We visit the Faith United Church for a good old fashion hostage situation
We are on the set of First Sunday. Ice Cube and Tracey Morgan are playing a couple of desperate men attempting to rob the church of its collection plate in order to pay off a large debt. They have taken the congregation hostage, and are trying to figure out where the money is stashed.
Scene 94. Take 3
Ice Cube claps his hands together. He likes the direction this particular scene is headed, and wants to continue in that direction. "Let's do it to it!" The group runs through this particular scene a third time. Every nuance is hit. There are no flub-ups. Its is an effortless, flawless take. But it is not perfect. Talbert wants to run through it again. "Take 4" is called. Everything is back in place, and the actors are once again running through the motions. It is a machine at this point. Tracey and Cube are becoming miniature pros at hitting their intended marks. This is the take. It's a lock. The one. They can move on.
The sound technician calls in from the other room, "We have mag noise. We'll need to go again." While the mag is changed, the actors hang their heads low. They are disappointed that Take 4 is unusable. Tracey goes back and lays his head down upon the bottle of ketchup. More fake sweat is sprayed. Take 5 and Take 6 are quickly shot through. But the group's energy is down. The scene is lacking the crackle and pop it needs. The jokes are being delivered a bit flat and unflavored. Ice Cube realizes this and tries to rally the troops.
"Come on, gang! This is going to be "the" take! This is the one that we are all going to see in the trailer. Let's get that mist off our clothes! This is lucky number seven." Morgan seems inspired by this. He starts clapping his hands together, "Lucky number 7! Lucky Number 7!" Talbert calls, "Action!" And...Morgan blows his lines almost immediately. He does the same thing with Take 8. A moment of silence is called.
There isn't a pep talk this time out. No lucky takes. Just an idea and notion that everyone needs to be on their A-game. You can feel it in the room. They all want to get it right and move on. It is the unspoken rule. Perfection, timing, pacing. They need to lock it in place on this take. And they do. The director is happy with this run through. It's the one. He can work with it. Ice Cube jokes near the end, aiming his gun at Katt Williams, "You going to get your ass shot off!"
Williams riffs back, "I don't need this ass! It's been nothing but a hindrance!"
Interview: Tracey Morgan:
Are you considering this your hiatus movie?
Tracey Morgan: Yeah, I guess you could say that. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
It's a good thing.
Tracey Morgan: I would love to do a movie ever hiatus. This is the only one I have to do this summer. That's the thing about television. It takes up so much of your time that it affects other aspects of your career. But I've got a great team, so I was able to do First Sunday with my free time this summer. It's something other than getting in trouble.
Are you finding that your are in more demand since 30 Rock? As, maybe, compared to when you were on SNL?
Tracey Morgan: No, I can't say that. I am just glad that I have the opportunity to do this movie. I'm not Will Smith, I'm not getting three movies this summer. Nobody's really banging down my door. But when the offers do come, I appreciate it. I'm going to leave it at that.
Who approached you about being in this particular film?
Tracey Morgan: My agent and my manager called me and said people were reading for this movie. Would I be interested in it? I said, "Yeah, absolutely." I've worked with the Alvarez brothers before, and they told me that Ice Cube was in it. So, right there, for me, the deal was sealed. To work with Ice Cube is something that I've always wanted to do since Are We There Yet? I wanted to work with him face-to-face though, so I came and I read for the movie. They gave me the part. So, hallelujah.
We heard Cube say, "This is going to be the take we see in the trailer!" What other types of things do you guys say or do to get worked up before a scene?
Tracey Morgan: Oh man, you just think about it. You think about the premiere, you think about the red carpet, you think about all the things that go into it. You think about the people who are going to come to the movie. That jazzes me up. $9.75, that's the price of admission. You know, all of that jazzes me up! When it hits, you just get psyched. It's not work when I'm here, you can see that. So, being here you don't have to do much to get hyped. Just coming to work. I know big comedians. I still go to the comedy clubs and a lot of them will probably unfortunately never get to this level. So, haaah, holler at me!
