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March 2007
I THINK I LOVE MY WIFE: An Interview with Chris Rock

I THINK I LOVE MY WIFE: An Interview with Chris Rock
By Wilson Morales

After doing numerous appearances in films and hosting the Oscars at one point, it’s time for Chris Rock to get back to doing what he does best, which is entertain folks with his own writing. In collaborating with Louis C.K and basing the film off of Eric Rohmer’s French Film, Chloe in the Afternoon, Rock has directed his latest film, “I Think I Love My Wife” co-starring Kerrry Washington and Gina Torres. Rock plays Richard Cooper, a suburban husband and father who feels that his life is bored until he meets an old acquaintance played by Kerry Washington, who shakes up his everyday routine. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Rock talks about putting this together.

Steve Buscemi’s character cheats and says “I’m married with kids” as if it were fine. Who inspired that character?

You cheat on your wife, you cheat on your kids. That’s what they say. Who was the inspiration for that character? I don’t know. There were probably 30 guys I know that were the inspiration for that character. I don’t know. There’s no one guy and if there was I couldn’t ruin his life by saying it

Why did you and Louis update the Rohmer movie?

We made it a comedy. It’s not really a comedy a comedy, the original. And we really beefed up the wife part. In the original, the wife, it’s like you see her twice the whole movie, in the beginning and the end. I know it seems like a joke at first, Chris Rock, Eric Rohmer, ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. I’m sure it was like the big joke assignment of the week. ‘I got the Chris Rock-Eric Rohmer one.’ But when you really look at the original of Chloe in the Afternoon and you think about my standup, they kind of go together, and it’s kind of where I’m at in my life. And Louis, too. Louis has been married 10 years. I’ve been married 10 years. We both have two daughters. We both live in the suburbs. So it seemed like a perfect match.

We don’t see a lot of Gina Torres. What went into your casting choices?

First of all, there are some people that when you see their face or hear their name you just assume the movie is going to be mediocre. So I absolutely refused to cast any of those people. The usual black suspects, I call them. Yes, I know I’m a hater. So what? After I eliminated them, you start casting. You go, ‘OK.’ You meet people and whatnot. And it’s like, ‘OK, what kind of movie am I making?’ When I did Head of State or just casting any of my other movies, because I had a hand in most of them, I always cast for comedic ability. This time I was determined for dramatic ability and make sure the drama was right. I just trusted that the comedy would come out of dramatic situations, as opposed to moments when people just turn it on, like a sitcom. Kerry Washington is, I think, the finest young actress we have, just hands-down. And she’s just beautiful, my God. And Gina is beautiful. They both can act. They have no baggage. Any baggage they have is good baggage. Kerry Washington acted against Jamie Foxx. He got an Oscar. Forest Whitaker got an Oscar. The Wayan brothers get a Razzie. Kerry Washington will take you to levels, either way.

You are politically astute. Would you say your film is political?

I don’t think it is. I guess in some way. I guess it’s more political than Head of State, in some ways. I’m not here to spit anybody’s movies, but most of the time the portrayal of the black middle class is just clownish. You’re totally out of touch with everything that’s going on, and you need somebody from the hood to straighten you out, to show you what’s really going on because you don’t even have a television or a radio. A lot of people do that. I guess in that part (it’s political). We have little things in there, just the parents’ concern that there are black kids at the playgroups and stuff like that.

Congress is considering a motion to erase the word “nigger.” Your thoughts?

I don’t know. I called up my accountant and bought 8,000 shares of coon, just in case.

Kerry Washington the scene where Gina confronts you is the strongest in the film. It seems like you’re giving us a middle-class woman could really go there if she needed to…

She’s just a woman. You guys are just buying into what bad comedians say. ‘A black woman wouldn’t go for this!’ Women are women, men are men. It’s like, ‘Oh, she’s middle class.’ A middle-class woman is OK with her husband cheating? Please. Where is this even coming from? Do you hear yourself?

I am just asking you…

‘It showed that a middle-class woman would go there.’ Like there’s all these middle-class women that just take it. That’s where the character would have gone. Her husband was out all night. That’s where the character would have gone. It was a natural place for the character to go.

What it important to you to make this film now?

You have a finite amount of time in front of the camera, especially in movies, man. TV, you get a little longer, but for the movies it is really a finite amount of time. It is really important for me that, when all is said and done, I had a movie that existed that I felt really represented what I do and fit me. I didn’t think I had one. I don’t think I had a movie that was at the level of my standup or the TV show or the other things I’d done. It was just important for me to do a movie that could sit with all the rest of that stuff.

My wife was uncomfortable with even the previews of I Think I Love My Wife. How did your wife handle you doing this film?

