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The Cast and Director Talk About ‘Death at a Funeral’

 

 The 2007 indendent British comedy Death at a Funeral directed by Frank Oz was the inspiration for 2010’s Americanized Death at a Funeral from Screen Gems and directed by Neil LaBute. Chris Rock fell in love with the original film after catching a screening in a nearly empty theater, and his admiration for that film made him want to remake the movie with a big name ensemble cast. Rock hopes this new version will open up the comedy to a wider audience.

The action in Death at a Funeral takes place at, as the title implies, a funeral. Rock and Martin Lawrence play the sons of the deceased man who apparently went to his grave trying to protect a very provocative secret. Peter Dinklage reprises his role as the stranger who knows the secret and demands to be paid off or else he’ll spill the beans. The huge ensemble also includes Zoe Saldana, Columbus Short, James Marsden, Tracy Morgan, Regina Hall, Danny Glover, and Luke Wilson. Together for a press conference in LA to discuss their version of Death at a Funeral, the cast shared why they were so attracted to this remake and what it was like being a part of such a funny cast.

Director Neil LaBute and the Death at a FuneralCast Press Conference

Why did you want to do this film?Neil LaBute: “I guess the genesis for me was twofold. I’d been looking for a comedy for quite some time. Getting people to believe that you are able to do something other than what you’re known for in this town sometimes is difficult. Luckily, the effect in this case was that Chris Rock had seen the movie and wanted to make a [version of it] in the States. He’d worked with me 10 years ago, had a good experience and also had been a director in the last few years, but wanted to act in terms of the production rather than act and direct. So he was interested, knowing that I liked working with actors and scripts.”

“Then I’d also worked with Screen Gems, who were putting the film together. I’d doneLakeview Terrace with them, had a good experience. And so those were an individual and a company or Clint Culpepper, the head of that company, who said, ‘Let’s take a chance on somebody doing something different.’ There’s always been humor, I think, in what I do – sometimes unintentionally, frankly – but I had never done a comedy other than Nurse Bettywhich had humor and scalpings coexisting.”

“There’s never been just a straight up comedy, so it’s an expensive medium we work in. So to get a chance to do something, people have to say, ‘I’ll trust you with $15 million, $20 million.’ So it’s a big amount of trust. Luckily, I was able to come into this and get a chance to work on what is essentially more flat out comedy than anything I’ve done before. So it already existed as an idea and even a script, and I came in at that point where Chris was really the only person in place at that time.”

Is there such thing as “black” comedy and why is the white character driving a Saab?

Chris Rock: “Driving a Saab? That was Neil’s choice. Neil’s in charge of car picking. Is there black comedy? I mean, there’s comedy that black people do. To me, it’s all just comedy to tell you the truth. I consider myself in the same line – – there’s Richard [Pryor] and Eddie [Murphy] and [Bill] Cosby, but I’m also a descendant of George Carlin and Rodney Dangerfield and all those guys like that. So I just mix it all up. When I was a kid, we didn’t think Rodney Dangerfield was a funny white guy. We just thought he was a funny guy.”

Is this a record for remaking a film so soon?

Chris Rock: “I saw the movie…one of the reasons I wanted to remake it, I saw it in an art house. I saw it like in a little theater, Angelica, whatever, with like 10 people. Something to me just said, ‘This is like a pop movie. Why is this playing at an art house?’ Me and the other 10 people are laughing our asses off. Have you ever been in a theater with no people, ‘Waaaaa,’ just laughing, because you normally need other people around to get rid of your inhibitions, but we didn’t care. It was amazing.”

Did you think it would take longer to make it, and why did you think it would work with an American sensibility?

Chris Rock: “I just thought the jokes would work in America. I thought you watch a lot of the movies out right now, comedy, we’re not doing a lot of one guy comedy right now. A lot of things are collaborations, something like Date Night right now or The Hangover is like a bunch of people. So I thought the fact that it had a lot of funny parts was perfect for me, not wanting to have to carry a whole movie. And also perfect, something a studio would really be into. So I thought it would work that way.”

Zoe, can you talk about your scenes with James Marsden and working with this crew? Did it influence you?

