as a film writer, he’s given us “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Notting Hill,” “Bridget Jone’s Diary,” and, wait for it, “Love, Actually.”

As the director and writer of that film, Curtis is the one who told Andrew Lincoln to stand in the street and profess his love to Kiera Knightly with oversized cue cards. Thank you, Mr. Curtis.

Richard Curtis is also responsible for one of the most well known fundraising events in the world: Red Nose Day

As the co-founder and vice chair of Comic Relief, Curtis has been co-producing Red Nose Day since the very first UK event took place in 1988 and came to the US in 2015. The televised event combines celebrities and laughter with sobering information regarding the plight of children both internationally and right here in the USA.

The event has raised over $60 million in the USA since 2015. Globally, Red Nose Day has raised over $1 billion in the last 25 years. Donations are used to feed hungry children, provide vaccinations, purchase anti-malaria nets, and give homes to children who have none.

The 2017 Red Nose Day will take place May 25 on NBC with the major addition of Celebrity Ninja Warrior at 8 pm.

Some very brave and very generous celebrities agreed to take on the American Ninja Warrior course. They won’t be out there alone though. Each celebrity has a well-known Ninja Warrior trainer to help make sure they do their best for the kids.

We wanted to find out more about how this charity cross-over came to be and had a chance to steal a few minutes of Curtis’ time. After identifying himself as “passionately pro Ninja,” he dove right in to telling us all about the experience.

Montclair Film Festival 2016 Richard Curtis Conversation And Filmmaker Tribute Photo by Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images for Montclair Film Festival

How are you feeling after Red Nose Day UK? (Which took place on March 24.)

RC: Good. We made a lot of money.

I always see our purpose to be double. One to make a lot of money, but also, two, to sort of take the idea that you can help people who’s lives are hard into unexpected places. I think we did pretty well with that.

How does it feel to be so close to the third Red Nose Day in the US?

RC: Well actually, the awful answer is really good this time. Because Ninja has already been shot. Because we’ve already done the Bear Grylls thing we’re doing. And because I’ve done this “Love, Actually” special, we’re kind of seven ninths of the way there.

So I’m actually feeling quite comfy.

What made you want to have American Ninja Warrior as part of the special this year?

RC: Well, look, it was was an unbelievably perfect match. I think there are three things really.

One, [the show is] already popular with a really passionate and enthusiastic audience. Which is great for us. This year on Red Nose Day UK we did lots and lots of things. The three things which got the most attention were: Ed Sheeran making a documentary, he’s already so popular. “Love, Actually” doing a sequel, because people have watched that movie. And James Corden doing a new “Carpool Karaoke.”

The best thing you can do really is take a brand that’s already loved and popular and do a partnership, rather than making up something completely new. So that was great.

And then secondly the fact they did have the celebrity card up their sleeve. They hadn’t done it before, so we could do something really fresh and new.

Third, I think there’s really something, really kind of a good match. It seems to me that Ninja Warrior is about one, having fun and not taking it too seriously but also, the fact that if you dream hard enough, if you try hard enough, you can change your life, you can conquer the obstacles.

That’s what we’re about. We’re saying if you really want to help people, lives are there to be helped.

You work with so many celebrities and personalities across the world. Did anything surprise you about working with the Ninja Warrior team?

RC: Yes. Matt and Akbar’s height. The two tallest people I’ve ever worked with.

I will say, it was a very, very interesting day. They took their briefs unbelievably. These are two very smart men. I wrote to them, we sent them some stuff, and then I spoke to both of them for a half an hour each in their trailers.

They completely understood it. You know their job is just to talk and talk and talk while the show is going on and they found so many ways of saying the things that we need. That you can change a child’s life, how you can donate, that the only reason the contestants were doing it was to make money [donations], the contestants were falling so we could succeed. They were great. They were very, very smart.

Then, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a greater range of success and failure in one of our endeavors. We did get a very random group of people together.

David Becker/NBC

So many people are excited for the “Love, Actually” special. Which cast member from the movie would have a chance at the course?

Oh that’s a very good question. I think of basically Liam [Neeson] as not quite human. Which he’s proved by doing all these action films. I’m absolutely sure that he would do very well at it.

I think I would nominate Liam and possibly my lovely Portuguese girl, Lúcia [Moniz]. Who strikes me as having shown very athletic form when she dived into the lake. So I imagine that she would be able to cope with it.

Red Nose Day Actually Photo by Sarah M Lee/Comic Relief via Getty Images

Red Nose Day has been taking place since 1988. In all that time, is there a special memory that stands out for you?

RC: There are lots of them. We’ve had lots of very funny things. The first “Carpool Karaoke” was George Michael and James Corden. Which was great. We’ve had very funny sketches.

Sacha Baron Cohen, almost the first thing he did on British TV was to interview David Beckham and his wife [Victoria Beckham]. So the Spice Girl and the Footballer and that was hilarious.

But in some ways the big things that move you most are the true life stories.

One of the things I’m really excited about to do with Ninja is the idea that $3 buys a malaria net. We’ve had some terribly sad films in malaria hospitals with children dying. And then some really joyful films of having these nets delivered which will save lives.

What do you think is the best way for people to get involved in Red Nose Day in their local communities?

One is watch the show. It’s going to be a really great show. I think if you watch it, you will end up giving money as well as having a good time.

Because of the fact that Ninja Warrior has such a wonderful fan base, I would really love it if people could organize any activities in their local community which are based on Ninja.

We do a lot of fundraising. I think 60% of schools in the UK actually do an event on Red Nose Day or the week before.

In a dream, you would get people to set up obstacle courses in schools or in a community center or a local playground, or in their backyards and say everyone who wants to take part just pay $1 or $2 and we’ll have a competition. If anyone can raise $20, or $50 or $2, that’s life changing.

$5,000 is great. $500,000 is great. And $5 is great. I’ve just been out in Kenya and just seen these vaccinations. They only cost $5 and they save a kid from agony. I’m a real believer that every dollar counts.

Fans have been asking for a celebrity edition of American Ninja Warrior for years. The dream is finally coming true with the amazing bonus that it will also be for a great cause.

You can watch the 2018 celebrity edition of American Ninja Warrior on May 24 at 8 pm on NBC.

For more information on Red Nose Day and how you can get involved, head to Red Nose Day.Org