Monday, January 08, 2007

Cedric the Entertainer Cleans Up Shop in Code Name (Q&A)

I hooked up with Cedric the Entertainer last month during press coverage for his new spy comedy Code Name: The Cleaner over at the Four Seasons. The film seems to be doing quite well, as of this writing it's at the 12th position in box office returns which isn't bad. Here, Cedric talks about playing Oprah's husband (in the animated film Charlotte's Web), the Michael Richards meltdown, an upcoming hip-hop-era he's set to star in and watching Lucy Liu and Nicollette Sheridan get buck-wild in The Cleaner...

Q: So what was the attraction of this?

Cedric the Entertainer: The main thing for me was trying to do an action comedy. I had been doing the fathers and the romantic comedy leads and that kind of thing so I wanted to be able to shoot off some weapons, kick a door down and get to do a flip or two and show ‘em my skills.

Q: How do you decide what movies you’ll star in?

CE: This movie, again, I was looking for the opportunity to do an action comedy so I got involved pretty early—it was an idea that was happening at Brett Ratner’s company, they had the idea already. I thought it was a cool world and we tried to develop it and so as a producer I got involved with the writer and we tried to hash out the character a little more, the story, and then we tried to come up with the reasons to have the ladies in there, to have Nicollette and Lucy be a part of this project was great. So as an actor, just looking for opportunities to do things that you haven’t done before. I’ve never really had the chance to fire weapons and jump out of helicopters so those are the reasons I wanted to do the movie. I just tried to have some fun with it.

Q: Did you have to prepare to do the dance with Nicollette?

CE: That was so rough, that we had to do it like 30 times, getting my part together.’ I’m sorry, Nicollette, I was looking somewhere else. Can you do it again?’ (laughing)


Q: You’re in Charlotte’s Web now. What was that like? Did you record alone or with Oprah?

CE: I got to record in Oprah and I’m clearly the only person in the world who can say I’m Oprah’s husband. And I’ve been trying to work it. I asked her for the checkbook at least three times...It was great. You do those movies, and I have small children and it’s always fun to be in those situations that they can go see and they hear your voice and it’s a great movie, a classic tale.

Q: Did they like it?

CE: It was a little sad. The spider dies and everything and the pig. And I’m like, Wilbur is bacon. I’m not that kinda father. (licks his fingers).

Q: Did you work with Dakota Fanning?

CE: I didn’t work with Dakota at all. We’d see each other during the press tour but not doing the movie. They actually went to Australia to shoot and I just recorded here in a booth-- I did get to work with Oprah because we played husband and wife and we wanted that kind of…yeah.

Q: You’re doing Madagascar 2, another animated movie. Any idea where the story goes?

CE: No, they have a tight script on this one.

Q: do you enjoy doing animation?

CE: The hard thing about them is you’re trying to act with no other actors in the room, that’s the weird thing about it

Q: They feed you the lines, don't they?

CE: Yeah but that’s totally different because you don’t have the inflections or the style of what the actor may do, you have somebody reading you the line and you have to make it up and so you have to do a couple different versions of how the director sees it, what he sees, which is helpful though because it’s really helpful if the director really has a vision of the movie

Q: And what about Talk to Me and Caught on Tape?

CE: Those are different. Talk to Me is a biopic with Don Cheadle and it’s real cool, it’s a little more of a serious role. I play a real character and Don plays a real character, Petey Green, who was a DJ in the late ‘60s who became an big advocate for the city as a talk radio personality. I play the guy who was #1 at the station until he shows up. So we have this rivalry and there’s a lot of stuff going on. There’s a big fight scene. It’s kind of cool. Caught on Tape is a unique film where Sticky Fingaz, the actor doing the Blade series, he directed this thing where he did everything as a rap opera. All the lyrics are rapped. You record first and then you act your scene out. Mekhi Phifer and a lot of people participated .

Q: Was that difficult?

CE: Yeah, I’m not really a rapper. But he gives you the beats and you have the lyrics and he gives you the idea of how you could flow it and then you do your own thing. It was a unique experience. It was fun to do because you’re delivering lines but you gotta do them in a flow so to speak and then you’ve got to act the scene out and stayon the beat. It was different but I enjoyed the experience of doing it. It was unique.

Q: As a producer, did you think about the casting for international marketing? What were some of your producer roles on it?

CE: Especially early on on this project it was trying to take what was a general idea and figure out how to shape it into something I thought could work, that could be fun and I love the play on the Bourne Identity/Bourne Supremacy thing, that was my thought process behind it but having some fun with it. It did become very important to have Lucy Liu—she’s a producer on the movie too—because we needed to have some international exposure to get play outside the United States. As a producer I had to talk to her and invite her into the movie and convince her to do it with me as well as Nicollette. It’s that whole thing in shaping a project. It’s really hard to get a movie done, period. A lot of times you can look at different stars and go, ‘why would they even do that?’ but just getting green lights nowadays is so difficult and all the studios are dropping their rosters. The majors that once would do 40 films a year are doing 17. If they’re doing 17 total movies you know the African-American movies it’s not even one. You have to go and beg to get a movie made. It becomes very difficult just to be in a position where you can greenlight a movie and let alone where you can shape a project where you can get some play and make some love. We’ve got a comedy coming out after the first of the year and just trying to have some fun with it. That’s all I did.

