Cedric the Entertainer is Ralph Kramden in The Honeymooners
Cedric the Entertainer has dealt with kids on a road trip, rowdy barbers and thugs in the music industry, but The Honeymooners may have been his most stressful role yet. Playing Ralph Kramden required a lot of screaming, but his vocal chords endured the least suffering.
"It didn't strain me but it was something that when taking this role on, I watched the old TV shows and watched how much this guy yelled the whole time," he said. "I was like that's got to be stressful. I think it gave me more headaches than anything. But my voice was fine."
The time may be modern and the culture may have changed, but Ralph Kramden is still a dreamer and a schemer. Cedric feels the film holds just as true to today's America as the TV show did in the ‘50s.
"You know the type that he always believed that his next move was going to be the greatest move ever and it was going to be the thing that was going to break him out of this mundane regular lifestyle? I think that for the most part, we as Americans still live like that. A lot of people have dreams like that. That is the common place. That's why there are so many lotteries and infomercials where you can get rich quick and sell real estate and buy buildings for no money down, which you can't. I tried it."
The big difference between Jackie Gleason's Ralph Kramden and Cedric the Entertainer's may be that in 90 minutes, the film allows Cedric to let his guard down. Gleason could be relentless for only 30 minutes at a time, but the movie had to have moments of softness.
"I knew that we were doing a comedy but to do a kind of extended film version of a half hour sitcom, I thought it was going to be more important that you were able to follow these characters and be able to get into them and hopefully want Ralph to win and have some connection with the characters. And then also just taking it on from a predominantly white show, making it an African-American show, what I still wanted to do was accomplish the everyman aspect of it. Even though we're switching it to African-American, everybody still should be able to identify with Ralph. And I think that was the other aspect. So the story ended up becoming a lot more important in the comedy in a lot of ways. And then we had to go and find ways to really draw the comedy out. I just really thought it was important that you buy into this couple, in this guy, in his life and then once you get that, then you can get everything else."
With his role as an executive producer, Cedric could influence the development of the script. "The main thing about when you get the producer credits and especially as executive producer, you just want to be able to have some say so in the direction. I mean, you all noticed that there was like five writers on this movie. The hardest thing was trying to get the right voice for Mike and myself and how we wanted to do it. This movie took about 18 months to really develop. This was after we got on board. So to find at least the right attitude or direction that we thought we were going in, the executive producership gives you at least the power to say, ‘I don't like this. We got to do this this way.' Without that, you just really got to go with what the studio says. That was what you find the most important, and then also to be involved in the casting so I was able to get Gabrielle as my wife which was very important to me."
The production filmed in Dublin, where producers were able to take advantage of a tax break which was advantages in the exchange rate at the time. The city made little impression on Cedric. "Dublin was cold, very rainy but actually, it was interesting to be out of the country and to realize that a dollar ain't worth a damn over there."
Though the film was full of comedians like Cedric, Mike Epps and John Leguizamo, Cedric avoided making up too much ad libbed dialogue. "That really happened once John came on the scene because Mike and I were there, we were working and we were doing it and having our rhythm. Then Leguizamo came and he had a character. He wasn't tied to the show or any of these historic characters in any way. He was just a guy. So he would come on the set and just be blowing it up. We were like, ‘Oh, hell no.' A lot of the stuff that you see like the montage scene where we're kind of training the dog and all that stuff, we're not doing nothing on the page. Just so we could get some funny stuff in there and have a good time, it was great. He's an extremely talented guy and a great actor and he was just a lot of fun to have on the set. I was really glad to have him a part of the cast."
In his own marriage, Cedric, keeps the honeymoon phase going strong. "I'm just so lovable. She can't help it. No, you know, you need some work. Anybody that's married knows that you spend time, but I really adore my wife. I enjoy her sense of humor, I enjoy her presence. We have nice opportunities to do things together and so just trying to stay focused on that and trying to listen to the things that she needs and wants and desires as well as things that I may be missing and not really picking up on. You have some hard times in the air, difficult days but for the most part, we have a really, really easygoing, loving relationship. Try to keep our friendship important as much as our relationship and the love affair. We try to keep all those things on the same plane so that even if it's not in one of the best loving spirits, we're at least good friends about it. So that's kind of the attitude I take about it, five, six years in."
His family enjoys a certain anonymity too, since they exist as the Kyles family, not the Entertainer family. "I definitely like that. That was one of the reasons, especially with having kids and having a wife. I think that that was important for especially them. They're not the ones in front of the cameras. They're not the ones that are doing their lives for the public. So you want to have that ability that they want to go and hang out and be at the park or go to different places, it's not so much about you're this guy's kid or whatever. And then for me, I like that because to be able to just be at home, to be Mr. Kyles, who I am, that's it. And it's a totally different thing. So when I started doing comedy, that was one of the aspects of even having kind of a stage name."
The Honeymooners opens June 10.