Zoe Saldana: “No, I don’t think I’m funny at all. I don’t want to be, but I just knew that this was going to be an amazing experience. Everything about the concoction of this project was appealing, from Neil LaBute to Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Tracy Morgan, Danny Glover and the rest of all of us coming all the way down. Then I remember asking my team, ‘Well, who’s going to be playing the crazy boyfriend that’s high on substances?’ And they’re like, ‘Oh, James Marsden.’ I’m like, ‘Oh my God, yes, I’m totally…’ It just felt to me like something I’ve never done before and it was a challenge.”

“I saw the first one and I loved it. I’ve seen it like four or five times. Something about it just felt like, ‘Oh my God, that’s one thing that the entire world has in common, that’s funerals.’ And everyone has a crazy family member. It didn’t matter if it was in England or if it was here in America or whatever. It was still, to me, […]it was going to work and it was hysterical.”

 

When Universal Pictures invited the media to the set of Get Him to the Greek starring Russell Brand and Jonah Hill, one of the scenes being film contained a bit of a spoiler…scratch that and make it a big spoiler. So rather than ruin any potential surprises, we’ll stick to what’s commonly known about the film.

Get Him to the Greek is a spin-off from the R-rated 2008 hit comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall that was written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller and directed by Stoller. Stoller’s back at the helm of Greek and Russell Brand reprises his role as leather-clad, bad boy rocker Aldous Snow. FSM‘s Jonah Hill is back for more rowdy fun, this time as the guy charged with making sure Aldous makes it to the Greek Theater (hence the film’s title) for a comeback show.

Between shooting scenes, Russell Brand sat down with online journalists (including About.com guest writer Fred Topel) for an R-rated chat to talk about slipping back into his Aldous Snow character once again. Something which, according to Brand, was a fairly easy process. “It’s really good because it’s more fun to play him on drugs because now it enables me to relive the better aspects of my own drunken hell without some of the terrible consequences,” joked Brand.

Russell Brand Get Him to the Greek On Set Roundtable Q&A

You have a bit of a history with drugs and alcohol so did you make suggestions to the script?

Russell Brand: “I think it was written with my personal problems in mind so yes, I was able to bring a lot of that to the script.”

Are you okay with revisiting it on film?

Russell Brand: “Yeah, because I went through all of those years with a crack and heroine addiction I might as well get some money out of it. It cost enough. It was expensive. You get beaten up and go to crack houses. There’s a down beat in a crack house.”

How does a music performance differ from doing stand up comedy?

Russell Brand: “It differs almost entirely because as a music performer you stand on the stage saying, ‘Look at me. Look at me. F–k me I’m so sexy.’ As a comedian, you stand on stage saying, ‘Oh, this awful thing happened. I banged my leg. Don’t look at me.’ There is a bit of embarrassment and humiliation. Whereas a musical performance is about self-grandization.”

You did a song in Sarah Marshall but did you know you were going to have to do a musical as Aldous Snow?

Russell Brand: “No, that would have been madly presumptuous. I’m more than grateful to have had the opportunity to do this.”

What’s your favorite song that you’ve recorded?

Russell Brand: “‘Bangers, Beans and Mash’ written by Jason Segel. The title of the song is neither a euphemism for sex nor an English dish, both of which Jason is unaware of I imagine because otherwise why would have written it? You don’t eat bangers, beans and mash. You don’t want ketchup getting in the mash. You want gravy with mash and bangers. Also, a working class euphemism for tits is bangers as well so these things play in my mind.”

So it’s a metaphor but it’s the wrong metaphor?

Russell Brand: “No, it’s not a metaphor because it has no reality other than its own very specific notion so it has no comparative of value. It is not a metaphor because it’s just itself. It can’t mean anything else.”

You’ve shot a couple of music videos already. What do you do in the videos?

Russell Brand: “March about the desert pretending to be Christ and sort of bring peace to Africa.”

Were those your ideas?

Russell Brand: “No, I’m too dangerously close to being a messianic figure to suggest things that mock that.”

You’re shooting in LA, Vegas, London and NY. Do you have a favorite city you’ve shot in?

