Cedric the Entertainer enters into a contest of wills with his fellow comedians
The new comedy Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins sees two very successful cousins competing for the love of their hometown sweetheart. Cedric the Entertainer plays Clyde, a thriving entrepreneur that finds himself returning to the competitive nature of his youth when he comes home for a family reunion. Martin Lawrence plays his rival cousin Roscoe Jenkins, and the two are at each other's throats through much of the film. This highly competitive nature springs from the love they share for their schoolyard crush Lucinda, played by Nicole Ari Parker.
Clyde and Roscoe go fist-to-fist over a game of dice in the living room, and then they take their aggressions toward each other out on an obstacle course in the backyard. I recently sat down with Cedric to talk about his role in this laugh-a-minute romp, and I asked him if the competitive streak we see on screen is reflective of the comedians' own need to one-up each other on set with their jokes and improv.
Ced stated, "Oh, definitely. As comedians, we are all very competitive. This comes in a subtle way. Especially with us seasoned veterans. Most of us are at veteran status. We are respectful to each other's talents, but at the same time, we always have to prove that we belong there. We have several great comedians in this film. And one of Malcolm Lee's jobs on set was to reel that energy in when we weren't rolling. We are all sitting together, and the jokes just start flying. One of us has to get on top of it, and then the other one has to take it in a different direction. Then we really get going, and Malcolm is screaming, "Guys! We really need to shoot!" He then shoots us, and we have to go back to the script. It is a hard job to lasso in all of that energy."
He continued, saying, "Jokes are firing all around you like bullets. You take what someone else said, and you try to make it funnier. Then you try to come up with your own thing. That was fun, though. As a comedian you love that. Because it brings you more personal energy. It forces more creativity out of the situation. You find yourself doing something you never thought you would do before. Or you are taking something you have done, and you are finding a new way to bring it to another level."
Cedric is working with his peers in this film, and they happen to be some of the biggest names in comedy. A lot of improvising was expected of them during the shoot. Sometimes, director Malcolm Lee would just let the camera roll after a scene was over, "That definitely happened all the time on set. Especially with Mike Epps. That guy is a loose cannon. You cannot keep up with this guy. There were times when we would ask, 'If it's Mike's turn, can he please go last?' We knew that he wasn't going to shoot the script at all, and we knew that he was going to do it fifty times. He would drop something funny every time. I found myself in a position where I just wanted to sit back and watch. I didn't want to be in a scene with him where I had to keep my mouth closed and look straight. I wanted Lee to shoot me out, so then I could watch Mike. I am sure there are some scenes where he is just kind of going for it."
Epps took a liking to Michael Clark Duncan on set, a man that has been described as a gentle giant. Because of his kind nature, Epps found it easy to tease him. Ceddy tells us, "This dude is one of the nicest guys in the world. He is a big man, and extremely strong. But he is just the nicest cat all the time. Mike Epps would take advantage of that. He would do jokes on him and interrupt him. Epps is a pretty athletic dude himself. He was a lot younger than Michael Clark Duncan, so he would take off running from him. He wouldn't let himself get caught. Duncan did catch him one time, though. He caught him and pent him up a little bit. That was funny."
There seemed to be a lot of playful sparring on the set. The script revolves around two cousins that are constantly trying to out do one another, and it has a certain basis in real life. Director Malcolm Lee is Spike Lee's cousin, and I wondered if the competitive nature we see in the film was at all taken from the trials and tribulations Malcolm has gone through with having such a famous family member, "I think it does play into that. Malcolm is definitely a great director in his own right, so you don't want to bring Spike up. Malcolm is still trying to come up into his own person. Every time someone finds out that he is Spike Lee's cousin, they go, 'How's Spike doin'?' He gets sick of hearing that. It's like finding out that you are Will Smith's cousin. Everyone is, 'Oh, that is great! How Will doin'?' He is just a big personality. Malcolm will only bring Spike up when it is necessary. He more or less is still trying to get into his own box. He's trying to get his own lane happening."
