INT: Bernie Mac

It's a quiet morning - sometime around 9:00am - at New York City's posh Drake Hotel. I'm sitting in my chair, fumbling with my tape recorder when a voice BOOMS from behind me, echoing through the quiet hotel halls.

Good morning!

Good morning.



And so was my introduction to Bernie Mac. Sharply dressed in a designer suit and slim sunglasses, the co-star of HEAD OF STATE came with one more skip in his step that you're humble reporter who was still a little groggy. Nevertheless, we got write into talking and despite what you read below, it's just not nearly as funny as when you're there in person. It's hard to spell out Bernie's exact inflection on "crazyasamuhhhfucka" and the facial gestures certainly aren't here. But trust me, it's damn funny. Here's more from Bernie.

(to publicist) Can I get some cold water please? And some ice my man?

So you're not a morning person?

I'm a person. I do whatever necessary. Back in the days when I was young and irresponsible, I was a night person. But since I developed as a man, I do whatever I have to do. So it really don't matter. I'm pretty much in control now. Go to bed 9:30-10:00...wake up 4:00, 5:00, 6:00, 7:00 give or take. Depends on the day. The latest I sleep now is 10:00. My life has changed in the last eight years in a big way.

Well now you're supporting a lot of people.

Yeah I think so. That's a good way to put it.

So what brought you to HEAD OF STATE?

Well...black people are sumpin else man. Chris and Ali I've know for some time. They put a name, my brother's name in front of Mitch Gilliam to try and lure me into the family. Then they told me a big lie that they wrote it specifically for me. Try and stroke my ego, which don't need strokin. They said, "Man you'll have the freedom to do this, the freedom to do that." So I said OK, OK... Then they came on the set, my two buddies, Ali and Chris, they came to the television set. And I knew they wanted something cause they sat for three hours. And then they kept tellin me I had to do this film, I had to do this. And finally I said OK and read it again and by them being my buddies, I agreed. So that's how I really go it.

I assume you're happy with the finished product?

You know what? It's so funny that you ask that. It's hard for me to examine myself or something I'm in cause at the time I do it, I give you so much of me it comes from my chest. So it's really hard for me. I don't watch dailies or anything like that. Cause so many times - it all depends on the artist too - but so many times for me, you get into "I shoulda turned here, I shoulda did that." My best game and performance comes from my heart. SO I saw it maybe three weeks ago, Chris played it for me, and I just melt. Cause I don't like to see myself. I don't like to examine myself. I just like to give it, let it go and go about my business. And that's been working for me ever since I was a kid. Some people like to look at themselves. But I don't read magazines. I don't watch...I don't think I look at none of my work. Cause I’m just uncomfortable. Cause when I do it it's a performance. A lot of times people will come up to me and say I loved that bit you did and I have no idea what the hell they're talking about. (Laughs.) Really, really. Cause everything is off the top of my head. Most of my stuff is spontaneous.

Do you ever get lost when you're doing standup cause it's so spontaneous?

You know I can't never say that I have. Cause I started so small. When I was a kid I used to tell stories off the top of my head. And when I was about 5th grade, Ms. Cochran used to always say, "Bernie since you're so funny and amusing, why don't you come amuse the whole class. Share with us. Share with us Bernie." And I would get up and just ramble off a story. Then it got the point where I was popular. And she was so into the stories and me being able to do that she started writing other teachers and the principal saying, "I want you to see Bernie do this." And that's how it started for me. And then she started using me. She used to say, "Class, if you don't be quiet, Bernie's not going to tell a story." And I didn't know nothing about it, you know? Then it just developing right there. I’d say, "whatcha wanna hear?" They’d say, "I wanna hear a scary story" or "I wanna hear this..." and I would just make up a story right there and go for 45 minutes.

If you could remake any movie, what would it be and who would you cast in it?

It’s hard to say who you're gonna cast cause once again it goes back to being spontaneous. I’m just a fan of change. I’m a fan of doing something that don't nobody else do. Bringing new people aboard. I like to hear people say, "who the hell is that?" I think I’m really excited about a remake of GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER. That’s where my heart is right now.

How would you spin it?

Well you can't disrespect that film. Because of the talented people involved. I wouldn't dare touch it. They want to make it a comedy but how do you insult that film by doing a comedy? You can do a little comedy in there but the issues back then and the issues today is no significance. Interracial dating is not a problem. Some of the things that are pretty heavy at the time don't affect today. I think I would give it a little twist. I’m gonna play Spencer (Tracy), but I’m gonna have a daughter cause the daughter shows the emotional tag between daughter and father. She’s gonna bring a white guy to the house. But I’m not mad at her bringing a white guy, I’m mad because we just don't get along. We don't see eye to eye. Cause he's just like me. That’s what attracted her to him. He’s just like her father.

With you and Chris together on set, was there a lot of practical joking?

Well Chris and I didn't play practical jokes but what we did was...Chris and I are buddies. So I was really impressed with...a lot of people asked me my favorite scene with Chris. I don't have one; I don't have a favorite anything. But my highlight moment was in between takes, Chris and I are buddies, we would sit in our chairs, it was a debate. Whether it was old movies, old plays, old characters, Cagney vs. Edward G. Robinson, Bogart, umm, Mel Torme and Frank Sinatra and dean martin...who sang the best. We would just start writing stuff. I turned around every time we'd have a break there's be 50 people behind us. They would just crowd around Chris and I. And you'd be so into it, we'd be going back and forth, BS-ing you know. And they'd say back to it and I’d look back and there was a bunch of people behind me. And it was the extras. And their faces were just lit up. They were just watching me and Chris. And I looked at Chris and said, "Chris they really dig us, you know?" That was the first time it really tapped in on me that you meant a lot to people. Cause I never really understood or got into myself with what I do. That was the first time it really registered with me that you have an effect on people.

