Rock comes into the Presidential Suite at the Hyatt Regency in Washington DC.
His "people" are already there, the people who set up his schedule and
look out for him. It's a little past seven a.m., and they're in the midst of a
jag across country to promote Rock's new movie, Down To Earth, a jag that
includes filming an MTV Diary episode over three days, a weekend junket
in New York, a visit with Jay Leno, an hour "countdown video" show for
BET, and stops in several cities to talk to people and tell them how much he
likes this new movie. And he does like it. He says that a few times, and
encourages me to see it with an audience, because, he says, "it
did you choose this particular remake [of Warren Beatty's 1978 film Heaven
Can Wait, which is in turn a remake of 1941's Here Comes Mr. Jordan,
based on a play named Heaven Can Wait] as a means to PG-13 stardom?
The first time I saw this movie was two years ago, and I started writing the
script a week after I saw it. I never had a sense of the history. And I guess
that helps me out. When I saw the movie, I thought, "Man, Richard Pryor
would have been great in this." It was like a woman walking into an empty
house, and knowing, "The couch goes here, the drapes go there." I
could see where all the jokes went.
You worked with your writers from The Chris Rock Show on the script [Ali
Le Roi, Lance Crouther, and Louie CK]. Is that standard procedure for you,
working closely with a group of writers?
It was like a pick-up game of basketball. Some parts we just sectioned off --
like Louie wrote most of the Chazz [Palminteri] stuff. We wrote it while we were
doing the show, so we handled it like the show.
you miss the show?
I do. I'll really miss it come September, when we would have come back. You
know, Puff Daddy on trial, Jesse got some girl pregnant, stuff going on that's
ripe for me.
did you meet Wanda Sykes [a comedian from the show, co-starring as a maid in Down
was weird, Wanda opened at my last club gig. It was just one of those things --
next thing I know, we're doing the show and I said, we need to get her. That's
how I met the guys I write with. Ali and Lance opened up for me; Louie, I knew
from the circuit. I watch the opening acts. I pay attention.
did you come to work with the Weitz brothers [Chris and Paul] for this film?
from the studio showed me American Pie. I was looking at a lot of movies,
trying to hire a director. The f*cking a pie, I could do without, but I liked
the rest of American Pie; there was a sweetness to it, in the relationship
between the football player guy and the glee club girl and other places. Plus,
as soon as I saw it, I knew it was going to make a ton of money. I knew they
were going to be hot, and they would help me get more money for this project, to
get it made, to be able to film it in New York, to get the quality of co-stars,
like Chazz, Mark Addy, or Regina King.
was it to transfer the working dynamic from the show to the process of making a
film? I have this vision of you all in a room, just cracking each other up.
was actually easier, because we knew the structure, more or less. There were
parts we just discarded, like the murder investigation. But since we knew the
structure, it was all about the characters and the jokes. We just thought,
"Let's make it funnier, let's make it more romantic." It's kind of
like Eddie Murphy's Nutty Professor. Only people that know you, know how
you're funny. We wrote a lot, but to tell you the truth, most of the jokes were
written in the first two days. So, since Warren Beatty had this huge goal in his
movie, we made my huge goal to play the Apollo. And while his character wasn't
really likeable -- I mean, he's the quarterback -- we thought, my guy was going
to really suck, to want so badly to be good, to have smaller goals.
are you thinking about this move to more solidly mainstream vehicles?
me, it's all mainstream. I mean, if I have the biggest special on HBO, that must
be mainstream. But with the move to romantic comedy, the genre doesn't lend
itself to R ratings. And really, for the Weitz brothers, even though they didn't
know it at the time, the best thing for them to do next was something PG. That's
the only way they were going to succeed.
very savvy about the business -- is that something you work at?
yeah, when you're a black guy doing the crossover thing, there's no blueprint
for it. You can talk to Eddie, and you can talk to Cos, but it hasn't been done
a lot. So you have to really know what you're doing, to think everything out.
