Movie remixed with ‘SNL’ alums

By David Orlikoff

“Saturday Night Live” has been a launching pad for dozens of actors and comedians the last 35 years. One of its recent graduates, Tracy Morgan, stars in “30 Rock,” a show essentially about making the making of “SNL.” Morgan’s predecessor Chris Rock didn’t have that smooth transition after leaving the show in 1993. Taking on different projects, Rock became known for his stand-up comedy and has done, on average, one film per year since 1987. Now both men star in the Neil LaBute (“The Wicker Man,” “Lakeview Terrace”) remake of the 2007 British film “Death at a Funeral” of the same name. The Chronicle had the opportunity to talk with Rock and Morgan via phone about the differences in the remake, the message of the film and antics on set.

The Chronicle: What makes the film different from the British version?

Chris Rock: Anything with Tracy Morgan in it is different. You take “Malcom X” and put Tracy in it instead of Denzel [Washington], it’s a different movie. The cast is different. A lot of the little jokes are different.

Tracy Morgan: I’m the abstract one. I’m the funky guy diabetic.

The Chronicle: Did the original film act as a guide for this remake?

TM: Absolutely not. We did the movie, that sort of movie, but we wanted to add our flavor to it. We wanted to complement—I wanted to complement the role that I saw. And when I saw the cast at Screen Gems that Chris and everybody had assembled, I was like, “This is going to be the bomb, baby.”

CR: The British are very mannered. They’re very polite with their comedy. And this one, it’s not even a remake, it’s a remix. It’s a Timbaland remix. It’s a lot more blunt and a lot more, maybe a little bit more over the top in places, so it’s a funkier version. It’s like Aretha Franklin singing a Beatles song.

The Chronicle: Peter Dinklage reprised his role from the original film, what was it like working with him?

TM: He’s the coolest dude in the world, man. That’s my bro, man. He’s my bro, bro. He got my sister pregnant years ago, so I go back like spinal cords and car seats. He got my sister pregnant.

CR: And he’s a fine actor and he pays his child support.

TM: Yes, he comes around and sees the kids before the first day of school. He lets them play on the jungle gym and stuff.

The Chronicle: What was it like working with a strong ensemble cast?

CR: It was fun seeing comedians. When you start out, you see comedians all the time. You see them in the comedy clubs, the real clubs, the deli, the diner. People get families. They get the careers. You don’t see nobody, but it’s like, “I’m hanging out with Tracy” [and] “I’m hanging out with Martin [Lawrence],” so it felt—

TM: —It was hanging out. We were together, man. For me, being a part of this movie was like [working with] my brothers—my big brothers. I was about to have a fight in the park and my big brothers were there, so I had to win. I had to win.

CR: It was amazing. I trust Tracy, because Tracy has the Jedi training of “SNL.” There’s only a few, especially a few of us black men that have gone through this Jedi training and survived it. So we are brothers. We are frat brothers.

TM: That’s my alumni right there. [Chris] left the door open for me and Martin left the door open for me, so I’m doing it for the younger stand-ups behind me. But you have to be special.

The Chronicle: Did anything unexpected happen on set?

TM: Danny Glover took ex-lax before I shot my scene and he really pulled through my hand.

C.R.: Yes, that happened. That really happened. I slipped the ex-lax in his lunch and he didn’t know he took it. Then we got to the—

TM: —Put it in a can of pork and beans and franks.

C.R.: Right, and [when] we got to the poop scene, he really pooped.

T.M.: Yes.

The Chronicle: Is there any message within the comedy?

CR: This movie is really about accepting your family for who they are, not to judge people. This guy finds out his dad is gay and he’s all right with it. It’s “All right, that’s my dad and I love him no matter what.” So this is a big movie for the African-American community. We need to get off this bashing gay people crap. We all have gay relatives …

TM: Yes, everybody has something in there.

CR: Something in there. We need to be more inclusive. People should be able to be out of the closet at least around their families.

TM: If you have a cocaine habit, then you have a cocaine habit, deal with it. There should be an intervention in the black family.

The Chronicle: Tracy, how would you describe your character in the film?

TM: He’s a family friend, Norman, [and] he’s a bit paranoid. He has a trace of schizophrenia in there and he’s crazy, but he’s a good dude at heart. He’s just a lovable loser.

The Chronicle: Chris, you just directed the documentary “Good Hair.” Would you ever make another?

CR: I’m prepping one right now called “Credit Is the Devil.” It’s about credit and debt and just us as people. It’s going to be funny. I know it doesn’t sound funny, but—

TM: —Black people credit? All black people’s first car is used. It’s never a ’85 Grand Am or something like that.