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The Cast and Director Talk About 'Death at a Funeral'

Behind the Scenes of the 2010 Remake

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Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence photo from Death at a Funeral.

Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence in 'Death at a Funeral.'

© Screen Gems
The 2007 independent British comedy Death at a Funeral directed by Frank Oz was the inspiration for 2010's Americanized Death at a Funeral from Screen Gems and directed by Neil LaBute. Chris Rock fell in love with the original film after catching a screening in a nearly empty theater, and his admiration for that film made him want to remake the movie with a big name ensemble cast. Rock hopes this new version will open up the comedy to a wider audience.

The action in Death at a Funeral takes place at, as the title implies, a funeral. Rock and Martin Lawrence play the sons of the deceased man who apparently went to his grave trying to protect a very provocative secret. Peter Dinklage reprises his role as the stranger who knows the secret and demands to be paid off or else he'll spill the beans. The huge ensemble also includes Zoe Saldana, Columbus Short, James Marsden, Tracy Morgan, Regina Hall, Danny Glover, and Luke Wilson. Together for a press conference in LA to discuss their version of Death at a Funeral, the cast shared why they were so attracted to this remake and what it was like being a part of such a funny cast.

Director Neil LaBute and the Death at a Funeral Cast Press Conference

Why did you want to do this film?

Neil LaBute: "I guess the genesis for me was twofold. I’d been looking for a comedy for quite some time. Getting people to believe that you are able to do something other than what you’re known for in this town sometimes is difficult. Luckily, the effect in this case was that Chris Rock had seen the movie and wanted to make a [version of it] in the States. He’d worked with me 10 years ago, had a good experience and also had been a director in the last few years, but wanted to act in terms of the production rather than act and direct. So he was interested, knowing that I liked working with actors and scripts."

"Then I’d also worked with Screen Gems, who were putting the film together. I’d done Lakeview Terrace with them, had a good experience. And so those were an individual and a company or Clint Culpepper, the head of that company, who said, 'Let’s take a chance on somebody doing something different.' There’s always been humor, I think, in what I do - sometimes unintentionally, frankly - but I had never done a comedy other than Nurse Betty which had humor and scalpings coexisting."

"There’s never been just a straight up comedy, so it’s an expensive medium we work in. So to get a chance to do something, people have to say, 'I’ll trust you with $15 million, $20 million.' So it’s a big amount of trust. Luckily, I was able to come into this and get a chance to work on what is essentially more flat out comedy than anything I’ve done before. So it already existed as an idea and even a script, and I came in at that point where Chris was really the only person in place at that time."

Is there such thing as “black” comedy and why is the white character driving a Saab?

Chris Rock: "Driving a Saab? That was Neil’s choice. Neil’s in charge of car picking. Is there black comedy? I mean, there’s comedy that black people do. To me, it’s all just comedy to tell you the truth. I consider myself in the same line - - there’s Richard [Pryor] and Eddie [Murphy] and [Bill] Cosby, but I’m also a descendant of George Carlin and Rodney Dangerfield and all those guys like that. So I just mix it all up. When I was a kid, we didn’t think Rodney Dangerfield was a funny white guy. We just thought he was a funny guy."

Is this a record for remaking a film so soon?

Chris Rock: "I saw the movie...one of the reasons I wanted to remake it, I saw it in an art house. I saw it like in a little theater, Angelica, whatever, with like 10 people. Something to me just said, 'This is like a pop movie. Why is this playing at an art house?' Me and the other 10 people are laughing our asses off. Have you ever been in a theater with no people, 'Waaaaa,' just laughing, because you normally need other people around to get rid of your inhibitions, but we didn’t care. It was amazing."

Did you think it would take longer to make it, and why did you think it would work with an American sensibility?

Chris Rock: "I just thought the jokes would work in America. I thought you watch a lot of the movies out right now, comedy, we’re not doing a lot of one guy comedy right now. A lot of things are collaborations, something like Date Night right now or The Hangover is like a bunch of people. So I thought the fact that it had a lot of funny parts was perfect for me, not wanting to have to carry a whole movie. And also perfect, something a studio would really be into. So I thought it would work that way."

Zoe, can you talk about your scenes with James Marsden and working with this crew? Did it influence you?

Zoe Saldana: "No, I don't think I’m funny at all. I don’t want to be, but I just knew that this was going to be an amazing experience. Everything about the concoction of this project was appealing, from Neil LaBute to Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Tracy Morgan, Danny Glover and the rest of all of us coming all the way down. Then I remember asking my team, 'Well, who’s going to be playing the crazy boyfriend that’s high on substances?' And they’re like, 'Oh, James Marsden.' I’m like, 'Oh my God, yes, I’m totally…' It just felt to me like something I’ve never done before and it was a challenge."

"I saw the first one and I loved it. I’ve seen it like four or five times. Something about it just felt like, 'Oh my God, that’s one thing that the entire world has in common, that’s funerals.' And everyone has a crazy family member. It didn’t matter if it was in England or if it was here in America or whatever. It was still, to me, [...]it was going to work and it was hysterical."

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