What has it been like working with David E. Talbert?
Tracey Morgan: He's awesome. I think he's going to be one of the greats. As a matter of fact, I know this about him because he's like Vince Lombardi. He gets in your soul. As a director he inspires and trusts you. That means a lot to performers when there's trust. When a director trusts you and your instincts and the choices that you make. It feels bad when somebody doesn't trust a choice that you make. As a professional you're like, "Wait a minute, that's how I saw the character." But he gets in there with you and he's like, "Yeah yeah, do that, do that, do this." He isn't trying to create the magic for you. As a director, the number one thing you want to do is capture it. And he's capturing all the magic. Cool stuff, like Martin Scorsese, he's capturing the magic. He doesn't give it away, he doesn't build walls. He tears the walls down. As a director, he doesn't bring it. I love him because he doesn't bring any anxiety on the set, he releases all of that. Relax. He's a Zen man, he's like Phil Jackson. He's a Zen master.
Is it more difficult to create a character that will run through a number of years on television, than, say, a character like Lee John, who has a complete arc in one film.?
Tracey Morgan: Not really for me. I understand the role I have in a series. I've always wanted to make a distinction in everything that I do. When you look at Al Pacino when he did Scarface, he's a Cuban! When you looked at "Carlito's Way", he is Puerto Rican. But he's from the east side of Harlem and you see that! And I've always watched that. I've always wanted to make a distinction. I don't want Lee john to be the same as Tracy Jordan. I have to find a way to make that distinction. That's where knowing your craft comes in.
What distinguishes this character from the others you have played?
Tracey Morgan: I don't know yet. I haven't really thought about it, but I know there is a distinction. What distinguishes them? I'll tell you. I do know. Lee john is showing emotion and he has a buddy. Tracy Jordan doesn't. I mean, he is loveable, he's likeable, he's an international movie star. You don't get to that level not being loveable and likeable. But in this movie, I'm showing a range of emotion. Most comedians never get asked to do that, especially when you've made box office success being funny. I would love to see Eddie Murphy in a tearjerker. But who else wants to see that? Who wants to pay for that? Eddie is known for doing his funny thing, but I'm quite sure as a dramatic actor he would be great, because all the great ones make you laugh and cry. Remember Richard Pryor in Lady Sings to Blues? He made us cry. That's what I want to achieve.
What is the balance between comedy and drama in this film?
Tracey Morgan: They're the same. Shakespeare said that. Dude, you didn't know that, you didn't study that? Comedy and drama are both the same. It's like love and hate, joy and pain. You can't have one without the other. I'm doing Lee john and all this funny stuff in this movie, but who knows what I'm going through in my real life? Who knows what kind of phone calls I get. So, there is a balance whether you know about it or not. Because life is not perfect and it gets a little bumpy for all of us. A little rough for all of us. Yeah, I have my stormy seas. But with that, I'm doing this movie. Look at this opportunity I have. Do you want to know the balance on me? I'll show you the balance, bro? This is how fucking real I am...
(Tracey lifts up his pant leg to show off his alcohol monitoring ankle device.)
...That's the infamous Tracy bracelet. That ain't cool, and I'm letting you all see that because I'm not hiding nothing. I've always been an honest person. You all know I had some problems. But look where I'm at right now. My boy Ice Cube came and said, "We're going to fix you right up homey, we'll fix you right good."
You've always wanted to work with Ice Cube. How has that experience been?
Tracey Morgan: A joy. He's one of the most well-adjusted, down-to-earth people that I've ever met in show business. He's a cool dude. He's like me. We're both 38, we both got three sons, we've both been married to our wives for years and we have that in common just off the bat. Then there's that chemistry. As a person, he's cool. He appreciates what you do. He appreciates what everybody is bringing, and he shows it and it's cool. Not a man of many words, but plenty of action.
Scene 94. Apple 1.
