Aisha Tyler talks about ping pong (and beer pong), her character and her upcoming Black Water Transit.
Any woman that digs Enter the Dragon and beer pong is awesome in my book, and Aisha Tyler certainly falls under that heading. After a career in stand-up comedy and various TV gigs, including hosting Talk Soup at one time, it seems she's found success in films lately with roles in The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, Death Sentence and her unique assassin Mahogany in Balls of Fury, which comes out on DVD on December 18. I had the chance to speak with her over the phone, and here's what she had to say.
When you first got this script and you saw that title Balls of Fury, what was your first thought?
Aisha Tyler: (Laughs) Well, I knew the guys who wrote the movie and created Reno 911!, so I knew it was going to be ridiculous and crazy and funny. I thought it was a hilarious thing for a movie. Then when I found out my character was a seven-foot tall assassin, I just loved it. I love those guys and I think what they do is great, so I was psyched.
So, how did you first become involved in this project?
Aisha Tyler: They called me. Ben Garrant and Tom Lennon called me. I knew them from Reno 911! and they said, 'We've got this movie that we really want you to do. Will you come in and meet us?' I went in and they just were great guys. They come at comedy the way I do and really love it and have a passion for it. We just sat down and met and I said I'd love to do it. It was pretty easy.
Can you tell us about your character Mahogany and that huge blow-dart gun you use in the movie?
Aisha Tyler: (Laughs) Sure. The character I play is Mahogany, a seven-foot tall assassin who's the henchwoman of Feng, who's played by Christopher Walken. She's just a stone-cold killer and a badass. It was fun because I got wear all these crazy leather costumes and these stiletto boots, but it was really hard to get around. The staff kind of served two purposes, because it was real. It was made out of real wood and it weighed like 40 pounds, so it was impossible to hold up. When they would do these shots where I had to kill somebody, my arm would be shaking like Jello. But I got really jacked for the movie, I definitely put some muscle on. It was also really hard because of the combination of the stiletto boots and the eight pounds of hair on my head, I was always in jeopardy of falling over. So the staff was sort of holding me up.
I know you don't get to play ping pong in the movie, but I heard they went through extensive training for everyone who played in the movie.
Aisha Tyler: Yeah, they did. We had these two very cool...well, I don't know they weren't cool. It was a little bit Revenge of the Nerds, but they were great. They were these two professional table tennis pros that were on set the whole movie, advising everybody, correcting their form and kind of coaching all the players. I didn't get to play any table tennis. I was kinda bummed. I did get offered, free paddles and free balls, and the company, KillerSpin, has offered me a free ping pong table, but I don't really have any room in my house for it. We'll have to set it up in the driveway, maybe.
Did you ever play any ping pong before?
Aisha Tyler: Oh yeah. When I was in college, all the time. You know, we played beer pong, competitive, slam pong, which was really not about the table tennis but about getting your opponents drunk.
Oh yeah. I know all about the beer pong.
Aisha Tyler: I was very good at it. (Laughs).
Christopher Walken had to be just a blast to work with. Any favorite stories with him from the set?
Aisha Tyler: He's unbelievable. As a younger actor, when you get to work with somebody like that, you're just in awe the whole time. Your main goal is not to step on their foot or spit in their eye when you're talking to them (Laughs). He was such a nice guy and, for being such a superstar, such a legend, just the most laid-back, nice, chill person. We were both kind of dressed like old drag queens in the movie, so he was constantly helping me up and down that steep stairway, 'cause I was just stumping around like an idiot. He was just the coolest, coolest person.
This kind of seems to have an Enter the Dragon sort of feel to it...
Aisha Tyler: Oh absolutely. I think that the guys who wrote it would absolutely admit it and I think we all believed that we were making an homage to Enter the Dragon, for sure. It's a movie we all grew up on and loved.
So you're familiar with those sorts of Hong Kong movies?
Aisha Tyler: Oh totally. I love action films and love love kung-fu films. I've seen Enter the Dragon like a jillion times. I think I read the first 10 pages of the script and went, "This is Enter the Dragon!" It's a great, young homage to a movie that those guys grew up on, and we all grew up on that was such a classic. It had its own comedic elements. It was a serious film, but it was also very funny, I think.
Are there any special features on the DVD that we should pay close attention to?
Aisha Tyler: Well, there's gonna be lots of deleted scenes, and, I've got to tell you, I think there's as much funny stuff in the deleted scenes than there were in the movie. There was a lot of stuff they had to lose to get it down to an hour and a half, that were just so so funny, and with such a funny group of people all improving constantly, there's gonna be great great stuff in the deleted scenes. There's an alternate ending, and a making-of featurette. I think it's definitely worth getting, because it's already so funny and the raciest and the edgiest stuff had to be cut out, and all that stuff is gonna be on the DVD.
I saw that you were a guest critic on Ebert and Roepper earlier this year. How was that experience and do you have any Oscar picks for us?
Aisha Tyler: Umm, I'm not a big Oscar handicapper. I really love movies - not that I'm in the business, but I'm a real movie fan, and kind of an obsessive. It was great to do the show, but it was really hard for me. You end up reviewing movies that have friends of yours in them, or are directed or produced by people you want to work with, so it gets a little difficult. There's nothing better than getting to see 10 or 12 movies for free. What people don't realize is that you have to see all 12 of those movies in like two days. You end up seeing a movie at 8 and 11 and 1 and 3 and 7 and you haven't eaten and you haven't peed. (Laughs). The worst part of it is, if you to a movie and you don't like it, you can get up and walk out, but if you're reviewing it and it sucks after 10 minutes, you still have to sit there for the whole thing and you feel like trying to dig your eye out with a pencil. I don't envy those guys, although I saw some pretty amazing films.
Can you tell us anything about Black Water Transit or anything else you have lined up for the future?
Aisha Tyler: Yeah, yeah. Black Water Transit I just finished, it's unbelievable. I just saw about 5 minutes of footage from the movie. It's directed by Tony Kaye, who's an extraordinary filmmaker. His last film was American History X. It was a really unique experience, as an actor, because it was a very raw way of working. He shot the whole movie himself, he was actually holding and filming the whole time. It was a really intimate way of working with the director because he's there every minute and every second of the day. The actors were encouraged to improvise a lot, and to really create characters for themselves. We shot it in New Orleans and it's set right after Katrina and it's about the aftermath of Katrina and how it affects the crime underworld. It's a real cop and robber thriller. Laurence Fishburne and Karl Urban, who's an amazing guy and the bad-ass from The Bourne Supremacy, and just the nicest guy. We had an incredible time making it, and the footage that I've seen is just unbelievably explosive. I think it's gonna really be a seminal kind of film. He's got a David Lynch sort of approach to the story, so I think it's going to be very cool.
So he served as the DP and director?
Aisha Tyler: He was the DP. He lit, he shot and he directed.
Wow. That's kind of crazy.
Aisha Tyler: It was wild, yeah. It was pretty cool.
Finally, will you ever look at ping pong the same way after doing this movie?
Aisha Tyler: (Laughs) I don't think I will. Although I love the game, I think I have a little more affection for it now than I did before. I may have to bust the table out, set it up in the driveway and have some friends over for beer pong.
Balls of Fury hits the DVD shelves on December 18, and look for Black Water Transit to hit theaters in 2008 or 2009.