Wanda Sykes laughs about working with a zoo full of live animals, kids, and Steve Carell
Steve Carell stole Bruce Almighty right out from under Jim Carrey's feet. Now that The Office star is headlining the sequel, Evan Almighty, who's going to steal the movie this time around? Well, we should look no further than Wanda Sykes.
The comedian plays opposite Carell in this summer's Ark-themed comedy, and she completely has the upper hand as far as the jokes go. She is Rita, Evan Baxter's assistant. The quipster swoops in and grabs every single scene she is in, almost making the film her own. She might even be the star of the next sequel, if the way this one was handled is any indication.
We recently met up with Wanda over at Universal Studios. The always-funny reigning queen of Comedy had this to say:
Wanda Sykes: Hello.
You didn't bring any of the animals with you?
Wanda Sykes: I started too, but who is going to clean up after the animals? Not me. What's up?
This being a clean-cut family film, did you ever have to censor yourself when you were improving?
Wanda Sykes: About ninety-percent was ad-libs. That's about right. As far as censoring myself, there were some things that just wouldn't work. We weren't told that this was going to be PG. We weren't told that this was going to be a clean movie set. So, we didn't know we weren't supposed to curse. I wasn't given that direction, and I'm glad Tom didn't give it to me. It probably would have stifled me. But you could feel it. You're standing there with this big Ark, and all these animals. It just felt right. There were a couple of instances when I wanted to say "ass". Tom was like, "That's so funny, but you can't say "ass". Try "butt." I was like, "Butt's not funny, man." And he's like, "For real. Try butt. Just give me one butt." But I didn't want to give it to him, because I knew that's the one he'd use. And then we'd be fighting at the premier. So, I decided just to say another line. There was quite a bit of that back and forth.
With some of these scenes, it seems like they just put you in a room, alone, and said act. Is that an accurate way to describe what you were doing on this film?
Wanda Sykes: Yes. That is very accurate. Like the scene where I am looking at the TV screen, and he goes to congress for the first time. And I'm just kind of making up stuff. Comments to what is going on. Well, I'm just standing there staring at a blank screen. They hadn't even shot that scene yet, so I didn't have anything to go on. Tom would tell me, "Okay, he's going to look like the guy from Fleetwood Mac." There was a lot of that. It was funny, but at times frustrating. Because a lot of the time I felt like I was working in the dark. You know? I was like, "Man, can I at least see the scene first? Maybe I can come up with something that's better." And Tom would say, "Nah, nah, it's going to be fine." Those were the days when I called my agent and said, "You know what? We really didn't get a good deal on this movie. It sounded good at first. But trust me, they are getting every penny out of me. They're making up stuff. It's not even in the script. You should see it."
If God tells you to build an Ark, what are you going to put on it?
Wanda Sykes: Well, if I'm walking down the street, and this guy tells me to build an Ark, I would give him a dollar and tell him to keep it moving, "God bless you, and whatever!" What am I putting on it? A flat screen TV. Some air conditioning. But it will be a hybrid, though. A bar. Two bars, that's a big Ark. A Jacuzzi. A pool.
What about all the critters?
Wanda Sykes: We really don't need them. Animals wouldn't make it, I don't think.
How distressed are you about the Paris Hilton situation?
Wanda Sykes: Ah, I stay up. I lose sleep. Yes, I lose sleep over Paris. Is she in jail today, or is she at home? What's going on with Paris? It's just so ridiculous how famous she is for absolutely nothing. She is such a non-celebrity, yet people are camped out in front of her house. She's rich, yet she's screwing that up. She's screwing up just being rich. That's sad when you fuck up rich. You've got to be the biggest idiot in the world if you just can't sit your ass down somewhere and be rich. If I'm a Hilton, I would have been premature. I would have shot out of the womb earlier. "I'm rich? I'm outta here! Let me get my life started. I'm rich? Man!" She is just screwing that up. I think it's really ridiculous. The whole thing. Mmm, sad. We've got war, and everything else going on. Where's Paris?
Do you come from a naturally funny family?
Wanda Sykes: My family is funny. But they have to work small rooms. Like, at the family reunion, they are really funny. Anybody listening from the outside wouldn't find it funny. My mom is really good at impersonating, but they are people you don't know. She's like, "This is the lady that sits in the third pew." Then she'll do something and go, "Ah, ha,ha...That's funny."
What do you think about the film's pro-environmental message?
Wanda Sykes: I think its good. Hopefully it's not too heavy. We recycled on the set. We had all the animals, and whatever animals were harmed on the set, we ate them. I didn't care for camel meat. It's tough. But no, this message is good. I just hope that we keep moving along on this, and taking care of the environment. I hope it's not just a trend.
What is your relationship with the church, and do you think this will appeal to religious people??
Wanda Sykes: Its funny. I was brought up in the church. Even as an adult, I used to go to church all the time. Now, not so much. I consider myself more of a spiritual person. I'm sure it will appeal to the church going crowd. It is a very family friendly film. There's nothing edgy in here at all. A lot of films claim to be family friendly, then you get there, your sitting with your kids, and someone gets shot in the head, "HEY! This is not good. What the heck is going on." But this is very family friendly. Hopefully they will like it.
Did you and Steve try to crack each other up on set? And did you miss the end sequence with everyone doing the "Happy Dance" intentionally?
Wanda Sykes: There is a moment at the end of me doing the "Happy Dance". But I did more of a tango with John Michael Hayes. We did more of a two-step. As a black woman, I said, "I'm not dancing." They always want us to dance, and I'm not going to dance. I was being a little defiant. But the shot they got of us dancing on the Ark, I had a reason to be dancing. We had just wrapped, and I was so happy to be getting out of that suit that I had been wearing for the last two months. It smelt like monkey balls. Ugh. I mean, we had baboons real close to us. So trust me, I know what monkey balls smell like. About working with Steve, we didn't try. We just did. We cracked each other up. He is very funny. The guy, he shows up. He works hard. Me? I would have been complaining the whole time. With the hair, and the make-up, having water tossed on him, he's got birds all on him. They are pooping on his head. He was a real trooper. He got into the real spirit of things.
Will the DVD have any scenes of you carrying on?
Wanda Sykes: Probably not. I'm pretty sure they probably want to keep the DVD clean. There were a couple of F-bombs. You know, we were just having fun.
Are you still performing live?
Wanda Sykes:I just wrapped up some dates on the road. I was out in April and May. I did more about my travels. I've been to Paris and Brazil. I've also been snowboarding. I get so sick of talking about how Bush is screwing everything up. I can't do it any more. I just take a nap, sleep it out. Wake me up in '08.
Would you stick with a boss that appeared to be crazy, or would you bail?
Wanda Sykes: Oh, I'm bailing. I'm gone.
What else are you up to?
Wanda Sykes:I haven't signed up for anything. Except for The New Adventures of Old Christine. I will be back on that as a series regular. I am really looking forward to that. TV is fast. It's the closest I can get to stand-up. Every week there's a new script. Its fresh. We can play around. You get the quick response, because you get to perform in front of a live audience. That really appeals to me.
Evan Almighty opens June 22nd.