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Death At A Funeral - Chris Rock interview

Death At A Funeral

Interview by Rob Carnevale

CHRIS Rock talks about remaking little-seen British comedy Death At A Funeral with a more pop cast and what changes appealed to him.

He also talks about some of his experiences of doing stand-up and what to expect from the forthcoming Richard Pryor movie he’s producing…

Q. What made you want to make a remake of Death At A Funeral?
Chris Rock: Because I’m lazy [laughs]! I don’t know… it just seemed right. A lot of people just didn’t see the first one. If you’re a fan of the first one, it’s like: “This is such a great movie. It’s such a great premise.” I look at it almost like a cover song. Every Hendrix song you like is a cover. They’re all songs that weren’t hits. Somebody actually recorded Hey Joe before Jimi Hendrix [laughs]. He heard something in them that maybe somebody else missed. So, I think I saw something in this that maybe the people that put out the original missed. I thought I could bring this to a wider audience. Mission so far so good. We’ll see how it does over here.

Q. How challenging was it take the British-isms out of it? It had a very stiff upper lip quality in the original, so how difficult was it to transfer that to an American sensibility?
Chris Rock: What’s weird is that I thought it would be more daunting, but once I did stand-up over here, and saw how that went, it relaxed me. I was like: “OK, people are people. We’re going to change some words here and there; we’re going to add some humour…” In the original, the wife’s not trying to get pregnant and the guy doesn’t have his balls in the other guy’s face. There are a lot of little jokes in this one that aren’t in the original. Weirdly, they kind of wait for the big joke in the original. It’s like drama, drama, drama, big joke! Then drama, drama, drama, big joke!

We tried to add little joke, little joke, little joke, BIG JOKE! Do you know what I mean? We picked up the pace a little bit. The movie is as different as me and Matthew [Macfadyen]. We can both play Othello and it’s going to be a different Othello. I just thought this particular movie should be seen by more people. If you had a more pop cast… I didn’t even think about it in African-American terms. It was more if you put a ‘pop’ cast in this movie, it would do better than it did.

Q. Was the sibling rivalry something that resonated with you? Because that’s something else you’ve brought more to the fore…
Chris Rock: It did resonate with me and it is another thing that we highlighted. The original didn’t really point out the older brother thing, or the pressures that come with being the oldest, and how odd it is when you’re younger sibling is more successful than the older sibling. That doesn’t exist in the first one at all. My brothers, growing up, were always better than me at everything, so I could totally relate to that.

Q. Are you the oldest?
Chris Rock: I am the eldest, yeah.

Q. And how are they now with you?
Chris Rock: They’re great now. Now the world is in order [laughs]!

Q. At this stage of your career are you concerned about box office figures or do you just do what you want to do?
Chris Rock: I always kind of do what I want to do. You want to make people their money back, so that you can keep doing what you want to do. Hey, I’d love to be in Avatar or whatever. But you know… If you just chase money you’re going to end up doing some pretty horrible stuff. My mother always says: “You know better, so you’ll be punished. Your friends don’t know better, so they won’t be punished. They can go snatch chains and they’ll be fine. But if you snatch chains, you’ll end up in jail because you know better.”

Death At A Funeral

Q. This is a restrained comedic performance from you? Is that a result of having so many comedians around you? What’s the dynamic like when you’re all on set?
Chris Rock: Yeah, it’s kind of like a Ben Stiller part in a way. I get jokes in there, such as the one about Amy Winehouse. But I have to play the fact that my dad’s dead and it’s his funeral. I want to act crazy, but at the same time it’s a different type of performance for me. It’s more of a point guard – you’re more dishing out the jokes than performing them all. I think Tracy Morgan has the funniest part in the movie.

Q. So, what’s the dynamic like? Is there a mass of blooper material?
Chris Rock: Yeah, we got some pretty good blooper material for the DVD. But it’s like a friendly competition. We all want to do good, but we’ve been in the business long enough to know that the most important thing is a hit movie. The more hits we’re in, the more we’re going to work. So, everybody really worked for the movie and everybody really respected Neil [LaBute]. It helps to have a director that you respect. So, it was a great vibe.

Q. Was it hard to keep a straight face all the time, though?
Chris Rock: For Tracy’s stuff especially. Yes, it was very hard. He ad libs a lot! The whole Colonel Sanders thing. Needless to say, that’s not in the first one. That whole sensibility is not in the first one!

Q. Did you fear that by employing a predominantly black cast it would only draw a black audience?
Chris Rock: I don’t fear it. Put it this way, I’m black and my comedy has always appealed to a wide audience. So, it depends on the place. Especially over here, people are a little more liberal than in the States, so hopefully it’ll appeal to a mass audience.

Q. How does making a comedy movie compare to the immediacy of doing stand-up?
Chris Rock: Stand-up is hard to compare. You don’t have to do this [interviews]. This is nice [looks relaxed] but the audience lets you know everything. They are everything you need. So, it’s hard to compare with that. But after you’re done with the movie and you’ve helped to cut it and stuff, and then you sit there with an audience and see them really enjoy it – especially this one – it feels like a stand-up show. This movie plays like one of my stand-up shows. There’s serious stuff, there’s big funny stuff, there’s crass… you know what I mean? The big questions and the little ones are answered.

Q. Having played those huge venues to 15,000 people, have you now got a taste for doing it in front of huge crowds? Or do you still prefer the smaller club dates?
Chris Rock: It’s weird, I like the small stuff… I like the small theatres. Clubs… people always have drinks and stuff; they’re eating food and trying to laugh but with French fries in their mouth [laughs]. Theatres… everyone’s sitting facing you! In clubs, people are at weird angles. They’re like [contorts his body]: “He’s kind of funny.” I know on my next tour it’s about making the big places seem smaller, so I’m going to work with screens and stuff and try and make it more intimate.

Q. You pace as well… it must be a hell of a workout?
Chris Rock: It is a workout. I got a nice sweat when it’s done. I sweat on a good show as much as I do on a stationary bike! It’s great.

Death At A Funeral

Q. The last time you played here live, Barrack Obama was still a presidential candidate. He’s obviously the president now, so is he still fair game for comedians? Or is that more the case?
Chris Rock: Oh, he’s even more fair game now. But it’s hard to do jokes about him because he’s so damn cool [laughs]. Normally, presidents aren’t cool. But he’s the coolest guy in any room that he’s in. It’s like making jokes about Brad Pitt. “Oh yeah, your wife’s hot!” It’s not really a joke. It’s not going to make him feel bad about himself.

Q. How’s the Richard Pryor film you’re producing coming along?
Chris Rock: The script’s coming along and Marlon Wayans’ is working on his Richard Pryor and he’s great at it – very vulnerable. That’s the thing about Richard, man… Richard was not as cocky as today’s comedians. The post Eddie Murphy comedians are really cocky. Richard Pryor had a vulnerability about him under the whole thing. He did comedy about women leaving him and shooting his card… he’s all upset. But you don’t really see that level of vulnerability from guys anymore. So, when we were looking for somebody to play Richard we gotta feel that heart. And Marlon will be great.

Q. How nervous is he? It’s such a huge role?
Chris Rock: It is a huge role but he’s definitely up for it. Bill Condon is going to be great as well directing it.

Death At A Funeral is released in UK cinemas on Wednesday, June 2, 2010.