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December 2004
Fat Albert: An Interview with Kenan Thompson

Fat Albert: An Interview with Kenan Thompson

By Melissa Walters

Kenan Thompson has been around on TV for most of his career since he and his pal Kel Mitchel had their TV series, Kenan and Kel, years ago. And unlike child stars who have gone off to college or left the business entirely, Kenan continued to work, and found himself doing films and honing his comedic skills. Practice makes perfect and in some sense, it has for Kenan, as he is currently a member of Saturday Night Live where other comedians like Eddie Murphy, and Chris Rock became successful. Not only that but Kenan's been tapped by the one of the greatest comedians, Bill Cosby, to play the legendary Fat Albert on the big screen. Fat Albert is the creation of Mr.Cosby and over the years, many have tried to bring the character to the big screen but either the person or script wasn't right. Rest assured that with Mr. Cosby's blessing, Kenan is the right choice. In speaking at a press conference in Philadelphia, Kenan talks about the pressure of playing such a well liked figure.

Did Dr. Cosby contact you personally?

Kenan: No, I auditioned like everyone else. This was a couple of years ago. They really wanted to see everybody. My buddy JR auditioned to be Fat Albert too and Nick Cannon tried out and then a couple of years later they called me back to audition some more and I really didn't hear from Cosby until I made a special audition tape with my good friend Joel Glick who flew all the way in from London to help me audition special for Cosby, we have a strong relationship, you know, we work good together.

Now, how do you feel about how Dr.Cosby deals in his handling of young people and what he had to say about them, young people what they are not doing, what they are not doing and you know, you are in that controversial thing with Saturday Night Live, you do all kinds of roles I mean how he feels about young people and what they are doing?

Kenan: Well, I mean, I know one of the main points that I picked up along the way is trying to balance, you know, the fact that education is the most important thing to have, being an African American male, so, you know, I definitely agree with the fact that all of that education you are tying to get, not only their high school degree but also a secondary education, I agree with all of that at this point. You didn't know I could speak so well (laughs).

What is your connection with Fat Albert? Do you go back to the comedy albums or the TV show?

Kenan: I don't know as far back as the albums but I think my first introduction was watching the TV show, the little learning show he used to do, with Squeaky something and then they would show the re-runs of Fat Albert, I think that was the first serious dealings that I remember.

There is the issue of someone creating a character that people already have an idea in their minds, so what kind of balance is that? Do you make your own Fat Albert but also stay true to the one that we know?

Kenan: I mean really, the balance really came from Cosby's supporting me and letting me just, you know, allowing me to make the decision as an actor or whatever, just show the humanity of the character and you know, we had to make sure all of that came across in the picture. I wasn't really doing too much different from the audition tape it is just, you know, a more thought out version of what I wanted to do to be on the right track. They wanted the compassion and the humanity of the character to come across. .

Did you have to wear a fat suit and how uncomfortable was it because you were dancing in one scene? You were doing all kinds of things in that fat suit.

Kenan: That suit was pretty comfortable. They like customed fitted it to my body so it was like, you know, I had, it was all insulated, my knees and my elbows, so it impaired my mobility. It was just hot, you know, we were shooting in the desert.

How heavy was it?

Kenan: About thirty pounds

How hands on was Dr. Cosby? How often did he come to the set and did he like what he saw?

Kenan: He came like the first day and we were very excited to see him and all of the characters come to life. And he and his wife, Camille, they were just very excited from day one. They told us that everyone was awesome and that we were involved in making their dream come true, that this was thirty years in the making and whatnot. I guess she knows some of the people that were in the original. It hit home really heavy for me. He was very supportive throughout the process. He came back for a cameo and that was a really nice day. Very powerful man. Rather than leave very early in the morning and rather than just shoot the scene, he did stay and he was there to the very last day when he did not have to be there, so, he told us we did a good job and patted me on the back. I saw him at the Apollo recently when we had the little screening in New York and he made me introduce him. I had never been to the Apollo before and now I'm backstage watching Bill Cosby for two hours which was cool with me. He was wearing a Fat Albert tee shirt with my face on it and it just culminated. I was just wondering if he was losing his mind- he's wearing my face.