For this movie, I talked to Cosby a lot, who actually owned the rights to it for
a while. He and Francis Ford Coppola. Warren Beatty actually wrote Heaven Can
Wait for Muhammad Ali, and he told me, when I was already in pre-production,
it's a better movie for a black guy, point blank. And I talked to Cosby because
you gotta get prepared. On movies, it's arguments and fights and everybody's got
an opinion. Studios are huge, they waste so much money, on so many people doing
so little. There are six execs on one movie, none of 'em can write, but they all
got notes. You have to fight through all of them, and not get beaten up and have
this homogenized product.
like fun. Why are you doing this again?
One of the reasons the movie turned out good is because of one savvy thing I did
do, which was to have me and Lance, Louie, and Ali write it for free. We didn't
make the deal until we had written the script. That way we wrote the movie we
wanted to write, rather than sell the idea and end up writing with mail room
people, essentially. Then it would have been all watered down. But it's weird,
this is a better movie than I had set out to do.
doesn't happen often.
does not happen often, but it did for me, with Bring the Pain. For that,
my only goal was, I hope enough people like this, so that when I play a club, I
don't have to do radio. That was my goal, to not have to get up at seven in the
morning and go to the radio station to sell three hundred seats. And if the club
owner puts me up in a hotel, and not the Comedy Condos -- that was my goal.
now you have a different goal, to sell yourself in this genre?
like the genre, actually, you wouldn't know it from my stand-up. I'd rather
watch When Harry Met Sally... or Annie Hall. I could watch Manhattan
once a week. Woody is more my idol than anyone else. I like working on
relationships. If you think about it, in my stand-up, the relationship hunk is
always the biggest hunk, the meat.
I'm sitting here, I realize that I'm so used to seeing you interview other
people. How is it to be on the other side?
used to it, I've actually been interviewed way more than I've done them. I can
rate the interviews now -- I know all about them. I know how to trick people
into saying stuff. Ego's a great thing, if you push somebody into a corner,
their ego always gets the better of 'em and make 'em say sh*t that you can't
do you make of the big deal made over the summer movies, with the Wayans' and
Martin Lawrence's big hits?
lump Eddie Murphy in that is ridiculous. He's the biggest comedic star in the
world. Nobody -- no two white funny guys -- have made movies that have made more
money than Eddie Murphy. So I think that's just racist when people write that,
about Eddie Murphy making an African American hit movie. No, he's Eddie Murphy!
And Martin Lawrence, big TV star -- his success in movies is no different than
Michael J. Fox making hit movies. Now, the Kings of Comedy, that's a big story.
Bernie Mac is incredible. That's success, that movie.
seems hard now to just do one thing -- singers act and TV people do movies and
movie people sing.
they let you do anything, and it's like sex, you try all the positions. There's
no lines anymore. The only pressure is that there are certain things you can
only do at certain points in your life. You gotta do movies when you're hot.
There's a set time in your life when you can be a movie star. For me, I had to
do a movie now, or it wasn't going to happen. You gotta jump on it.
that mean you aren't going to sing on a record?
gonna happen. But to me, everything I do is all comedy. This is just an
extension. It's not like I have a clothing line. I can't sew. I'll keep doing
stand-up, but first I have to do an action movie called Black Sheep,
Jerry Bruckheimer, Anthony Hopkins, and Joel Schumacher. I don't have to do
much, just stand in my spot and not get blown up. Action and comedy, very Lethal
Weapon-ish. But the next tour, it's the Black Ambition Tour, around the
world, which I want to film. I want to end in front of a black audience in South
do you know when a show is ready to film it?
just know. You get cocky on stage. You feel like Mick Jagger, and you just did
"Start Me Up," and you know you've got "Jumpin' Jack Flash"
in your back pocket.
you always have that feeling, you knew when it was ready?
just these last few years. I guess when I was working out the Bring the Pain
thing, I broke through a wall. I learned how to write, how to use my voice and
performance. So, you're playing the clubs, and one day. It's quite obvious that
you won't be playing the clubs again, to the audience. The movie plays like
that, it plays like my stand-up,
joke-joke-joke-joke-story-joke-joke-joke-story-joke-joke. I've got a confidence
in writing now that I never had before. It's not that idiotic confidence where
anything goes. I'll still rip up a page in a second. But now I can go into a
place I was never able to go into before.
seems hard, because you're putting so much of yourself out there.
CR: Well, I am. But that's because I don't have a great imagination. So I have to talk about real things.
Click here to read Cynthia Fuchs' review.