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Interview : Martin Lawrence

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On his first animated movie, “Open Season”


Martin Lawrence is best known for his crazy comedies – films like “Rebound” and “Big Momma’s House”, but all that’s about to change with “Open Season”, his first ever animated movie. ROBERT SANCHEZ reports.

Have you done animation before?
Martin Lawrence: Never done animation before. Well, when I was younger, I did a Kid and Play cartoon.

Did you get to meet Ashton during the production?
ML: I didn’t even meet Ashton until a couple of weeks ago. We never were in the same room. The hardest thing about it was that we would do something for one month and then come back four months later and then have to pick up where we left off and that was the hard part where the directors, Jill and Rodger, would constantly feed us everything we needed to get us back on track and get our energy where we needed it. It was a lot of fun and when I look at the movie and I look at how me and Ashton’s chemistry is without ever without ever being in the room, I’m amazed at what they have done.

What was the appeal to you of this project?
ML: The fact they could put my voice into a big bear and hopefully make him likeable and loveable and energetic and fun and that was interesting for me to see that come along and I was excited about doing the project.

Did you have the chance to improv or go off the script at all?
ML: Ah, not too much, just because if there was room for it and it needed it and I would try something, I would try and do something that made sense, but I stayed kind of right between the lines because it was animation and it was children. So, I didn’t want to adlib the wrong thing or whatever. I like that. I like the fact that directors are like coaches. They draw up the play and this is what you run. I like that guidance, because I am in unfamiliar territory. For me to act like I know exactly alike I was doing, and could just adlib anything and whatever — I didn’t want to take that approach. I wanted to trust in my partners and the directors and producers and do the best I can to deliver what I could deliver.

If a director took that sort of coaching aspect on a live action film, would you find that intrusive?
ML: If we were doing live action? No, I respect the directors. I know their work is hard. So, I try and trust them. It’s like Phil Jackson and the Lakers, you have to trust him just as he has to trust you in order to get the chemistry and results that you are looking for. So, I never get combative with them today.

Could you have done Ashton’s part?
ML: I could have done whatever was offered to me as long as they were explaining to me what I needed to be, what I needed to do, what I needed to say. I could have done it.

Did you actually study bears?
ML: I just tried it. I just kind of threw the voice out there. And they said they liked it. ‘You’re right there. You don’t need to do much more than that.’ So I didn’t have to [inaudible round of bear] and I didn’t have to over exaggerate him or under exaggerate him. I just had to keep him right there. The great thing was they were there to let me know if I was on point or not.

You’ve covered a lot of different genres in your career from adult humor to action…
ML: Adult humor is my favorite. Adult humor is my favorite. (Laughs.)

Eddie Murphy started with adult comedy, but now he’s mixed it up with family films. Do you see yourself going in that direction?
ML: I like just mixing it up. You know what I mean? Just giving you a little bit of this. If I give you two children films then come back and give you an adult film. I just love mixing it up and not being pegged into one specific thing. This and ‘Rebound’ I am ale to do for my children and for a young kids audience. Other things I do that are for adults – ‘Runteldat’ and things like that I am able to do for you guys and people who support me.

IESB: What audience do you expect “Wild Hogs” to be for?
ML: That is going to be PG-13 probably. I’m not sure exactly. I think it’s going to be somewhere in there. But a good movie, a fun movie. Those are my new partners. John, Tim and William H. Macy. Those are my new partners. My riding buddies. We rode all over New Mexico. We had so much fun. Hell, I should have paid them to do the movie.

Debra Messing said she had to practice to get her roar down, did you?
ML: The roar? Nah, nah, I would just tried it on the spot. Whether they used it or not I’m not sure, but it was cool.

Did you get to work with Ashton?
ML: No, no, not at all. Actually, I didn’t meet Ashton until a week ago, two weeks ago. The whole movie we were never in the same room. How they made that chemistry come together, his energy and my energy and jut made it work and I’m impressed on how they can do that.

What do you think the message is of this film?
ML: The message is heart, courage, finding friendship. You know what I mean? Being out of your element and learning how to adapt to a situation that are unfamiliar to you. Just a movie about a lot of heart and tenderness.

And about fighting back?
ML: You said it.

Any chance you might re-team with Will Smith on another “Bad Boys”?
ML: I haven’t talked to him. Jerry (Bruckheimer) and Michael (Bay), I know Michael just finished doing Transformers or he’s finshing up. And Jerry is doing anything all over. Hey, they know where to find me if they are ready and if it calls for another, I’m there. Will knows where I’m at.

What about stand up?
ML: I always think of stand up. But after ‘Runteldat’ you can’t just follow ‘Runteldat’ with just anything. So, if I’ve got something to say and it’s funny and the subject matter there and it’s interesting then I’m right there. I’m all over it. But, if I don’t have anything to say I’m going to let time go until there is time.

What animated movies did you grow up on?
ML: Animated movies as far as the Batman and Supermans and Underdog. And Flinstones. Flinstones was like my favorite. I used to love Flinstones. I used to tell people anyone who can stop a car with their feet, how can you not be impressed with that?

What do your kids like?
ML: Oh, I watch all Disney Channel with them. We watch Raven and Zach and Cody’s Sweet Life, Cheetah Girls, Hannah Montoya. I watch all that stuff. I just sit there and go ‘Wow, I’m getting old.’ (Laughs.)

