Cedric the Entertainer, Lucy Liu, and Nicollette Sheridan talk about the comedy
It's a job no one grows up saying they want to do - a janitor; take that one step further - a janitor who thinks he's a secret agent. That's exactly what Cedric the Entertainer is in his new comedy, Code Name: The Cleaner, also starring Lucy Liu and Nicollette Sheridan.
In the movie, he wakes up in a room, a bump on his head, blood dripping from his ear, a dead guy in bed with him, and a case of money lying next to him. The thing is, he can't remember a thing.
Cedric came up with the idea for the movie while talking to his buddy Brett Ratner. "His production company had the idea, and I was interested in the action/comedy - kind of get out of the 'family guy' stuff, and just do something where you could have some fun, knock down some walls, shoot some weapons. As we got on and started developing the script a little more, and found good spaces to add in more characters, so Lucy Liu and Nicollette got involved. It just seemed like something fun to do, so we just kept trying to work it from there."
But finding a story out of a janitor who thinks he's a spy, that took a little bit more. "It was trying to take the 'every man' aspect of it; it was taking the energy from the character in the Bud Light commercials. It was just this regular, every day guy and something happens and you're put in this extraordinary situations; so that's the ideology behind being thrown into the circumstance. And I tried to have some fun with it, playing with The Bourne Identity of it all; kind of a comedic, looser version of it. I didn't want to take myself too serious, but I did want to jump out of helicopters and stuff like that."
In The Cleaner, before Cedric had his amnesia, he hid a computer chip inside the building. Nicollette plays a woman trying to get that back because it contains some very important information. It's definitely a switch from her role on Desperate Housewives. "Actually it came to me from the producers who sent me the script, and when I read it and found out that Cedric was attached, naturally it was a shoe-in. Everything that I've ever seen him in I've found him to be quite brilliant; we did a read with a big cast of people, and when Cedric's scenes and mine came up we just started riffing and playing and adlibbing. There was a chemistry there that I felt could really work and it ended up being as much fun as I knew it was going to be once I walked out of the read through."
Lucy is an FBI agent posing as a waitress in a local diner; she had been forming a relationship with Cedric to get inside the company. Even though, she had done the quirky parts, a comedy was not on her resume. "I'm always looking for a comedy because I think it's one of the most challenging things to do; it's one of the most fun things to do. And I think doing a comedy with a comedian is always very helpful because you've got a little cushion because if you're not funny, he's got to be funny."
Both Cedric and Nicollette and Cedric and Lucy have a couple intimate scenes; but it's the one with Nicollette that really steams up the screen. Her character tries to seduce him into giving up where the chip is; Cedric says he was pretty nervous shooting that. "Nicollette was like, 'Let's do it!' She's a very 'sure of herself' kind of woman in general. Once she got the idea of the scene, and why we wanted to do it, she was cool with it; but there were moments when she climbs on top of me, and I'm - (lots of you know's) - trying to be an actor here, and I've got Nicollette Sheridan on top of me right now. So it made it a little more hard for me to stay focused."
Nicollette saw it a completely different way. "He said that? Ah, that's cute - that liar. No, I was petrified; it's horrible having to drop one's robe and having to be exposed in your knickers in front of Cedric and a crew of people, but Cedric was extremely supportive. Yes, he was very supportive; I wasn't sure what I was going to do once I turned on that music and had to dance over to that bed trying to extract information out of the amnesiac."
She even had to work on her dance skills. "It was probably about twenty takes of just the craziest dances - and Cedric can move like nobody; he is a brother that knows how to dance and I was feeling extremely white after he started busting some moves. So, he'd just get back in the bed and I would do my thing and then he would get up and start imitating what I was doing. We had some pretty wild dances and I think that they settled on a quite tame one."
For Lucy, it was just about trying to keep a straight face while Cedric shot out different lines of improv. "Actually, I think it just raises you to a higher level; it pushes you to improve your skills and sort of just get off the script and do whatever it is. Because you're so aligned to doing what is written a lot of the times; I come from a theatre background, and you do what's written, you pause when you're supposed to pause, you take your moments, but ultimately, you respect the writer's wishes. And in this case, we sort of just tore the whole thing up and re-wrote and did things on the day, especially if he was improvising as we were doing the scenes. So it kind of pushed me to just be a lot more open with the dialogue and come up with things that could be funnier."
Together, Lucy and Nicollette have a fight at the end of The Cleaner; Cedric made sure to point out that was his idea. "Yeah, it was just one of those things; Jake is this character where he's having all these crazy imaginations of different things. Of course, you have these two beautiful woman fighting over you; the guy's not seeing the actual physical fight, he's seeing something totally different - 'nuff said."
Nicollette was extremely impressed with Lucy during that scene. "She's in pretty damn good shape; we got together with the stunt coordinator and basically choreographed the fight. Both of us have a little foundation in martial arts; we tried to choreograph it in a way that looked very authentic and tough. People had been calling it the cat fight which we just didn't like; it's not a hair pulling, slapping, nail breaking fight. This was combinations and roundhouses and throwing punches and dodging kicks; it was the real deal. That wasn't in the script initially; Cedric thought that his male fantasy could come in handy, so he had the producers suggest that we have this bubble bath fantasy, not clothed, luring him into this world of bubbles. Lucy and I thought, 'No. It's not going to happen.' But then on closer examination we thought of a way that it might work, picking the outfits that we wore and finding the humor in it since it is a theme throughout the film, these fantasies. So it would be pretty appropriate to have a fantasy like us in a bubble bath together."
Lucy didn't know about it either, but is always ready to kick some butt. "Oddly, it's now ingrained in my body; it's like, "Ok, we're going to do a fight scene off the fly." We hadn't planned on doing the fight scene, and suddenly they're like, "Let's do a fight scene together at the end." So I helped choreograph a lot of it because I felt very comfortable doing it; I know all of the different moves that I have learned from my other movies. It just felt like a very natural progression for me, and I incorporated other things that I've learned. My body has sort of changed and become more flexible, so we added splits, we added different things, and also added comedic elements of using the toilet plunger or the toilet brush, to make it extra funny."
You can laugh along with Cedric, Lucy, and Nicollette in Code Name: The Cleaner when it opens in theaters November 5th; it's rated PG-13.