Dane Cook Knows Earl's Dirty Little Secret in <strong><em>Mr. Brooks</em></strong>

Dane Cook talks about turning serious in this summer's sleeper hit.

Will the writers of Mr. Brooks win an Oscar next year for their work on the film? I don't know, but they should. I haven't seen something this structurally solid in the last ten years. It is a flawless piece of fiction, and every single word made it on screen. It's an astonishing achievement.

Even more astonishing is that it has given comedian Dane Cook an outlet for his ugly side. Working solely from the page, Mr. Brooks has allowed the actor to channel his inner demons. The piece has given Cook a chance to prove to the world that he's more than just a joke machine. He really does an excellent job here of being Kevin Costner's foil. Totally believable, he is able to steal scenes from William Hurt. That is no small feat.

Dane recently sat down with us to discuss his role in what is by far my favorite movie of the year, Mr. Brooks.

Dane Cook: Is this for online?

Yes, it is.

Dane Cook: Fantastic. Oh, fuck yes!

The director said that you auditioned for this in your hotel room, on a video camera.

Dane Cook: Yeah, it was like auditioning for American Idol. Actors will tell you, when someone asks you to go on tape, it's kind of like the kiss of death. Normally it's like a slow, painful death because you just really want to meet the producers and talk about your take on the character. When you have a tape, you never know if the person watching it has a baby in their arms, or what is going on in their life. Rarely does that ever seem to work in your favor. But I did it. I went on tape. We were down in New Mexico shooting Employee of the Month. I literally ran between scenes because I only had one day to do it. I set up the camera, and I had one of my good friends read the lines. And he was awful. Because he is not an actor at all. And I had to keep stopping to tell him how to say it. Like, "I'm going to kill you!" But he would be like, "I'm...Going...to kill...YOU!" So I had all of these takes that just sucked. So I had to stop it. I finally got the take I wanted. I truly had a real epiphany when reading the script. I was pacing. I was reading the part out loud. You always hear that when it is the right part, it just starts to take a hold of you. And I knew this guy. I'm an optimistic, upbeat, glass is half full kind of person, and yet I understood this deviant, lascivious side of this person. I just kind of drew from some people I knew in my travels. I spun the wheel, sent the tape, and got the call. "You did it. You did it kid. You got the part!" So, I'm heading to Shreveport. So...

You weren't really able to improvise with this character. How hard was it to stay on the page?

Dane Cook: I'd say ninety-five percent of the time you are exactly right. The writer and the director have a vision. And you are just a piece of their puzzle. The whole thing with comedy is that you are always in control. Writer, director, actor, producer, and sometimes bouncer. Here, you are stepping into something that is not yours. But there was about five percent with Kevin. There was a scene after we had just come back from one of our dirty deeds, and we just started improvising in the car. Kevin was so open and available to that. I remember, he just encouraged that. I remember moving around in my seat. I was trying to get to a place. Honestly, sometimes you can feel embarrassed in front of certain actors. The way they will look at you. But Kevin just kept saying, "Do that, man! Do that." I said this one line, "Did you see her face?" And Kevin told me I had to do it again. And then we really started improvising. I was like, I'm in a dramatic scene, and I'm improvising about just having killed and murdered a couple. It was being able to take what I do best comedy-wise and working with someone who is iconic, like Kevin Costner. Someone you just trust. Someone who is not going to let you down. And then the material is just solid. You can tell this is the kind of thing where people will be able to watch it and feel moved in some way by it.

There's that line that William Hurt says about you. "Even if he was funny and charming, I still wouldn't like him." Was that your idea? Was that improvised?

Dane Cook: William's line was always in there. And it was interesting, because people who do know me...I brought one of my closest friends to a screening of the movie, and he knows me and knows my comedy. People know I have a good time on stage. I love my life. I love my job. He turned to me right around that part and goes, "I fucking hate you." He goes, "I really do." It was the best compliment that I have ever received. And then that line just happened to come on. It was always in the script.

What made you decide to turn to something so dark?

Dane Cook: I did do a short film about five years ago called Spiral. I would say that it is on par as far as the darkness goes. It was something I had written and produced. It served two proposes. One, on a promotional level, I wanted to show people what I could do. I can do more than just stand-up comedy, and the only way I'll be able to show that is if I do it myself. Because nobody trusts that I can do it. But then there is also the creative side. Using the left side of your brain. I did stand-up comedy for seventeen years. I need to explore other things. Whether it is doing a voice over for this other movie I'm doing. Or if it's doing this theater project that I have coming up. I just want to be able to challenge myself. And do things that are away from what I usually do. Stand-up is safe for me. I can do stand-up in front of twenty-five thousand people at the Garden, and I'm like, "I know how to do this. This is what I do." I want to be a little scared. Yeah.