Cedric plays a very suave, confident man that is reduced to tears in front of a room full of people by the end of the film. This scene comes on the heels of the Dallas Cowboys controversy that saw Terrell Owens crying in front of millions of fans after losing his chance at the Super Bowl. I asked The Entertainer what his own thoughts were on men crying in public. He says, "You know? Maybe if it is a truly emotional experience it'll fly. We all grew up in a society were men aren't supposed to cry. We hold all of our emotions inside. I think, like anybody, if you put a lot into a labor of love and it goes poof up into the wind, you will only act with some degree of anger. Or, you will become emotional. You will let it all come out."
He laughs, "I don't know if reporters would have rather had Terrell Owens go and beat everyone's ass. 'I LOST!' And then he is smacking everyone. To a degree, it is one of those things that you could easily equate back into anything you have put your heart and soul in. All of a sudden, it is just over. And there is no other response except, 'I'm sorry. See you next year.' I can see their reason for crying. If they were crying after they lost the third game of the season, that would be different. I'd say, 'Come on, man.' This, here, meant that the Super Bowl was over. It meant that everything was over. They worked all of these months, they did all of this training, and suddenly it is over. I get it a little bit."
It is interesting that Cedric always seems to be on the cusp of cultural hot topics. He was able to bring this same type of immediate energy to some of the discussions in Barbershop. Where does this worldly knowledge come from?, "It's me. I am the undercover clairvoyant comic. No. I think even in that scene, Clyde is someone that is always pushing people around. He is very cocky. I am real self-assured. I'm not so sure about things when the girl I have been trying to get on my side starts to show a little bit more favoritism to Martin's character. That throws me off balance. By the end, you see my entire shell come down. I think that is important that you see that. And people are using that. Even President...Whoops, did I say President? I meant Senator Clinton. Hilary? She cried for the people. White women were like, 'She is a bitch. No one likes her.' She turns around and goes, 'No, look at me. I'm soft.' I think that it might just work for Terrell Owens. I think people will go, 'He is not really that big of a jerk. He cried for his quarterback last year. It is all about crying for your quarterback."
Being clairvoyant, does Ceddy think Hilary Clinton might actually win the election? He tells me, "Don't even put that in the trades, because I am backing up Barack. There was already a President Clinton, so it was a Freudian slip. I was thinking about Bill when I said that."
At a previous junket, Cedric brought up the differences between black and white audiences. I asked him if he though a film likes this one should come with a warning that says: May illicit loud noise and talking from the audience. He agreed with me, "I think that is true. When you get a predominantly black audience, they are there to have a good time. They feel like they know the people on screen. When I walk down the street, I have people coming up to me and talking to me like we have been friends for years. Its because they watch The Steve Harvey Show everyday, or they own Barbershop on DVD. It is just so personal to them. When they are in the movie theater, they have to yell at the screen, 'Don't do it Ced! Oh! UH-UH! Oooh, he is done for that one!' Especially in a movie like this, you will get that."
He continuing, saying, "You got family members that people are starting to identify with. Who they are in their relationships. They will start to comment. And then they will start talking about how that happened to them. Everything in the movie seems so relatable that they start to have conversations. It is a little different then when you watch Michael Clayton. You sit there and stare, and go 'That is good. That is interesting.' You start thinking, 'Hmm. I don't even own a suit like that.' Even when white audiences go to a black film, they are there to look at the movie. They enjoy it, and they love it. They have a good laugh. But black audiences just get submerged in it."
Before leaving, I asked Cedric what was up with Back to School, "That is actually out of rotation right now. It was a movie that MGM had. It was one of their original titles. They sold it to Sony, and then they bought it back. But then they decided to make only a few movies. And now it is just sitting there. We have a couple of producers that are looking at it. They are interested in trying to get it back up and going. Right now it is just sitting stagnant. We had a new take on it, and we had this direction that we wanted the film to go, but that is where it's at right now."
You can catch Cedric The Entertainer in Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins when it opens nation wide February 8th, 2008.