French twist: Gina Torres and Chris Rock co-star as Brenda and Richard Cooper in I Think I Love My Wife. Courtesy photo.
I Think I Love My Wife, a poignant revisiting of French film Chloe in the Afternoon, hits the box office this week. The Current caught up with the renaissance man behind the movie, comedian and filmmaker, Chris Rock, just in time for the film’s release.
Writer, producer, director, star. What didn’t you do?
If you wrote the movie `and you’re starring in it`, you’re essentially the producer — 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.
How did you discover Eric Rohmer’s Chloe in the Afternoon?
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. You ever have that thing where you’re in the passenger seat, and you’re “pressing on a brake” even though you’re not the one behind the wheel? 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.
Is that to say you thought the original didn’t live up to its potential?
No, the original is a masterpiece, but it’s not a comedy. 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’s “Superstar.” They’re both hit songs and they have the same words, but they’re totally different pieces of art.
I Think I Love My Wife tackles the difficulties of making a marriage work in the long term.
`It’s` not just about marriage. 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, 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.
Your character lives an upper-middle-class, affluent black life and, with his wife, struggles to raise his kids in an all-white community. He’s the only black man at his banking firm. It’s a more mature, subtle form of reflection on race relations than we’ve gotten from you in the past.
That’s just who I am. 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.
How are you managing your filmmaking and stand-up careers these days?
I try to keep it balanced. I don’t do stand up all the time. I like to write and act, go on tour, and then kind of hang it up. Then wait for the world to change, essentially. I’m about due. The world’s changing, Barack and all this stuff is happening.
Given the recent controversy surrounding the “N” word, like Al Sharpton and Paul Mooney coming out against it and New York City passing a symbolic resolution banning the use of the word — much of this due to fallout over fellow comedian Michael Richards’ onstage breakdown — do you think you’ll reconsider the use of it in your movies and comedy routines in the future?
It’s me. `That’s like saying,` “I can’t believe James Brown was screaming!”
So you don’t see any of this as having a lasting social effect?
I’m an artist. I’m not censoring myself. Never ever ever. I don’t know what anyone `else is` going to do. We don’t have meetings: “Today, we’re going to have ‘the nigger meeting.’”
Getting away from race, to something else you’re becoming well-known for, can you talk about your voice-work in animated film? First Madagascar, now Bee Movie and Madagascar 2.
You know what? People think my voice is, enh. It’s one of those things you have no control over. I’ve been elected this. Like Morgan Freeman has been elected the voice of credibility. I know Morgan. He’s a credible guy — but no more than anybody else.
Finally, are you concerned at all about how audiences will react to Chris Rock adapting a French film?
I just hope the audience likes it. If it was up to me, I wouldn’t tell anybody this was based on anything. There just seems to be something pretentious about that. “Yeah, right, Rock’s doing Rohmer.” It sounds like a joke.