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INT: Dane Cook

05.30.2007

Ready or not, Dane Cook is coming to a theater near you. The superstar comedian, no longer content to merely rule the standup world, has now set his sights on Hollywood . After years of minor parts in forgettable films like MYSTERY MEN and TORQUE, Cook got his very own starring vehicle alongside Jessica Simpson in last year’s EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH. Undaunted by that film’s underwhelming performance, Cook returns with a vengeance this week with the thriller MR. BROOKS. It’s Cook’s first dramatic role in a major release. Will the legions of fans that enjoy his comedy be willing to embrace him as a serious actor? Since I’ve never really met any actual fans of Cook’s comedy, I honestly couldn’t tell you.

Cook stopped by Le Meriden Hotel in Beverly Hills to talk about his experience working alongside Kevin Costner and William Hurt in MR. BROOKS. Check it out.

Dane Cook

Your director said that you sent them a videotaped audition in order to get the part. What was that experience like?

It was like auditioning for American Idol or something like that. Actors will tell you, when somebody says, “Will you go on tape?” it’s kind of the kiss of death. It normally is just a slow, painful death, because you really want to be able to meet the producers and talk about your take on the character. When you get a tape, you never know if the person’s got a baby in their arms, or what’s going on in their life. So rarely does that seem to work in your favor.

But I did it, I went on tape. I was down in New Mexico , where we were filming Employee of the Month, and I literally ran between scenes cause I had this one day to do it. I set up the camera and I had one of my good friends read the lines. He was awful, too. He’s not an actor at all. I would actually…I kept stopping because I had to tell him how to act. I’d be like, “Say this: “I’m gonna kill you.’” But he’d be like [stilted delivery] “I’m going to kill you.” Acting is reacting, and I’m like, “God, you suck!”

So, I did these few takes where I had to stop it, and I finally got the take I wanted. But truly, I had a real epiphany when I read the script. I was already pacing. I was already reading the lines out loud. You always hear about if it’s the right part, it just starts to take a hold of you. And I knew this guy. I’m an optimistic, kind of encouraging, upbeat, glass is half-full person, and yet I understood this deviant, lascivious side of this person. I kinda drew from a few people that I’d met in my travels, and spun the wheel, sent the tape and got the call. “You did it. You did it, kid. You’re in the flick. You’re heading to Shreveport .” So…

For a guy who does a lot of improv, what was it like working from a script? Did you always stick to the script?

For the most part – about 95% of the time. It’s the writer and the director’s vision, and you’re a piece of their puzzle. It’s the polar opposite of comedy, where you’re in such control – writer, director, producer, sometimes bouncer. And you’re stepping in...the other 5% were scenes with Kevin. There’s a scene after we’ve just come back from one of our dirty deeds, and we just started improvising together in the car. Kevin was so open and available to that and really encouraged it. I remember I was punching the seat and I was just trying to really get myself in a place where, honestly, you could do that and feel embarrassed in front of certain actors, who would look at you and be like, “What’s going on here?”

But, Kevin was like, “Do that. Do that, man.” I said this one line: “Oh, did you see her face?” And when we did it again, he was like “You gotta say that again.” And we really started improvising. I was like, “I’m in a dramatic scene and we’re improvising about having just murdered this couple.” Do it was being able to take the best of what I knew how to do comedically, and the best of working with somebody iconic like Kevin Costner, who you just trust and you know he’s not going to let you down, and then the material, which was solid. We were like, “We can’t miss.” It just felt right. And I know it’s the kind of scene that people will be able to watch and feel moved, in some way, by it.

At one point during Mr. Brooks, William Hurt’s character remarks about you, “If he were charming and funny, I still wouldn’t like him.” Was that always in the script, or was it improvised?

William’s line was always in there. It was interesting, because people who do know me…when I brought a few of my closest friends to see an early screening of the movie, one of my best friends, who knows me and knows my comedy…people know that I have a good time on stage. I love my life and I love my job. And he turned to me, right around that part, and he goes, “I fucking hate you. I really do” It was like the best compliment I have ever received. I was like, “All right, then I did something right.” That line just happened to be in the script.

When you first pondered making the leap to movies, did you think that you would be playing a character this dark?

I did do a short film about five years earlier called Spiral, which I would say is on par, as far as darkness. It’s something I’d written and produced. It was just…it served two purposes. One, I guess on a selfish or promotional level, it was like, “Let me show people what I can do. Let me show people that it’s more than just stand up comedy.” The only way I’m going to have that is to do it myself because nobody trusts that I can do it. So there’s that. But then there’s that creative side. It’s like, I’ve done stand up for 17 years and I need to explore other things, whether it be doing a voiceover for this other movie I’m doing or talking about doing this theater project coming up. I just want to be able to challenge myself and do things that are away from…now, comedy is safe for me. I can perform in front of 20,000 people at Boston Garden and I’m like, “I know how to do this. This is what I do.” I want to be a little scared.

What has it been like to enjoy such a meteoric rise to fame?