David E. Talbert needs a close-up of Loretta Devine. Ice Cube stays in the room for the extra coverage, running the lines with his co-stars. Tracey Morgan takes this opportunity to leave the room. He needs a break, no longer able to tolerate laying his face down on that scabby catch-up bottle. He breaks into the other room, whispering loudly. We watch Loretta faint over and over again on the monitor.
"Cut!" Is called. A man walks through the set with a plate full of chitlins. Tracey is quick to descend on it, filling up a little paper plate, "Did you get these from Larry the Clown? You all from Crenshaw? Long Beach? You know Larry the Clown? He's my cousin. He makes these!"
Tracey offers our team of journalists the plate of snacks. Most decline the offer. He then takes a seat next to his bodyguard, watching the monitor. Two very beautiful women have taken a seat to watch the excitement. Morgan can no longer watch the coverage being captured in the other room. He sits, blatantly leering at the two girls. They could be super models. Something funny happens on the screen. Tracey laughs, pointing it out to one of the ladies, "Did you see that?"
A break is called. Ice Cube comes into the next room. We chat for a minute:
Interview: Ice Cube
I noticed you stayed in the room for coverage, but you let Tracey go on a break?
Ice Cube: You want to reward your actors for hard work. Give them a little space, you know what I mean?
Ice Cube: Yeah, pretty much. I never realized that I'm kind of stuck in this weekend. So, a Saturday movie is somewhere in my future. I can feel it. This is just a perfect title. You know what I'm sayin'? I've got people asking me, "Is that part of the Friday series?" What's good is that we are doing a whole other movie. A different day of the week. And it's cool.
Did you make a conscious decision to switch from kids movies to more adult oriented fare with this film?
Ice Cube: I just learned that in Hollywood, you've gotta be a part of good movies wherever they are. If you could, you would be a part of a good movie whether it's a kids' movie or an action movie. Whatever it is, you've got to jump on it. Especially if everything lines up as far as the people making the movie, the studio, the business. Myself, I'm a fan of dramas. I want to do more, you know. For me, they seem elusive. You know what I mean? In doing this, it is kind of a dramedy. Someday, I'm going to get ahold of one of them that are going to get made. I would love to do more dramas. This is a start.
You seem to have a lot of directorial input. Do you see that as being true?
Ice Cube: Exactly. That's what you kind of witnessed today. I know the story. I know that there is an edgy balance there. I work with the director because I know what the story is. When we tell people that we're robbing a church, they are kind of taken back by that. Then I add in the element that we are stupid enough to be robbing the church. People can see that there is something funny in that. I think we got a touchy subject, but we have a subject that's real. We know the church's responsibility to the hood, and the hood's responsibility to the church. I would label it a dramedy. I don't know if Screen Gems would label it that, but I would.
What is your take on your character?
Ice Cube: I feel personally that my character, Darrell, feels the church has basically sucked all of this money from his grandmother. He sees this thing on the wall where she's given thirty-one Gs to the church, and he's broke. Struggling, and he needs to borrow some money. But she gave her last bit of money to the church. Okay, it's her money. That's fine, but when the church doesn't offer the van ride service that they used to, what is she getting out of giving all of this money? He ends up in the church and finds out that the church is planning to move. So, they done sucked all the money from this neighborhood, and now they're going to go and put it in a neighborhood where my grandmamma really can't get to. If she's having trouble getting to the church while it's here, just think how much trouble she'll have getting to it when it's ten more miles away or whatever. So, he feels that these guys are poverty pimps. He's going to set it straight and get some of that money back. He also needs to take care of his problems. It's twisted, but in reality, the grandmamma is more sacred than the church. That's what's going down. You know, it's always hit and miss. If the movie doesn't believe in it, they're not going to push it through.
How is David E. Talbert as a director?
Ice Cube: He knows good acting and he knows bad acting. I like how he deals with the actors. That's definitely his strong point. He can get us to deliver the performances that he wants. He envisions it first, so you know he has the tempo of acting whether it's comedic or dramatic. He has that tempo down. It's cool to work with him and figure out what he sees and try to give him what he wants. That takes me to a different place as an actor, so it's cool.
