Despite Chris Rock's loud persona, his large, equally loud smile, or the way he paces back and forth across stage like a perpetual motion machine while being funny and, you know, loud, he's actually low-key and quiet in person.
His latest, I Think I Love My Wife, is his sophomore effort as a director, and his first independent film (if Fox Searchlight counts as an indie studio), so he's justifiably concerned about how his fans will react to the emotional drama/comedy. Especially since it's adapted from the 1972 French classic by Eric Rohmer, Chloe in the Afternoon; not the type of source material one would expect from Rock. This fact does not escape him.
"If it was up to me, I wouldn't tell anybody this was based on anything," he says. "There just seems to be something pretentious about that. ‘Yeah right, Rock's doing Rohmer.' It sounds like a joke." He has a habit of inserting these Rock-isms in the middle of his earnest answers, quick outbursts of vocal enthusiasm as punctuation.
When asked how he discovered Rohmer's 1972 flick about a married man with kids who is tempted by an old friend's ex, Rock explains, "It was a movie I kind of bumped into in the video store. I watched it and called `my co-writer Louis C.K.`, and he watched it, and we both kind of thought it could be funny."
Could be funny.
"You ever have that thing where you're in the passenger seat, and you're pressing on a brake even though you're `not driving`?" he asks. "That's kind of how I watch movies sometimes. Like, ‘Ooh, that could've been funny. Oh man, that could've been really funny right there!' So I saw the original and I saw at least five or six spots for big jokes right away and thought, woo, I can do this."
But asked if that suggests he didn't think the original lived up to its potential, Rock becomes fiercely defensive of Chloe in the Afternoon, as if maybe he's afraid his movie could take something away from Rohmer's.
"The original is a masterpiece, but it's not a comedy," he insists. Then repeats, "It's a masterpiece, but it's a whole other movie. It's like a cover song. There's the Carpenters' ‘Superstar' and there's Luther Vandross' ‘Superstar.' They're both hit songs and they have the same words, but they're totally different pieces of art."
Of course, he has to add, "Luther hated the Carpenters' version."
I Think I Love My Wife, like Chloe in the Afternoon, tackles the struggle of surviving a marriage, with Gina Torres playing Rock's wife and Kerry Washington playing the beautiful vamp who makes him question whether or not he does love the mother of his children. All of the elements are there to suggest he does, but does that equal love?
"`It's` not just about marriage," Rock points out, though. "It's about relationships, especially in America. In a country where you're not worried about food or shelter, you get bored with everything. Everything. When you first got this job `as a journalist`, you loved it. You called up people and you bragged. Now you're like, ‘They're flying me where? Who, Chris Rock? Enh, OK.' ‘Who, Morgan Freeman? Enh.' You fall in and out of love with this job all the time, and that's what a relationship is. Anything that's supposed to last forever, you're going to fall in and out of it. It's just we get scared when it's love. ‘What's wrong?' Nothing's wrong. It's just normal."
Rock also offers up a more mature, subtle form of reflection on race relationships than we've gotten from him in the past. His character, an investment banker, is the only black man at his Manhattan company. He lives in an upper-middle-class, affluent neighborhood where he and his wife struggle to find other black kids for theirs to interact with. It's pretty much Chris Rock's life.
"That's just who I am," he says. "It's what I go through every day. It's weird, because this movie is probably more political than `my directorial debut` Head of State — in its own weird way. When I watch Lost in Translation, I go, ‘That's what it feels like to be black and middle-class.' It's like being in a different country, like you don't belong to anything."
I Think I Love My Wife, aside from being a follow-up to Head of State — a decidedly not good movie — is also Rock's second outing as director, writer, star and producer. But, "If you wrote the movie `and you're starring in it`, you're essentially the producer," he says, "so let's take out one. 'Cause the only reason you take a producer credit is, if you win an Oscar, you would get the Oscar — which isn't happening `here`," he adds, laughing.
It can get difficult to balance his career as a filmmaker and his career as a stand-up comedian, but there is a balance. "I don't do stand-up all the time," he says. "I like to write an act, go on tour, and then kind of hang it up. Then wait for the world to change, essentially. I'm about due, `though`. The world's changing, Barack and all this stuff is happening."
There's also the fallout from fellow comedian Michael Richards' onstage breakdown to consider, which has prompted everyone from Al Sharpton and Paul Mooney to come out against the use of the "N" word, as well as New York City to pass a symbolic resolution banning the use of the word. Rock's face messes up when asked if he'll stop using the epithet, too; it's been a staple of his act and movies for so many years.
"It's me," he says. "`That's like saying,` ‘I can't believe James Brown was screaming!'"
"I'm an artist," he continues. "I wouldn't play some city doing apartheid, but, other than that, I'm not censoring myself. Never ever ever."[email protected]
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