Well your show is very popular, you must've had some idea of your scope through ratings?

You know...I think when you do things for nothing and you do it for the craft, things like that are more satisfying. I never got into this business for dollars or cents or superficial reasons...women or cars. I was a clown. I was the prep rally cat, always doing comedy and telling stories. To be in this position is a beautiful thing. I haven't reached that yet. I hope I never reach that. I don't ever what to reach that cause I’m havin to much fun. My heart is in it too strong. The TV show and stuff, nominations...I’m not there yet. And I’m glad I’m not. Once I reach that I become like a lot of these cats out here. I see these guys and they crank and moan and they have everything. And I can't never understand that. You get on a movie set and you're on a guy’s mark and they get upset or in the guy's light...man I just go to my room because I just need some structure. You know what I mean? In Chicago when it's 25 below and shit, working outside...this is cherry. I ain't there yet. The TV show and this is great and it's a beautiful thing but it's my job.

What about the controversy with the creator of your show leaving abruptly?

I'm not a cat to really relish on things like that. First of all you can't fire the creator. You can't fire god. Second of all, people always tell you about something else or something done to them. But for some reason people never tell you what they did. This is a business. If they cancelled me tomorrow I can't call these guys and crank and moan. Can’t do that. Larry (Wilmore) will be missed, he was a great part of the show but that was a business decision between him and the networks. Same thing with Damon and the networks (on "In Living Color"). I don't want to get involved in all that stuff. But it's hard to fight for somebody who don't fight for himself. But the network is the network. You know how networks are. And everybody knows the responsibility of the executive producer and being the title of the show. If they cancelled me tomorrow, I mean hey, what I'm gonna do? But meanwhile back at the ranch, all I’m trying to say is, the show is in great shop. The show runs itself. I’ve been living that show for 45-years of my life. And Larry decided to do what he wanted to do and he came to me three months ago and told me that he was planning to go to NBC and I told him "you do what you got to do." I’m not gonna handcuff somebody. You can't handcuff somebody who feels they want to be in another place. The show runs itself, you know? Nothing else really he could do. Then you got cats over there...new cats. Warren Hutchinson, who I’m gonna go with and Steve Tompkins. We’re gonna stay in house. You go from 8th grade to high school as a new graduating class goes out and a new class comes in. That’s what life's all about. My daughter is 25 now. My daughter's in New Orleans. I’m kinda glad...(laughs)...but that's what happened.

Speaking of graduation, when do you think you might graduate from the show to concentrate on your film career?

You know what? When you start something you got to finish. And I'm in it for the long haul. I’ve committed myself to the show. Plus, there're 149 people I’ve grown attached to. If it was just me and I was selfish, I would say I'd go back on the road and do comedy and do film. But if you start something - this is going into my third year and I’ve really grown fond of a lot of people. Not just the cast but the grips, the cameramen, the producers, the writers. I really like them. To say that in this business is really strange. I told them when we had the meeting last week when we announced Larry was gone, I told everybody I want them back. You gotta come to people like that. You gotta tell people eye to eye and let em know where they stand. Because I’m gonna stay with the show and see it through. And if the networks don't want me, then fine. But as of right now, I’m gonna finish the show. I got 3 or 4 more years hopefully. After that, I’ll go and do my own thing.

Do you enjoy doing TV?

I just like being creative. I like coming in and telling a story and making it come to life on screen. Or sitting there and interacting with someone like Jeremy, the little boy who's my Don Knotts. The boy's rough, you know. When he starts telling you what he's ready to do you gotta say whoa and back off. Baby Girl is still a baby. Last year she didn't know what she was doing but this year she had a glimpse. But she's getting bigger and I told her, "you're getting fat you better get on a thing..." (laughs). She gets mad at me but... Kellita Smith. Plays my wife and got the sensuality thing going but she's funny. You know all the beauty and that kind of stuff to the naked eye but she's funny. I want to tap in on her funny bone cause I think that's the most serious and key element. Cause I grew up with Lucy and Carol Burnett and they're just not out there. You know Roseanne was probably the last and I just like to see that stuff develop. Cause she's got it. And there's room at the cross. I don't have no problem sharing the screen. Cause we've all been there before and the main thing for me is having a great show. Whether it comes from Jeremy or me playing straight man. Like I’m playing Andy Griffith. I admire how Andy Griffith allowed all those different characters from Goober to Gomer to Floyd to Otis and Marty, just let him get off. He stood there and he was the centerpiece but you got to be really secure with yourself to share that with people. There’s room at the cross man. This shit ain't hard. But we're so selfish we make it hard.

Tell me a little bit about BAD SANTA before we leave.

That’s Billy Bob. Billy Bob is Billy Bob. And when I first went on the set I was sitting there going "OK I’m working with Billy Bob, let's see what's gonna happen, what's gonna go on." And Billy Bob is just...Billy Bob. And he told me; you know what he told me? "You tell people, you tell em I'm Billy Bob." (laughs) He was drunk as a muhfucka when he did too! (Laughs.)

Source: JoBlo.com



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