How has it been shooting in this church?
Ice Cube: I don't know. There's still a lot of profanity that's going on that probably shouldn't be. People forget where they are. Then everybody starts to look around. I think at first people were a little subdued. I know being in the church has definitely helped Tracy Morgan and Katt Williams. Their dark side is starting to see the light. Being in the church has helped them, but everybody else was a little nervous at first. It's really a location. I feel like we're on a stage to be honest.
Are you playing more of the straight man?
Ice Cube: Yeah, I think that's really my role in these kind of movies. In this kind of comedy, I don't try to be something I'm not. I let people who are naturally funny be funny. I've worked with these naturally funny people who know the scene with the lines, without the lines, with ad-libs, with physical comedy. I don't want to get in their way. I want to make sure that I'm there to pitch to them. I know they'll knock it out of the park.
What has it been like working with Tracey Morgan?
Ice Cube: Tracy was cool because he's an east coast dude. We want to pull off this Baltimore thing, and he's a guy who has done a lot of different things. He's well trained because of Saturday Night Live. You know him coming from stand up. I knew that he could do anything we asked him and he wouldn't hesitate to jump in there. Then Katt, he's the king of the one-liners. With that voice, all he has to do is say something. He has a nervous pet voice, you know what I'm sayin'? It all sounds funny coming out of his mouth. Ricky was full of one-liners, just like I discovered when I first worked with Katt. Giving him one line is not really even using what you have. His character is always expanding with his personality. What he brings to the table is amazing. I knew that with those two dudes the movie is set. What's so cool is Tracy kind of passes the baton to Katt in this movie. We start to look at Tracey's character of Lee John. He goes from being this clown, this funny dude who'll make you laugh in the beginning of the movie, to him starting to look inward at himself. You are basically seeing the class clown comedian that everybody knows, and he is crying on the inside. We get to really start to dig in there and see him. You don't feel like he is trying to be funny. It's not funny any more. Coming to that realization is sad, so that's cool because you know Katt takes on that and kind of takes us through the dramatic piece of the movie. It's really cool how that happens.
Does this film have religious overtones?
Ice Cube: I think so. They are not overly done. It really matters what David cuts and how he cuts it. For the most part, religion is put on the back burner. It's the conscience of the church. At the end of this movie we redeem the church. And the church redeems us. We represent the guys who wont go to church. Who are just looking at it as a building. That they in there getting paid, basically. We represent that element. That's not necessarily true so we need our minds to be reformed. The church thinks, "Hey, let's go bigger and better!" Instead of, "Let's deal with what we got and help the community." You know? "A bigger and better building, more people, more money." All that kind of stuff. They need to be brought back home and realize what they're here for. All of that works itself out.
You have some great dramatic actors in the cast. What do they bring to the table?
Ice Cube: They ground us. They're the reason this isn't a Friday movie. You know what I mean? We got some great actors. Michael Beach is great and shy. Then there's Loretta, who is great. Everybody is bringing their A game. Everybody cares about the project. From the first day we had everybody on. People saw what kind of movie we were making and they started bringing their A game to the table. When a lot of actors could have phoned it in, these dudes are taking everybody to the next level. I think we have something special.
I heard that Mike Epps was originally supposed to be in the film?
Ice Cube: Originally, Mike Epps and Katt Williams were going to play the two leads. But Screen Gems really didn't see it that way. They wanted somebody a little more established to play Darrell. Which was me. Then you have me doing the Friday movies with Mike. People couldn't really see us changing the tone enough to come out of that. That's why Tracy was brought to the table. I believe me and Mike could have, because we've done it before. But I was happy to see Tracy on the movie. I knew that we were definitely going to have something different without even having to work at it. With me and Mike, it was going to be a thing where we had to work closely to make sure it didn't turn out to be a Friday movie. But with Tracy, it's none of that. He brings in his total east coast flavor. To me, it's brilliant. I really can't picture the movie now without Tracy.
You can catch Ice Cube and Tracey Morgan in First Sunday when it opens January 11th, 2008.