Q: What’s it like watching Lucy kick butt up close?

CE: She really is skillful. You kind of take it for granted but she is skillful, she really can do that stuff.
You’re kind of surprised at the speed with which she kicks, OK, yeah! She’s like (does moves) and you’re like ‘Whoa!’

Q: You say you like doing things you haven’t done before….Be Cool was definitely your Ezekiel 25:17 moment —do you want to do more stuff like that?

CE: Yeah, I’m definitely looking for opportunities to do things that are a little more serious. Especially in Be Cool that was cool because Gary cast me against type and I thought that was fun to play a little more of the heavy, people can see you in a different light. Now I’m looking for that, a good strong dramatic role where you can get into the Oscar category, you know? Usually with comedians like Jamie or even Robin Williams or Jim Carrey, all these guys take chances on doing things outside of the box, do things that are a little more dramatic so I feel you can do that. Even in Barbershop there was the opportunity for me to do real dramatic scenes that make you aspire me to do it even moreso and try to carry it in a movie. So I’m looking for those kinds of opportunities.

Q: So, on the serious tip, what are your thoughts on the whole Michael Richards, "N-bomb" thing?

CE: It was one of those things where you find very negative especially in this day and age. You know that racism is one of those things that always exists in this country, and is underlying but it’s really bad to see someone who lives in the public sector, in the public eye, to let that kind of rage or underbelly racism come out and just use the word as a weapon. There’s this whole big thing of ‘do we take the word out and let nobody use it no more’ and all that, but it’s been used in our community in a totally different way for many years and I think to have that expectation seems like one of those grandiose soap boxes that people get on and I think if it’s not your taste don’t use it but to say for people…you know where I grew up it’s a term of affection, endearment in a certain way. But any time you use something as a weapon it’s negative. I use the comparison of a vehicle. You drive cars every day but if you try to run someone over with it that’s a negative use of a car. What he did with that word was try to be negative, he was trying to actually hurt those people and that’s what made that a bad situation. He was clearly wrong because there were no N words there, those were clearly African-Americans. An N word would have thrown a chair clear across the room. Somebody would have gotten arrested that evening. These were African-Americans, brother. They were appalled and outraged and wanted to do a press conference.


Q: Would you go back to TV?

CE: Yeah I actually have a deal with Touchstone and ABC right now so I’m developing a TV show for ABC and also I have a deal to produce other shows with a production company. It’s very hard to get movies made nowadays. At one point I would do two, three movies a year and it literally went down to one. And on top of that, that movie is shot in Ireland or Canada, and so again with small kids and they’re now at school age I decided that I didn’t want to be somewhere for four months where I couldn’t be with them and television ends up being the right decision. It seemed to be the opportunity to make a resurgence. None of the majors have a true African-American presence. They have people that are on shows but not really shows with leads. And the sitcom world really died off when the reality boom happened but now there seems to be more of an opportunity. Even though they’re more filmed style, you get shows like The Office or My Name is Earl or 2 1/2 Men that are working as comedy so now there seems to be more opportunity to come up with a TV show that would work, that people would buy and find enjoyable and want to watch. And with the success of shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives, ABC seems to be the kind of network that’s looking to win and so we had long conversations but it just seemed like a good move to make so I’m developing a show with Larry Wilmore, who also did Bernie Mac’s show. So we’re developing a show for me and also looking at other ideas to produce as part of our production deal.

Q: Explain Bird and a Bear productions

CE: My manager and partner, he’s been with me since college, he was called Swan, his nickname is Swan and I’m Ceddy Bear, the bear, so a Bird and a Bear.

Q: What about that line about Jet Magazine in the movie you don’t think they’re going to nail your ass?

CE: Yeah, ‘Jet Magazine, for people who like to read but not too much.’ It’s like a magazine-ette.
Q: What do you listen to?

CE: I listen to a lot of old school but I got the new Jay-Z...Marvin Gaye's I Want You album and Frankie Beverly and Maze, John Legend. That’s pretty much it. I got The Dells greatest hits. Dramatics.

Q: What’s the funniest movie ever, in your book, and why?

CE: Ooh. The funniest movie ever? I’ll probably have to go with Coming to America. I’m a huge Eddie Murphy fan. I think he’s extremely funny. There’s so many moments in Coming to America that you can kinda go back to whether it be at the barber shop or whatever where he’s singing , it’s so specific that you find little jokes throughout it. I think Animal House was a funny movie too.


Code Name: The Cleaner is in theaters now

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