Russell Brand: “I’ve learned over the course of doing this to do films set in my house between the hours of 3:00 and 5:00 in the afternoon and where I play a little boy called Russell who wears pajamas and plays with a cat for brief periods worthlessly in broad daylight while being fellated. Not by the cat—hang on, it is the cat.”

Is that a euphemism?

Russell Brand: “No, again it’s literal.”

You share scenes with Sean Combs. Can you talk about working with him?

Russell Brand: “Yeah, it’s insane because he’s Puff Daddy. You know when people are so famous it makes you giggle a bit because you think of things you shouldn’t say and all that stuff? Obviously I’m not going to…”

But you thought about that in the middle of filming?

Russell Brand: “Yeah. ‘Oh my God, there’s Puff Daddy.’ You repress those things. He’s a great joy. He’s a gentle fellow. He’s funny and thoughtful and sweet. He’s been very compassionate. I went away for a romantic weekend to Vegas with him to see Ricky Hatton get punched in the face in a boxing match.”

What’s it like going away for a weekend with Sean?

Russell Brand: “I just felt like the luckiest girl in the world. It felt like a dream, really. Then he popped the question. He’s very lovely. He’s a very hospitable gentleman.”

Can you talk a bit about working with Jonah Hill?

Russell Brand: “Yeah, he’s lovely. He’s a really funny, sparkly individual. He’s young and I forget how young he is. He’s only 24 or 25. He’s incredibly bright and has a clear understanding of what he wants to do. He comes up with good suggestions, and I enjoy the chemistry I have with him. I was really surprised in Sarah Marshall with the short scenes between he and I worked. That’s the reason I wanted to do this film because I was interested to explore that.”

Russell Brand Get Him to the Greek On Set Roundtable Q&A

Did you have any musical inspirations to help you with this role?

Russell Brand: “Lots. Jagger, Keith Richards, Bowie, Morrissey, Noel Gallagher, Liam Gallagher. I’m friendly with some musicians so I’m able to watch them. They’re very different from comedians. They’re rude—at the least the ones I know. They’re so self-assured.”

Like Keith Richards?

Russell Brand: “Keith Richards is actually a very gentle fellow. That self-assuredness that they have…me, I’m not like that. I’m more…I don’t know. They seem very grounded.”

Did any of their stories help you with this role?

Russell Brand: “I didn’t ransack the biography of my musical chums. I felt that would sort of be like grave robbing. I did lots of characteristics and traits from some musicians I know, like Morrissey or Noel Gallagher for example.”

This set is very relaxed. Is that the type of environment you’re used to working in or are you used to being around more chaotic sets?

Russell Brand: “I think I’ve been very fortunate in my brief career in films to work with people that are kind of cool. I think it comes from Judd [Apatow] down that people are very collaborative. I’ve not encountered people that are hard to work with among this group of people. I’ve done Bedtime Stories and the previous film, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, was with Judd as well. I’ve done The Tempest with Julie Taymor and Helen Mirren and that was a different vibe of madness. I’ve never thought, ‘This is an obnoxious and unbearable person.'”

Would you like to do another Aldous Snow film and make it a trilogy?

Russell Brand: “I don’t think so. I mean, I don’t know. What else can I have him do?”

Director Neil LaBute and the Death at a Funeral Cast Press Conference

Funerals are supposed to be somber but often we end up laughing. Have you thought about how you’d like your own funeral to play out?

Chris Rock: “I’m not sure. I think I want all the living Presidents there. Carter, I want them all to be in shorts. Stanley Cup, you know, somewhere around. I haven’t given it that much thought. I want Jay-Z to rap the eulogy. ‘That nigga’ dead y’all.’ Squeeze Oprah in there somewhere.”

Who is responsible for such outstanding casting? What was the criteria?

Chris Rock: “Clint Culpepper. I mean, Clint’s the man. I didn’t know Columbus. I didn’t know James. Clint’s like, ‘They’re in your movie.’ I was like, ‘Okay.'”

Columbus Short: “No one knows me. No one knows me, Chris.”