When I was in Boston , I had this thing where all of my comedic friends were going to New York . I said, "I’m not going to New York .” They were like, “You gotta go!” I was like, “I’m not going to go to New York until New York calls me, until I have a purpose to go there.” That is how I do everything. Everything. I don’t just say, “I need to do a comedy.” I had other comedic scripts come along before Employee of the Month; I had other TV shows, that I just felt wasn’t authentic, or it didn’t pump my nads. You know what movie that’s from? Anybody? Breakfast Club? Ok.

I don’t push. I guess that’s kind of my thing. I just don’t push. I always have stand-up. I always have a way to make a few shekels. I’m not in need. So, I just wait for stuff that makes me go, “Shit, that’s kinda creepy. That’s kinda like weird. That’s scary.” And, I think, on a personal level…who knew with stand-up comedy that I would be able to do that? I had a gut; I hoped that this vehicle would lead me to everything. Maybe I could bash down the doors and do all kinds of stuff. But, that’s up to the movie gods and for the audience to go, “Yeah, we’d like to see you do that.” When I started getting the nod from my fans, and then some scripts that were actually appealing came in, I was like, “I’m not going to push. I’m going to go with the flow. If this is what I’m meant to do now, I’m going to do it for the rest of my life.

If not, I’ll create something somewhere behind the scenes. Wherever I’m meant to be, I’m going to just eat it up.” And I enjoy the hell out of it. I’m not going to lie to you. I love my job and I love the art of comedy, but I love doing these movies. I really hope that I get to do a lot more.

What was it like having William Hurt around, playing Kevin Costner’s imaginary friend?

You can’t ignore William Hurt. He’s William fucking Hurt. I’ve pretty much done this, even around comedians, but I like to keep it light on a set and I like to have a good time. I’m not a method person, even though I like to research. Eddie Murphy once said, about Beverly Hills Cop, “It all has to be on the script first, and then I can improvise and go from the spine here.” I didn’t know how to approach William Hurt. I didn’t know what his take was, so I just waited. We did that first scene in the boardroom together – where he’s sitting at the end of the table – and I was feeling him, but I couldn’t.

I was trying to get myself into that zone, and I finally figured it out. I was like, “Oh, okay, this is what I need to do.” Once I got into this rhythm, I lost William Hurt. I think Pacino once said about Chris O’Donnell, when they finished Scent of a Woman: “I never saw you, but I felt that you were great.” I started doing this thing where I didn’t feel William Hurt. And then he walked up to me, on the second day of shooting, just off-screen. It was kind of weird because I was so used to not having him in my life, or my periphery. And I just remember that he said something very encouraging. He said something like, “I shouldn’t say this to you right now because we’re doing this, but you’re doing really great.” I just went home and called my whole family and said, “William Hurt just told me I’m doing really great, and he really meant it.”

There was that scene in the car, where he leans in between Kevin and I, and I didn’t expect him to do that. I just had to do my thing, but I could feel him. He’s got the force. I feel like he could flick me out of a scene if he wanted to. He could just omit you from a scene. And Kevin’s got that same way. And even Demi. These are the elite. I’m a confident guy and I knew why they were bringing me in and I knew I could hang, but I also knew that I was going to experience things with them, since I’m new to that level, that I was just going to have to shut the fuck up and really listen and learn, and I did that every day. It was the best course on acting that you could ever, ever ask for.

Did you ever think about who you might choose, if you were looking around for someone to murder? Maybe a heckler?

I love hecklers because hecklers remind you that you’re a comedian. I’ve always said that, even though they throw off the whole tempo and the rhythm, and sometimes cut right into the middle of a bit. Being an anti-cynical type person, in the back of my brain I’m like, “This guy’s yelling out because I’m a fucking stand up comic. This is what I do, and it’s the coolest thing ever.” So no, I wouldn’t go after hecklers. I’d go after some club owner that treated me like a douche bag. I’d definitely take on some of those guys, if I could be Mr. Baffert, aka Mr. Smith, for a day.

What’s next for you?

I’m getting ready to do another film with Lionsgate. It’s kind of a dark comedy, called Bachelor Number Two. We’re going to start filming that in July, so we’re casting it now. It’s appealing because it’s like a Bad Santa. It’s a comedy, but I’m playing a real prick who seems to have no emotional attachment to anything, so it’s just a different side of my comedy. Whereas Good Luck Chuck has a lot of physicality and charisma, this is a guy whose name is Tank and he’s got to roll over everybody. There’s no filter. It’s almost like how you would treat a heckler, on any given night. Anybody who he experiences in his life, he’s just going to go for the weak point. If you’ve got a cleft lip, he’s going to be like, “You’ve got some shit on your lip.” You’re in trouble with this guy. So I look forward to getting into the challenge of playing somebody unlike me.

Any plans to go back to stand up?

Always. I’ll do stand up tonight, if I can. Stand up comedy is my baby.

Questions? Comments? Manifestos? Send them to me at thomasleupp@joblo.com.

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Source: JoBlo.com

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