What in particular did you like about the person or character?

Kenan: Just the idea of the atypical hero guy he was, Fat Albert. Jjust the fact that he wanted to solve problems and he was so gentle and everybody went up to him. I also love Mushmouth. Mushmouth was great. And the rest of the gang. It was so funny they would talk about and sing songs about stay in school, don't drink and drive, kids growing up in the 80's.

Will there be a sequel?

Kenan: I don't know. Ask Joel (Zwick). I don't know. We don't know. I have no idea.

Can you tell me, what was the most important thing that you took from the film that you would like to share with us? There were so many positive messages in this film.

Kenan: Basically the main thing I took from the film didn't have anything to do with the story or the movie, I just took the experience of being around ten young people, everybody under age 25, 26 all working on this big big budget movie. That's what I took away. That was a good experience to see that feeling. They are all driving themselves to the set in their fancy cars, it's really really nice to see a young generation you know, a troubled generation, I'm not trying to say we are all trouble you know but we were out there doing something positive.

It looks like everyone were laughing and having fun.

Kenan: It was funny because like we were all pretty much working on this for a long time so we know what time we had to get up in the morning and there were like 5 o'clock calls. We're making this movie so we got to get up at 5 o'clock calls. We got to work hard. We all knew that about each other. We all get up in the morning. We all knew that about each other so we were all playing jokes on each other keeping each other up. We were singing songs and making up songs and all this stuff and just playing around with each other so just being around them was pretty much the best part of the day.

In the movie Albert was pretty positive. Do you hope young people get the message?

Kenan: Yes, I do hope they get the message. The message- the whole movie is a message- it has lots of messages I think they catch it and the way he talks about people. It's sugarcoated but fun.

There are a lot of the Saturday Night Live characters, particularly those that have taken to show characters on film. Do you think it's different doing a character that's not on the show and what type of expectations do you have for Fat Albert?

Kenan: Fat Albert has nothing to do with Saturday Night Live. The only reason we talk about it is because I work there really, but the Fat Albert movie is pretty much going to stand up by itself regardless of whether I do a Star Jones or Bernie Mack. Fat Albert is gonna come through because a lot of people don't even watch SNL - a lot of people fall asleep. I think Fat Albert is gonna be great and I don't know what it's going to do opening weekend but I think it's gonna go through the roof. The issue is we got a great movie with great potential to do a lot of great things beyond its theatrical release. You all need to support it.

Fat Albert dealt with two generations. How would you compare and contrast each generation and would you have preferred to live in that generation?

Kenan: That's a good question. That was Cosby's main thing when he came to talk to us that he was telling us and Joel was telling us how they grew up in the 50's. That's the mentality of someone that was before rock and roll so it's before a lot of things and censorship. Now information comes a lot easier. This was like way censored so the way they would approach girls or the way they would have a crush on like they were like totally different from our generation. The way they would walk and talk and even respecting their mamas, those were the kinds of stories he would tell us but sometimes I wish I grew up in the 70's but I was born in 78 so that's cool.

This is a two parter- first how autobiographical was this part that you played, did you see yourself in this character. Secondly did Dr. Cosby give you any advice to carry with you?

Kenan: Fat Albert is more of a Samaritan than I am. Fat Albert is the kind of guy if he sees you with a flat tire he will help you change it. I'm more of the type I'll drive by and ask can you handle it. I'm not a bad guy. Trying to bring some jolliness to the character that will be my part you know to be silly. Cosby's been giving me great advice. I wanted to get in Stand up a little more and he is telling me about that. He is a good mentor. He gives me advice and guidelines.

You mentioned, you touched on how this movie deals with how young men treat young women and how that's different now do you think this generation can take the gentle message about how to treat each other, members of the opposite sex?

