Interview of the week: Chris Rock

By KAREN BUTLER, United Press International  |  March 27, 2003 at 5:52 PM
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NEW YORK, March 27 (UPI) -- Chris Rock says that being a big brother was excellent preparation for being a filmmaker.

"I'm the oldest of seven," the comedian who wrote, directed and starred in the new presidential comedy, "Head of State," told United Press International in a recent interview. "I've been in charge before. I have no problem being in charge of a lot of people. I had a good time. I've done a lot of movies. I've probably been on more movie sets than the average director I've worked with, so when you're out there, it all comes back."

So, did the Emmy and Grammy award-winning entertainer ever worry that the film would suffer because of his multi-tasking?

"It wasn't difficult," he explained. "You have to trust the script. We wrote it funny. We laughed when we were writing it. It should still be funny (when we were shooting it.) I didn't give it that much thought. I didn't give my performance a ton of thought. I think I have a better performance than I normally have."

Co-starring Bernie Mac and Robin Givens, "Head of State" is the story of a black alderman who runs for office after the Democratic candidate in a presidential campaign dies.

Rock said that he wanted to make the film himself because there aren't a lot of scripts written for comedians like him.

"It seems like most comedies are written for Jim Carrey and I'm not Jim Carrey, so it seems like I'm going to have to do my own thing -- make these comedies fit me," remarked the "Dogma" and "Nurse Betty" star, adding that there aren't that many comedian-directors working these days.

Asked if he thought he'd make a good president, Rock admitted: "No! I'd suck!"

Dodging questions that seemed political or serious, he joked that the first thing he would do if he were elected would be to "get rid of one of the Carolinas."

"Get rid of New Mexico. It hasn't caught on. People still go to Old Mexico," he added.

Noting that he had several of America's funniest people on his movie set cracking each other up, Rock insisted his production days never ran long because he "was not wasting (DreamWorks chiefs) Mr. Spielberg, Mr. Geffen and Mr. Katzenberg's money."

The "Saturday Night Live" alum went on to say that he was particularly grateful to DreamWorks for trusting him to make "Head of State" his directorial debut.

"Some studios were like: 'No! No. No. No. Hey, we like this idea, but we don't want you directing.' Basically, they said, 'We think you're funny, but we don't think you're competent ...' Every once in awhile you heard (the name of Eddie Murphy's bomb) 'Harlem Nights.' Why can't it be 'Braveheart'? Why can't it be 'Take the Money and Run?' Why do you have to go there? 'Dance with Wolves.'"

Rock said the aspect that most surprised him about directing was how strict corporate licensing and registration regulations are.

"You've gotta clear everything that you shoot!" he exclaimed.

"Everything. If this says 'Sony' here, you have to clear it with the Sony people. If he has a Yankee hat on, you can't just film that. You've got to clear it all. Clearances. It's a big issue!"

While writing the script with Ali LeRoi, Rock said he consulted numerous politicians in an effort to understand the process of getting a candidate into the White House. Once he got on the set, the comedian-filmmaker took a collaborative approach to filmmaking, taking into consideration the suggestions of his seasoned cast members.

"We hired good actors, great actors. A guy like Dylan Baker has been in so many movies. He's worked with so many great directors, from Steven Spielberg to Robert Zemeckis to Martin Scorsese to Woody Allen. I've got to listen to that guy. I'd be crazy not to listen to that guy? 'What did Woody do?' I drilled him, 'Any Woody stories?' I definitely wanted to hear what they had to say."

So, does this latest success mean the actor-writer-director is too big to take supporting or co-starring roles in other directors' films?

"If (filmmaker) Kevin (Smith) had a supporting role, I'd take that," he stated. "It depends on who the movie's with. If the star is bigger than me, then I'll take the supporting role. If the star is not ... I just got offered the role, Ashton Kutcher, a supporting role, I was like, 'Why would I do that?' I would have no problem carrying Mel Gibson's bag, but Ashton Kutcher's bags?"

"Head of State" opens Friday.

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