Chris Rock: “But when we got Neil, a lot of actors really were like, ‘Oh yeah, I definitely want to work with Neil.’ But when people started hearing Martin was doing it, it was like, ‘Oh, yeah!’ It was like, ‘Oh, sh-t!’ Tracy signed up but once Martin got on, it was like, ‘I’ve got to get in there! Don’t do that movie without me.’ Once we got Martin, it was another movie.”

Tracy Morgan: “Well, I get to work, these are my champions right here so it was like for me, this whole panel is like the dream team. I’m playing with Barkley and Jordan, those guys, so I might get a medal. I’ve got my shirt. I’m on the team. When I’m with Martin and Chris, I’m on the team. I might not start, I might not never play. But that’s okay. I’ve got my shirt. I played pro game. So for me, that’s what it was for me. You know what I’m saying? It was the same thing going back to find my inspiration from the gate. From the gate it was just like what first made me want to do it from the jump was Chris and Martin. So now to actually get here and it’s for real now, it’s solidified. I’m in a movie, just for me to be seen, I’m sharing space with these guys so that’s how I feel about it.”

James, we loved your rendition of “Amazing Grace.” Where did you draw your inspiration?

James Marsden: “That was from Chris, I think. That was your addition, wasn’t it? I don’t know, I thought it was funnier if it really was a sincere offering of condolences to Loretta [Devine]. I remember Zoe and Columbus sitting there going, ‘You’ve got a voice, man. You’ve got to go for it.’ I’m like, ‘I don’t know if it’s funnier if he can sing. Maybe it’s better if he doesn’t sing well.’ ‘No, no, no. Sing as gospel as you can. Just go for it.’ That was like all right, all right. That on, the last take, became like inspired.”

Being naked the whole movie, did you worry about catching cold?

Columbus Short: “I caught the cold.”

James Marsden: “I gave the cold to Columbus. I gave the cold to Columbus’ cheek. No, they kept it nice and warm on set. They wanted me to be comfortable. Yeah, that was fun. I’ve always said, ‘Nudity’s not a problem for me, but it must be in a comedy.’ I’d hate to be, I don’t know, there’s something uncomfortable about asking for the audience, to be sincere to the audience or have to take it really seriously and get naked. If it’s for a joke, I’ll do it – I guess.”

You never had any doubts or qualms?

James Marsden: “No, because I knew it was funny. I read the script on a flight from New York to LA, and I didn’t know that there had been a British film already made so I just thought it was this great original kind of chamber piece about all the stuff that takes place at this funeral. I just thought the character was rich and I just kept reminding myself of what this guy has to endure unbeknownst to him and involuntarily. It was just always funny to me, so I didn’t think twice about taking it off.”

Tracy Morgan: “Yeah, but you’re built like an Adonis.”

Regina, where do you find your humor alongside these guys?

Regina Hall: “Well, I was very excited to see the movie. I’d never worked with any of these four so I’ve watched all of them, all these three guys literally. I watched Martin every episode. I was like, ‘God, I can’t tell him. He’ll be like, She’s stalking me.’ Chris I loved, Tracy on Saturday Night Live so I’ve been a fan, too. But I have to say they’re really giving and generous, so to work with them was pretty easy.”

Martin, after doing Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, what made you want to do another ensemble comedy?

Martin Lawrence: “Well, my man Chris Rock gave me a call personally and when he first called, I was like, ‘Uh, sorry, Chris. I can’t do that.'”

Chris Rock: “I didn’t have a lot of money when I called him the first time.”

Martin Lawrence: “But then he sent me the British version and I thought it was very funny. Then when he told me it was about playing his brother, I just said, ‘I’ve got to be on board.’ Me and Chris we see each other probably every year and we’ve always talked about working together, working together. He came on the Martin show, I went on his show on HBO. We just finally got a chance to really do a movie together and it’s because he put it together, so I’ve got to give my man the credit for that.”

Martin, how does it make you feel that everyone is drawn to a film with you?

Martin Lawrence: “It makes me feel good. For your peers to respect what you do and respect that you can bring something to it makes me feel good. Puts pressure on me to deliver, but I’ve been doing that my whole career so I look forward to it. I’m very appreciative and thankful to have been a part of it.”

Chris and Neil, is it more or less challenging to remake a movie than create something from scratch?

Neil LaBute: “For me I would say it’s a bit of each.”

