Monday, 19 April 2010

Chris Rock Americanizes 'Death at a Funeral'

CHRIS ROCK doesn't view the world in black and white, especially when it comes to comedy.
"I come from the same line as Richard (Pryor), Eddie (Murphy) and (Bill) Cosby," says the veteran funnyman. "But I'm also a descendant of George Carlin and Rodney Dangerfield. When I was a kid, I didn't think of Rodney Dangerfield as a funny white guy. We just saw him as a funny guy."
The same goes for his movies. Rock doesn't see his remake of the 2007 British comedy "Death at a Funeral" as a "black" comedy. It's simply a comedy. If there's any label to be put on it, it's an American comedy, he says.

"When you define it as a 'black comedy,' it somehow lessens it, makes it smaller," he says. "I think we've made an American family comedy, even though it's rated R. It's got a big, great cast, black and white. All the people that aren't in a Tyler Perry movie right now are in this movie."
The 45-year-old saw the original "Death at a Funeral," directed by Frank Oz ("Bowfinger"), at an art house theater. He recalls the audience was fairly small -- maybe 12 people -- but they appeared to enjoy the irreverent comedy.
"People were laughing their (behinds) off," recalls Rock, "and to me that said: This is a pop movie. I just thought the jokes would work in America."
The comedian and actor figures he was probably the "only black man in America" who saw the movie, which earned a paltry $8.5 million at the box office in the United States. Savvy to the current enthusiasm for ensemble comedies like "Pineapple Express," "The Hangover" and "Valentine's Day," Rock saw potential in the source material.
"A lot of things are collaborations," observes the former "Saturday Night Live" cast member. "They're not doing a lot of one-guy comedies right now. I thought the fact that ('Death at a Funeral') had a lot of funny parts was perfect for me. I didn't want to have to carry the whole movie."
Rock's instincts were on target. He quickly got Sony Pictures on board, and he recruited filmmaker-playwright Neil LaBute, with whom he had collaborated on the 2000 dark comedy "Nurse Betty," to helm the remake.
He called up his old friend Martin Lawrence, who had opened for him on a stand-up gig years ago, to join the cast. He credits Lawrence as "the only comedian to blow me off the stage." Also joining the ensemble were "30 Rock" and fellow "SNL" alum Tracy Morgan, Danny Glover, Luke Wilson, Loretta Devine, Keith David, Regina Hall, James Marsden, Zoe Saldana and Peter Dinklage, who reprises the role he played in the original.
Rock worked with the original movie's writer, Dean Craig, on adapting the script to give it an American voice and sense of humor.