It's sort of like Michael Jordon doing baseball.

Dane Cook: Exactly. But you might not want to compare it to baseball, because God, he sucked.

What has it been like going from a lowly stand-up comic to someone everybody knows?

Dane Cook: When I was in Boston, I had this thing. All my community friends were going to New York. I said, "I'm not going to New York." And they were all like, "Ah, but you gotta go." I said, "I'm not going until New York calls me. Until I have a purpose to go there." And that is how I do everything. I don't just say that I'm going to do a comedy, or a script. Comedic scripts came along before Employee of the Month. I had other TV shows. I had other movies that I didn't feel were authentic. That didn't pump my nads. Do you know what movie that is from? Anybody? The Breakfast Club. I don't push. That's kind of my thing. Just don't push. I will always have stand-up. I will always have a way to make a few sheckles. I'm not in need. So I just wait for stuff that is kind of creepy. Weird. That's scary. I think, on a personal level, who knew that with stand-up comedy I would be able to do that. I hoped that this vehicle would lead me to everything. With comedy, maybe I can bash down the doors and do all kinds of stuff. But that is up to the movie Gods and your audience. You have to wait for them to go, "Yeah, I wouldn't mind seeing you do that." I got the nod from some of my fans. And some projects came in that were appealing. I said, "I'm not going to push." I'm just going to go with the flow. If this is what I'm meant to do, then I will do it for the rest of my life. I will create e something somewhere behind the scenes. Wherever I find myself, I am just going to eat it up. And I am going to destroy the hell out of it. I'm not going to lie, I love my job. I love the art of comedy, but I also love doing these movies. I really hope that I get to do a lot more of them.

How difficult was it to do a scene with William Hurt, and have to be completely ignorant of his existence?

Dane Cook: Man, and this guy, too. You can't ignore William Hurt. He's William "fucking" Hurt. I'm very careful, though. And I have done this around other comedians. I like to keep it light on the set. I'm not a method actor, even though I do my research. Its almost like what Eddie Murphy said about Beverly Hills Cop. He said, "It all has to be in the script first. Then I can improvise, and go from the spine." I didn't know how to approach William Hurt. I didn't want to get in his head. And I didn't know what his take was. So, I just waited. We did this scene in the boardroom together, and he's just sitting at the end of the table. I'm feeling him. But I just can't. I'm trying to get myself into that zone. Finally, I figured it out. Once I got into this rhythm, I lost William Hurt. I just lost him. I couldn't feel William Hurt. And then he walks up to me the second day of shooting and puts his hand on my shoulder. I screamed. I just wasn't used to having him in my life, or in my peripheral. He actually said something very encouraging. He said, "I shouldn't say this now because we are doing this. But you seem like you are doing really great." I was just like, "Ahh!" I went home and called my whole family. I told them that William Hurt told me I did a really great job. I did it! There is that scene in the car where he leans in between Kevin and I. I didn't expect him to do that. Again, I just had to do my thing. But I could feel him. He's got, like, the Force. He could flick me out of a scene if he wanted to. I feel. He could just omit you from a scene. But Kevin has that same demeanor. Demi, too. These are the elite. It was my job. I am a confident guy. I knew why they were bringing me in, and I knew that I could hang. But I also knew that I was going to experience things with them, since it was my first time at that level, and just shut the fuck up. Really listen and learn. And I did that every day. It was the best course.

Is there a certain group of people that you would like to scope out for a victim? Hecklers, maybe?

Dane Cook: I love hecklers. They remind you that you are a comedian. Yes, they throw off your tempo, and sometimes they cut right into the middle of a bit. But there has always been that thing. Maybe because I'm an analytical person. But in the back of my brain I'm like, this guy is yelling out because I am a stand-up comic. Its what I do. It's so cool. So, no. I wouldn't go after hecklers. I would go after some club owners that have treated me like a douche bag. I would go after those guys if I could be Mr. Smith for a day.

Do you have a stand-by line for hecklers?

Dane Cook: Yeah. Shut the fuck up. It depends on the day. It depends on the heckle. It depends on the energy in the room. I try to take it on a case-by-case study.

What are you working on now

Dane Cook: I'm getting ready to do another film with Lionsgate. It's a dark comedy called Bachelor Number Two. We're going to star filming that in July. We're casting it now. Its sort of in the same vein as Bad Santa. It's about a prick that seems to have no emotional attachment to anything. It's just a different side of my persona. This is a guy, his name is Tank. He will just roll over anybody. He is just going to go for the weak point. You are in trouble with this guy.

Will you be going back to stand-up?

Dane Cook: Always stand-up. I'll do stand-up tonight if I can. Stand-up comedy, that's my baby.

Mr. Brooks opens June 1st, 2007.