Wryly acerbic Chris Rock plays the most exalted role imaginable—a Village Voice writer—in 2 Days in New York, Julie Delpy’s likable culture-clash follow-up to her romantic comedy 2 Days in Paris. This time, she’s living with Mingus, a black writer slash radio host who avoids becoming unglued even as her neurotic French relatives swarm in for a noisy visit.
Here’s my interview with the Rock about the role.
Hi, Chris. Are you basically playing me?
I kind of thought I was basing it on Nelson George and Elvis Mitchell. But sure, I threw you in there, too. [Laughs.]
Thanks! Did you like the script?
I loved it. The fact that Julie was into me at all, I was like, “Really?” I always dug her. I watched 2 Days in Paris, and the next thing I’m in 2 Days in New York, so things are good. Let’s hope Julie doesn’t become anti-Semitic and racist. [Laughs.]
In some scenes, you casually converse with a cardboard cutout of Obama. Will this movie help his campaign?
Some of his commercials probably cost more than this movie!
Speaking of urgent politics, have you been eating Chick-fil-A?
They have an amazing sandwich, but I was at a mall 10 days ago, and I looked at it, and I couldn’t do it. I ended up having to go to McDonald’s. I’m not sure if it was because of the protest or because, thanks to cell phone cameras, you gotta be careful what you do. When they change their views. . . .
Moving on to tastier animals: Is Madagascar your biggest money-making venture?
You know it! It’s probably my most money sitting still. I probably make my most by touring, but Madagascar does well; it’s the gift that keeps giving.
When you sit there doing the voice, are you thinking “ka-ching”?
When you’re feeling bad doing something, sometimes you have to think about the money to get you through. But not this. My kids like Madagascar, and everybody’s kids like it.
Did they cast you as the zebra because Eddie Murphy did so well as a donkey?
I really don’t know, but I don’t question it. If that was it, fine.
More seriously: Did you learn a lot from doing The Motherfucker With the Hat on Broadway last year?
Broadway was the most fulfilling experience of my entire career. You can see the result in 2 Days. I learned to really get into this character and stop being a wiseass. Even in movies that aren’t that good. In What to Expect When You’re Expecting, I’m way better than in anything else I’ve been in. I’m approaching acting like I quit stand-up, as opposed to learning my lines and being a wiseass. You gotta learn how to listen—you’re not just listening to a cue so you can say the shit you rehearsed.
On Broadway, did you have to subvert your ego because it was an ensemble piece?
Yeah, but I knew I was the least experienced person in the play. I chose a play like that because I wanted to be in a play, not be a play. In showbiz, who the hell lasts? Not a lot of people. If you want to last, it helps if you get better.
You’ve produced, too. Is that part of the longevity?
Yes. People help me, so why can’t I help somebody? Push comes to shove, it’s good to have a group of people who are gonna help you. One day, I might be in a Tom Cruise movie. I’ll be in a Tichina Arnold sitcom. I hired Louis C.K. years ago, and look at him now. I’m hoping to be in his movie! Try to be a nice guy and help as many people as you can. It’s not just talent.
It’s the casting couch, too. You gotta fuck people.
Some of them you do. [Laughs.]
You seem humbler now—or were you always a nice guy?
I think I was a bit of an asshole in the early ’90s. I drove a red Corvette convertible. I had a bit of a Jheri curl. My ego was out of control in ’91–’92. I was a kid. I didn’t know any better. The business will eventually humble you. It will always smack you in face, kick your ass, and make you wonder if you’ll ever work again.
Do you feel older now?
I’m older. There’s so many young guys now. I think I have three younger brothers older than Kevin Hart! I was just doing Grown Ups 2 with Taylor Lautner—he’s young. I’m like the principal compared to that guy. He thinks I’m the principal! As much as I love Richard Pryor, he was always like an old guy to me. “That’s my dad.” He was the best ever, but he was never a very cool guy to me because he was older.
Now that you’re the elder statesman, do you use social media like the kids?
I tweet, and I Facebook and try to live now. I also realize every reaction isn’t the end of the world. Just because there’s an alarm doesn’t mean there’s a fire. You’ll lose your mind if you Google yourself all day.
Well, please Google this interview. And thanks for playing me on the big screen.