March 2003
Head of State : An Interview with Director/Actor Chris Rock

Interviewed by Wilson Morales

Head of State: An Interview with Director/Actor Chris Rock

By all accounts, Chris Rock has made it big. I remember watching him as a youngster when he was starting out some HBO special that featured him and fellow comedian Barry Sobel. It’s not easy building a fan base, but that’s what he did. Slowly but surely, he started doing his own thing, getting the recognition without being associated with other comedians. He gained worldwide attention for his portrayal as “Pookie” in the urban drama “New Jack City”, which launched the careers of numerous stars. He honed his comedic skills as part of “Saturday Night Live” ensemble. When it was time, HBO gave him the biggest break of his career, his own show, THE CHRIS ROCK SHOW. It would go on to win numerous awards and put Chris Rock in the same ranks as other gifted comedians. More films followed along with more power. Now in his directorial film debut, Chris, along with some writers from his hit show, have him vying for President of the USA in HEAD OF STATE. In an interview with blackfilm.com, Chris talks about his role as a first time film director.



WM: Did you feel relaxed on the set working with friends but as the director?

CR: I’m the oldest of seven. I’ve been in charge before. No problem being in charge of a lot of people. I had a good time. I’ve done a lot of movies. I’ve been on more movie sets than the average director I’ve worked with. When you’re out there, it all comes back.


WM: There aren’t that many comedian actors directing themselves in a film. Was it difficult directing yourself as a comedian?

CR: It wasn’t difficult. You have to trust the script. We wrote it funny. We laughed when we were writing it. It should still be funny. I didn’t my performance a ton of thought. It’s weird. I think I have a better performance than I normally have. As far as directors, there’s Woody Allen, & Keenan Ivory Wayans. It seems that most comedies are written for Jim Carrey. I’m not Jim Carrey, so it seems that I have to make these comedies fit me.


WM: How does it feel being the President if your character were to win? Not many of us get that opportunity.

CR: We will see. The movie will give all the answers.


WM: What’s the first thing you would if you were to win?

CR: I would get rid of one of the Carolinas (states). I would get rid of New Mexico. It hasn’t caught on. People still go to Old Mexico.



WM: Were there lots of foolishness on the set?

CR: Me and Lynn (Whitfield) had a torrid affair. [Laughs]


WM: Were there any long production days where you and Bernie would cracks jokes?

CR: We cracked each other up, but there were no long production days. I was not wasting Mr. Spielberg’s, Mr. Geppen’s, and Mr. Katzenberg’s money.


WM: Can you talk about the process of getting this movie? I understand you started it in D.C?

CR: We just went down there and decided to write it in D.C. We stayed at the Four Seasons near Georgetown.


WM: Did you talk to a few politicians while you were there?

CR: I talked to few people but I don’t want to give their names. They may not want me to. The big thing was the device. What would happen if two candidates die in a plane crash? We try to figure what could legally happen. We thought of this film over summer before Sept. 11.


WM: Do you see a Black President in the future?

CR: Probably. Condoleeza’s in the White House. Colin Powell’s in the White House. We just have to get them in the chair now. Colin could be President, but he has to want to be President.



WM: What do think of our current President and the job he’s doing?

CR: Well, we’re still alive. That’s all you want.


WM: What do you think about the timing and release of this movie considering the climate that we’re in?

CR: It’s an interesting time. There’s no good or bad. War is good for no one except for the tank people.


WM: how much input did you have with the casting?

CR: I’m the director, so I picked the cast.


WM: What did you learn as a director?

CR: You have to clear everything. Every product needs to be clear. If you want to use a Sony walkman, or a Sony microphone for the podium, you have to clear it with Sony. Clearances are a big issue.


WM: Was there any challenge to you come on board as a director?

CR: Yes, some studio said no. They like my idea but they didn’t want me directing. Basically, they thought that I was funny, but not competent. Every now and then, you heard the words “Harlem Nights”. They were like, “Why can’t it be like “Braveheart” or “Take the Money and Run”?



WM: Can you talk about interacting with the actors as a director?

CR: We hired great actors. A guy like Dylan Baker has been in so many movies and has worked with so many great directors like Spielberg, Zemekis, and Scorcese, that I got to listen to him. I would be crazy not to listen to him. I drilled him on Woody Allen all throughout the shooting of the film.


WM: Did you have to bend Robin Givens‘arm to be in film?

CR: A little sweet talk. I thought it was a good character. It’s a lighter look at Robin Givens. She’s one of the funniest things in the movie. We were in “Boomerang” years ago, but I don’t think I spoke to her once. Back then, she was really Robin Givens. We definitely the part to be for someone you didn’t expect. There was talk of Janet Jackson for a minute, but she wouldn’t do it. Plus I had to think about her entourage and her schedule. There were a bunch of ladies we thought about, but Robin worked out.


WM: Would you ever do an R rated comedy?

CR: I wouldn’t mind doing an R rated comedy. It’s weird because when I do my stand-up comedy act, it’s just me and HBO really doesn’t comment about any of my lines. Think of my stand up act and specials that I have done. There are funny, but imagine if I had to submit it to a studio and 6 executives got to fiddle with. One bad move and it could really mess up my career. I would say that it’s impossible to do what I do on stage and in a film.



WM: Was this film ore of a situation where you bring back your old team from your HBO show?

CR: Yes, it got back the old crew. We sat down, we wrote a movie, and it feels like that.