Chris Rock: “Yeah, it’s a bit of each. I’ll say this. When you know a movie’s ending works, your life’s so much easier. It doesn’t make the rest of the movie not difficult in parts but, boy, when you know… I’ve remade a few movies and they all have one thing in common: great endings. If you’re going to remake something, make sure that ending was tight. I would say it’s a little less challenging, if you have a great ending. If you don’t have a great ending, don’t remake the movie.”

Director Neil LaBute and the Death at a Funeral Cast Press Conference

Neil LaBute: “You know you’re climbing the same mountain but you want to find a new way to do it as well. You want it to be your own and yet, especially in this case, I think everyone went into it who had seen it really loved it. There was no sense of, ‘Oh, we can make this better.’ It’s just we’re going to make it our own.”

“It’s a whole different kind of family. The temperature was already 80 degrees above where this very reticent English family starts in the original. So if the temperature’s here, we wanted to keep that temperature going all the time, ratcheting up the humor. So how do you find those moments? And take big ensemble people. For me, the only drawback of the original is I think a few people are slighted along the way, some of the actors. I think to a person, those that were slighted in the original have much more to do and are funnier as characters in this particular version. And you have a lot to stand up for because people look at the first one as we do and are appreciative and say, ‘That’s really funny. Why are you remaking it?’ ‘Well, for a variety of reasons.’ So I think you do have that to live up to as well. That is a challenge.”

Columbus and Zoe, you both did this and The Losers. What was the mindset like, the transition from comedy to action?

Columbus Short: “To be honest with you, this movie prepared me so much to do the movie we did because I got to watch these three guys. To be honest, I signed on the movie to work with Peter Dinklage. No, honestly, to watch these three guys work and to go into an action movie, especially Martin with the movie that we made, me and Zoe, is in that vein, an ode to the Bad BoysLethal WeaponDie Hard. And Martin did it amazing, so to watch how he works comedically and his timing really helped me to go into the next project.”

Zoe Saldana: “And just it really helped that we play brother and sister in this movie because we have yet to find out… We’ve been on an inquisition since last year.”

Columbus Short: “We have the same father.”

Zoe Saldana: “We think. We honestly do think that we have the same father. Our mothers just haven’t told us yet. It really helped us because by the time we got to Puerto Rico, then we felt confident enough to push each other as actors. Even though our characters really didn’t have much to do with each other, but we were there as brother and sister sort of off camera and that was pretty awesome, especially at night. No, no, not like that. [Laughing] Guys, that’s it everybody, so nice to meet you all. I mean, in the casinos, you guys. Come on, Puerto Rico’s got a ton of casinos. Oh my God.”

Columbus Short: “Oh God, Zoe. Way to go.”

We’re live streaming.

Zoe Saldana: “Are you? No. Okay, so then you know what, let’s correct that. When I say at night, I mean because after work we’d always go to the hotel. In the lobby it was like the cast and the crew. We would have a drink and sort of just unwind and talk about the day and everything, because we were doing a lot of action sequences.”

Columbus Short: “You blew it already.”

Zoe Saldana: “That’s it. It’s out. Columbus and I are having an affair.”

Back to casting, was this supposed to be a black version of the original film?

Chris Rock: “I don’t know. It’s weird. I mean, I was the lead I guess. I mean, I was Aaron and I’m black. Okay, it’s me, Martin and Tracy. Can you name three white comedians that more white people would come and see? I’ll outsell any white guy. If I said, ‘No black people can go see me next week in LA, I would still sell more tickets.’ So I just consider myself a comedian. I’m a black man and I’m down for the struggle, but I’m a comedian. I’m a comedian. When you say ‘black’, it’s like a movie for a certain amount of people.”

Luke, can you compare this comedy to others you’ve done?

Luke Wilson: “I don’t know, just I like the idea that it was a big ensemble and the fact that Neil was directing. Yeah, you hear that these three guys are going to be in it, it’s just an unbelievable trio. I always think about like a few years ago I was down in the Caribbean. I went to this little island. I walked on the island and everybody was like, “Blue Streak!’ Martin and I had done this movie, everybody down there, that was like their favorite movie. I told a friend, ‘Wait until you see the reaction I get when you walk on this island. It’s likeBlue Streak, Martin, his idiot partner, this is the guy!’ So I thought if I could work with all these guys, I could go back and like run for mayor on one of these islands.”