Kenan: I think there is an example of it in the film. Fat Albert was trying to push up. It was funny in the movie how Fat Albert did it in the film; you can't tell if he was going to kiss her on her ear or a little peck on the shoulder. She goes running away and everyone's upset. It wasn't cool. I think that will come across in the movie.

Do you think this younger generation can use a little advice about how to treat each other?

Kenan: There's definitely a difference about how you would have a crush on a woman in the 50's and the way you would today just because of everything n television.

Do you think the innocence of this movie will be wasted on the children of today? They have seen so much.

Kenan: No. I don't think it will be wasted. It's going to catch your attention. We try to teach a lesson and comedy goes a lot further. It will catch their attention. We tried to do a nice mixture of both. We have some hip character- Marcus Houston, B2K Aaron Carter, Good Charlotte.

You get to work with Dania Ramirez and no kissing scene?

Kenan: We did it but it got cut. I kissed her on the reshoot too. It was a good day. I kissed her.

Have you done any impressions of Bill Cosby on SNL?

Kenan: I did once when I saw him at the Apollo. He was like "Go out there and introduce me" (Cosby voice). I said what? He said "go out there and tell all the people that I'm coming to the stage" (Cosby voice). I said alright. I went out there and I didn't know what to say. Apparently he's wearing this Fat Albert sweat shirt all day, this is his second show and it so people know my face so when I got out there people are going to expect me to say something, so I did my character impression "Ladies and Gentleman ..". I heard from backstage he was shaking his head like that's good. I think he digged it because he's a comedian too.

Did you get the chance to meet these characters that Dr. Cosby based these characters on and what was their reaction to your portrayal?

Kenan: I didn't meet all of them. I met his brother Russell and they thought it was awesome. Fat Albert was coming to the movies. It was really big. The fact that they were there to see some of this stuff happen in the beginning and they are still here- they were excited about that.

Fat Albert was always trying to solve problems, if you had unlimited money and resources which problems would you solve?

Kenan: I believe we have a huge homeless problem. I would get rid of taxes.

Did you ever run with a posse? The end of the scene was very poignant to see all these older guys together, was that always in the script or was it a lat minute thing?

Kenan: The end scene, I remember the end scene in it for a long time, from the time when I was involved the scene was there. I always thought it was nice touch but it was up for debate a few times but it's nice. Posse wise nah not really, I had my little friends, I was in the theatre so I didn't have to worry about possying up with anybody, just me and the Lord.

The signature Hey, Hey Hey, how many times did you have to do it before you perfected it?

Kenan: Not too much. It's not a hard one to do.

How hard was it to really get into the role of Fat Albert? Was it really difficult for you?

Kenan: No. Really the most difficult thing was trying to figure out when and where and how to keep the voice going - we went back and forth about it- when I needed to go back to a more natural voice but as far as the research I watched a lot of cartoon, a lot of episodes, they have it on the DVD. So I watched it. The movie is not a continuation of the series, it's a story in its own kind of way so we were open to do what we really wanted to do.

Do you have any fond Christmas memories and what's on your wish list?

Kenan: The wish list, I wish the movie to do really. Well I wish, I don't know. That everyone gets what they want for Christmas. I always know what I want for Christmas. Christmas memories, I remember when I got a whole bunch of legos and GI Joes in one Christmas.

Did you ever have any reservations about the role?

Kenan: Not really. You always got to watch yourself when you play this type of character because you don't want to be auditioning for something else and all they want to do is Hey, Hey Hey and they kick you out of the audition. So as an actor you have to be wary of that. But knowing about Fat Albert I knew it was an opportunity.

Doris or her sister? If Kel had been in the movie with you what role would he have played?

Kenan: Kel could have been the Buckeye character or the Dumb Donald or Mushmouth because that boy is talented. The guys that they got is scary because they look like the guys in the cartoon and they didn't have to do much work to those cats.

Doris or her sister, you mean Kyla or Dania? I love them both. Dania has a boyfriend and Kyla is too young.

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