Funnymen Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence tell us why laughter is the best medicine in their remake of Death at a Funeral
Sibling rivalry, family secrets and a mysterious stranger threaten to blow the lid right off a coffin in Death at a Funeral, a hilarious and darkly delicious romp featuring an ensemble cast of comedy superstars and acclaimed dramatic actors. Based on director Frank Oz and writer Dean Craig’s 2007 funeral farce and transplanted from the English countryside to sunny Pasadena, California, the film is a disarmingly funny look at life going on in the wake of death.
Directed by Neil LaBute, the comedy stars Keith David, Loretta Devine, Peter Dinklage, Ron Glass, Danny Glover, Regina Hall, Kevin Hart, Martin Lawrence, James Marsden, Tracy Morgan, Chris Rock, Zoe Saldana, Columbus Short, and Luke Wilson.
We sat down recently with Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence at the Los Angeles press conference for their new film. Chris and Martin talked about why they remade the film, how the cast came together, their upcoming projects, and why everyone should come see Death at a Funeral.
Chris, why did you think this was a good film to remake?
CHRIS ROCK One of the reasons I wanted to remake it was that I saw it in an art house. I saw it in a little theater with 10 people. To me, it was like, ‘This is a pop movie. Why is this playing at an art house?’ Me and the other 10 people were laughing our asses off. We were in a theater with no people, laughing. You normally need other people around to get rid of your inhibitions, but we didn’t care. It was amazing. I just thought the jokes would work in America. You watch a lot of the movies out right now, and we’re not doing a lot of one-guy comedy right now. A lot of things are collaborations, like Date Night or The Hangover. It’s a bunch of people. So, the fact that it had a lot of funny parts was perfect for me, not wanting to have to carry a whole movie, and it was also something the studio would really be into. I thought it would work that way.
Who is responsible for bringing this outstanding cast together?
ROCK Clint Culpepper is the man. I didn’t know Columbus [Short] or James [Marsden], but Clint was like, ‘They’re in your movie.’ When we got (director) Neil [LaBute], a lot of actors were like, ‘Oh, I definitely want to work with Neil.’ And then, when people started hearing that Martin [Lawrence] was doing it, it was like, ‘Oh, shit!’ Tracy [Morgan] signed up. Once Martin got on, people were like, ‘Hey, man, don’t do that movie without me.’ Once we got Martin, it was another movie.
Martin, after doing Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins, what made you want to do another comedy ensemble?
MARTIN LAWRENCE My man, Chris Rock, gave me a call, personally. When he first called, I was like, ‘Sorry, Chris, I can’t do that.’ But then, he sent me the British version and I thought it was very funny. Then, he told me it was about playing his brother, and I said, ‘I’ve gotta be on board.’ Me and Chris would see each other, probably every year, and we would always talk about working together. He came on the Martin show, and I went on his show on HBO. We just finally got a chance to do a movie together, and it’s because he put it together. I’ve got to give my man the credit for that.
Martin, how does it make you feel that everybody was drawn to being in this film because you were in it?
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. It puts pressure on me to deliver, but I’ve been doing that my whole career. I look forward to it, and I’m very appreciative and thankful to have been a part of it.
Chris, is it more or less challenging to remake a film?
ROCK It’s a bit of each. When you know a movie’s ending works, your life is so much easier. It doesn’t make the rest of the movie not difficult in parts. 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 is tight. 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.
Chris, it seems like inspired casting and it’s also obviously a mixed cast. Was it supposed to be a black version of the original film?
ROCK I don’t know. I mean, it’s weird. I was the lead, I guess. So 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 L.A.,’ I would still sell more tickets. 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 and when you say black, it’s like a movie for a certain amount of people. You know what I mean? I’ve seen Martin Lawrence in front of thousands and thousands of white people. Lawrence is one of the biggest, period.
Martin, can you talk about your production company, Runteldat Entertainment, and what kind of projects you’re interested in doing? Why aren’t you producing major films yourself?
LAWRENCE Runteldat, we’re interested in producing anything that’s good, anything that brings the mullah. (Laughs) I don’t know. A lot of things that I’m reading, it doesn’t feel worth putting my name on it. I’m not going to produce something just for the sake of producing. I’ve met so many producers in this game and all that and so many people are just faking the funk. They’re not even delivering. They just want the titles to walk around Hollywood to get cocktails just to say they’re doing it. You know what I mean? So if I ever do it, I wanna do it because it’s something I believe in and I believe it’s something that has the potential to be successful. Those are the projects that I get behind.
Chris, did this film resonate on a personal level being that you lost your father and you’re playing a character that’s lost his father?
ROCK I guess I went there a little bit, but my father, to the best of my knowledge, never fucked a midget. (Laughter) Let’s hope he didn’t.
I think we made an American family comedy. Despite the ‘R,’ I think this is a movie you can see with your whole family and this is a movie for absolutely everybody. That’s what I think. It’s got a big, great cast — black, white, all the black people that aren’t in the Tyler Perry movie right now. If you like it, please spread the word.