“No, I just love the idea of working with all these guys, all these people. And a funny part in something, I don’t know if it’s different, but it definitely was a part that appealed to me.”

James, how much was on the page and how much did you create in the moment? Zoe, did anything he did surprise you?

James Marsden: “I had to apologize to Zoe before every take actually because I said, ‘Zoe, I’m sorry but will you just indulge me? I’m going to try something.’ And she said, ‘Stop it, stop it, stop it. You’re on acid. Do your thing.’ The script was always really, really strong and we always went in and did what was scripted because it was great. It was flawless, but I thank Neil for this but he afforded me a certain amount of creative license to have this balance of going in prepared but also allowing yourself to remain relatively obtuse or open to finding things throughout the day. So it was a great environment to go in. I was definitely allowed to find things that maybe weren’t necessarily always there. You had to be open to that to be out there in space like I was.

Director Neil LaBute and the Death at a Funeral Cast Press Conference

Tracy Morgan: “Can I say something too? I’d like to make an announcement. Me and Luke, we’re going to rewrite The Love Boat. We’re rewriting The Love Boat. We’re going to redo The Love Boat. Columbus is going to play Gopher. You’re playing Captain Stubing.”

Zoe Saldana: “I would watch that. I would totally watch that. Going back to your question, the funniest thing that Jimmy did that wasn’t so funny, but it kind of was too, was that the scene where he’s supposed to be completely naked on the rooftop and I’m supposed to open the window and go, ‘What are you doing? Come back inside. Blah blah blah.’ He didn’t give me any warning that he had taken off his pants. So I’m talking with Luke inside and then Neil yells, ‘Action.’ I open the window and said, ‘What?’ I’m just like, ‘Look at his eyes.’ I just kept looking at his face.”

“I could’ve been prepared to know that he was going to be naked so I felt really…it’s awkward. You’re embarrassed, he’s embarrassed and then they yell cut and I yell at him. I’m like, ‘Next time if you don’t tell me I’m going to punch you. I just need to be ready.’ He’s like, ‘Thank you so much. You were such a gentleman. You kept looking at me in my eyes.’ I wouldn’t look down.”

James Marsden: “I wasn’t embarrassed.”

Columbus, James and Tracy, did you really touch?

Columbus Short: “Yes, I really touched his dangle. The thing about it is it’s funny because I’m not going to say any names but Buke Bilson rhymes with who didn’t want to do it.”

Luke Wilson: “It’s not that I didn’t want to do it. I had a charity event that day.”

Columbus Short: “So Neil came to me so, so like cocky saying, ‘Look, Columbus. You wanna, you wanna?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, of course.’ I’d seen James for a month and a half at that point just making a fool out of himself every day, throwing himself out there. Why wouldn’t I do it? It was aggressive. It was aggressive. Like, ‘Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me.’ I didn’t want to touch you. I didn’t want to be touched and I’m going to be honest, guys, and I’m a completely heterosexual male, he’s packing a nice little [package]. I’m like, ‘Is your mother’s name Juanita?'”

Tracy, was your hand really down there?

Tracy Morgan: “It was. I’m a method actor. It was real poop. It was everything. He ate some pork and beans and franks. Chris and Neil slipped him some Ex Lax so the old man went hard on me. Went hard, you know?”

Luke, how much concentration did it require to play straight?

Luke Wilson: “I’ve worked with funny guys before, guys like Will Ferrell, so you are conscious of trying to concentrate because you never want to start to laugh during scenes, because you will ruin a take. The problem is you get people like Tracy. They see it start in your eyes that you’re going to laugh and then they just start driving you. I would do a thing where if you were Tracy, I’d just kind of look off to the side and be waiting because I’m just waiting for my lines, not even listening to what he’d say just so I could get through the scene. Yeah, you’ve got to focus because these guys are so funny and the script was good and the stuff they’d add was really funny too. So you never want to ruin something.”

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April 22, 2010 - Posted by | 1

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