You ever been to one of my standup shows? It’s uncomfortable. It can be funny and it can be uncomfortable. My wife’s fine with it. The fact that it’s a remake of the Eric Rohmer thing, I’m sure helps. But we have an agreement. I have a real wife who’s lovely, a lovely woman and the mother of my children, and then I have this comedy wife who’s just this bitch that won’t sleep with me. And it all works out. The uncomfortableness, while I was making it, while we were making it my goal was to make a funny Adrian Lyne movie. That’s the goal. Adrian Lyne makes movies that are so uncomfortable, man, and so provocative and they just have you talking for hours after the movie is over, not about the movie, about the issue. Adrian Lyne does that better than anybody else. You may not like it. You may hate the movie. But you will talk about the issue at hand. So I really wanted to do that.

So far as your own role in the film, how hard was it to hold back and go for bigger laughs?

Here’s what happened. I hired an acting coach for this movie and kept her on the set the whole movie. This woman, Susan Batson, did the coaching. So between her and Kerry and Buscemi, I had really world-class actors around me in pretty much every scene I was in. And you kind of rise or fall to the people around you, and I was just fortunate enough to have these great people around me.

Wife is very universal. Anyone can relate to it. Was that a consideration?

I’m proud of the movies I made before this, but I kind of went into them with a marketing head and I thought about selling them before I thought about doing them. This movie is just me. I’m a guy. I’m a black guy from Bed-Stuy who happened to be bussed to school. You know what I mean? So I’m able to work white and black. I do an HBO special at the Apollo and then I cover the Republican convention. That’s just me. But, again, I hadn’t had a movie that showed that side of me.

This took a while to come together. When did you know you had it right?

I still don’t know if I got it right. I wrote the other movies in 90 days, probably, and I worked on the drafts throughout production. This script I worked on for about, I’m going to say, three years, maybe longer. And in the three years we ripped pages to shreds. On this one I had several read-throughs. Probably over the three years or whatever – I think it might have been four years – I probably had a read-through every six months. Kerry did a read-through or two. Nikki was white in one draft. It just evolved. The read-throughs really helped. I’m normally really guarded with scripts, like, ‘No one’s going to read it.’ I let Alexander Payne read the thing and gave me some notes. Frank Oz gave me some notes. Terry Zwigoff. All these guys. It was just like, ‘Hey, man, what do you think?’ ‘Will Smith, what do you think?’ People call me all the time for stuff, for jokes. All the time. ‘I’m having problems with a scene.’ Big, huge directors will call me up. ‘I just need a joke. I’ve got a black and he needs a … Is this OK?’ So people call me up for help all the time. So I used my resources this time.

Is this a legacy film?

I hope so. I hope so. I’m not going to know until a few weeks from now or a year from now, and I hope so. I have watched it with audiences and it’s really resonated, from what I can see, and the emotional beats work even more so than the comedic beats. When he puts the ring back on, I’ve seen audiences clap. I’ve seen then (gasp) when he takes the ring off. I’m proud of this one. Not that I wasn’t proud of the other ones.

No one’s sure if, at the end, the husband and wife will have a great sex life…

That’s great, though. Every movie you see now, they test them to death and there’s nothing ambivalent about anything. It’s so tightly wrapped up. Do you remember Midnight Run and De Niro is trying to hail the cab? Do you need to see him with his wife, and he’s happy? Think of how many great movies you’ve seen where you kind of don’t know? What happens at the end of Thelma & Louise? Are they dead? Are they crippled in the car?

But what do you think will happen to their sex life?

I don’t know what’s going to happen to their sex life. It’s really about appreciating you have more so than dramatic changes are going to make things better. You married this person. You didn’t marry this other person. They’re having sex. They will have sex.

Thoughts on how people back home in Bed-Stuy will react to Wife?

Hey, man, I saw Hannah and Her Sisters when I lived in Bed-Stuy. People see all sorts of movies no matter where they’re from.

Why did you go with Buscemi?

I wrote it for him. I totally wrote it for him. In most movies the cad or the womanizer guy is usually this hunky guy, chiseled features, but in real life the guy that does all the cheating is a guy with a lot of personality and no conscience at all. That’s what it takes to pull that off. And he’s just a great actor and he’s really funny without forcing it. When you see movies with primarily African American casts they usually end up with the B-team or C-team of white actors that you’ve never fucking heard of. ‘Who’s this guy with Sanaa Lathan? I’ve never heard of this guy.’

Tyler Perry’s new movie didn’t do well. Does that concern you heading into the release of your film?

This is weird. I have no idea how much money this movie is going to make. I love Tyler Perry. I called him up the other day and told him how much I liked the last one. But I have no business sense on this movie. I know if the movie is cheap and they’ll make their money back, that should allow me to make another movie. But I think the movie is resonating with people because it’s not a business plan. And I like Tyler Perry’s movies, but I think a lot of the reason art sucks so much is because everybody’s a businessman and nobody’s an artist. Everybody’s thinking about marketing more than they’re thinking about making something that really speaks or comes from the heart.

I THINK I LOVE MY WIFE opens on March 16, 2007



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