Would you ever do something for Disney Channel and your kids?
ML: Well Disney, we’re looking to do…the film I just did, ‘Wild Hogs,” was with Disney and we are looking to do some other things together. I think Disney is hot. They have a hot thing over there. All the programming for the kids and the young talent promotes everybody that’s on a show over there sings. so I think they got a hot thing going.

Would you sing?
ML: No, I’m not a singer. You saw ‘Black Knight’ right? I am not a singer. (Laughs.)

You got your big break on Star Search, what do you think of all the current star making shows? Do you think there are too many of them?
ML: But it’s like this – if it works then people are going to jump on it. So, people if they don’t give you just what you embrace, just what you accept. If people are sitting there tuning into it, that’s up to the people. They are only going to give you what you allow them to give you.

Would you ever do a third “Big Momma’s” movie?
ML: Whoo. Let’s just say we’d have to have a happy, happy, happy talk when we talk about three, because that’s a lot of work. To get in that fatsuit and to wear that fat suit and wear that fat face day in and day out and somebody slapping glue on your face and behind your ear, that is the hardest thing to do. I never say never. I mean, hopefully we have good conversations if we talk about a three, but I’m not running down anybody’s door to do it.

How different do you think this movie would have been with other actors?
ML: I don’t know, different group of actors, I think everyone would have brought what they would have brought to it. When I look at the production team from the directors to the producers I think they could have done it easily with a different group of actors and had the same amount of success. It was just very smart on how they went about this movie.

Has anyone talked about a sequel to Open Season yet?
ML: Ain’t nobody told me, if they do want to do “2,” but I’m sure that all depends on the success of this one and that will be their choice and their option. And as they say, ‘I’m all ears.’

What do you think about hunting?
ML: I have never hunted. The only thing I’ve hunted is roaches. I don’t get into that, I don’t know that much about it.

What do you remember of recording the voice?
ML: I remember having fun and I remember days I was very tired and I don’t remember to get the voice to the character and all that. And every time I came in they calmed down and they were very soothing and they did everything they could to get me back on track. It was just a smooth experience each time out.

What did you think about seeing it on the big screen?
ML: I love it. And to see this movie onscreen, I have to say is one of the best films that I’ve done.

Are you comfortable watching yourself onscreen?
ML: Oh, yeah. I watch myself. I get in the mirror. I don’t’ have a problem with it. As a kid I always wanted to see myself on TV.

When will we see you behind the camera?
ML: Oh, that’s one of the hardest things to do in the business. I never say never, but not right now.

Who did you relate best with on “Wild Hogs”?
ML: All of them, all of them. Because we were a team. From William H, to John to Tim, they all bring something different to their characters and who they are as people. Tim is a jokester, he loves to joke all the time, but talking to him one of the most genuine guys I’ve met and talked to. And John is probably by far one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in the business. You know what I mean? And William H. Macy is a class act and very professional and he’s so talented as an actor it’s just minutes before he gets his Oscar.

Did you know how to ride a motorcycle before that film?
ML: I did, but I wasn’t that good. I’m a little bit better now. We got to ride everywhere and then we had to do scenes were we were crossing each other and parking the bikes and things like that, so I got to learn a lot actually.

Any accidents?
ML: No, every now and then we might drop the bike a little bit, but nothing serious. Nothing major.

Do you ride a bike now?
ML: No, the director gave us a little motorbike each of us and I just parked that in my garage, But if I wanna ride it I can, but it’s not a big bike.

Did Travolta fly you in his jet?
ML: No, no. We talked about his planes and I’ve seen pictures of him in his pilots suit. I’m like, ‘My man, you own a plane?’ I’m like, maybe one day I might call him, ‘I need a plane. I need to get…” Hopefully that’s a call I can make.

Do you want your kids to go into acting?
ML: Let daddy do that. I want them to concentrate on an education. Once they get their education and College or masters or whatever they are going to get – whatever they want to do after that I support them. I want them to have something to fall back on.

What about animation?
ML: As long as the education is in order they can do whatever.

What do you think of this role as a black man? What does it represent?
ML: It’s another black man working. It’s another brother working. I was represented. I represented I was employed!

Is there anyone you still want to work with?
ML: Those days are kind of over for me. When I was green and ‘Oh, man I can’t wait to work with him.’ Ya’know what? Whomever they put together and whomever I get to meet as long as they are good people and professional then I’m open to meet with anybody. But when they don’t bring the respect or the professionalism or whatever, then I have no interest in working with them.

You don’t see yourself doing a horror or murder mystery?
Michael Bay asked me about one and if I would be interested and I told him I would, but let me see the script. But I have never done anything like that. He didn’t say what it was called. He just mentioned it…So, I told him I was interested if I could see the script and know what the role was about.

Would you like to play a villain?
ML: I would love to play a villain. I’d be good as a villain. I’d get some aggression out then. ‘Martin, Martin, we yelled cut!’

Were you aware of how state-of-the-art the animation was?
ML: No, they would show us drawings and I was kind of worried when I saw the drawings, because is that what the film is going to look like? But when I seen where it came together and the look it was just beautiful. It was just a real good movie to be apart of and watch grow. For Sony Animation, for this being their first film they should be really, really proud of this film, because they really have something here.

Do you have a stuffed animal like your character?
ML: No, I don’t have no stuffed animal.

Would you ever consider TV again?
ML: Never say never. If it’s the right thing, you never know.

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