A FRENCH CLASSIC RE-ENVISIONED AS A CHRIS ROCK COMEDY:ABOUT THE ORIGINS
Comedian (not to mention family man) Chris Rock has long been fascinated by the angst surrounding the hot-button topics of marriage, fidelity and the battle of the sexes - and has made it prime territory for his unique brand of comedy. So when he recently encountered a film considered a true classic on the subject of married life's frustrations and temptations -- Eric Rohmer's internationally acclaimed CHLOE IN THE AFTERNOON - he was struck with a typically irreverent thought: why not transform this serious French story of human foibles and moral dilemmas into a far edgier American comedy?
"I like to find things that aren't that funny and then make them funny," comments Rock.
A witty, elegant but very, very French character study, CHLOE IN THE AFTERNOON presented the story of a happily married Parisian man who loved to daydream about other women but never even entertained the idea of actually being unfaithful, until his old acquaintance Chloe dropped by his office and began to seduce him. Part of a series by New Wave cinema pioneer Rohmer entitled "Six Moral Tales," the film probed the fuzzy lines between fantasy and infidelity and between real commitment and the hunger for instant excitement.
Rock thought it would be interesting to do the same, but in his own inimitable and fearless way. Thus was born I THINK I LOVE MY WIFE. For Rock, the film was a chance not only to tell the humor-filled truth about the pitfalls and pratfalls of married life but also an opportunity to shine a little ray of hope on the state of modern matrimony. "Marriage can be a beautiful, beautiful thing," Rock muses. "Let's root for love."
Of course, he knew that many would laugh at the very idea of comedian Chris Rock taking on French auteur Eric Rohmer, or at least see it as a major risk. "Everybody was 'are you nuts?'" Rock recalls. "But I said, 'I can do this.'"
To bring a fresh, contemporary and decidedly comedic perspective to Rohmer's tale, Rock turned to his frequent collaborator and fellow comedian Louis C.K., who, like Rock, is married with children - and has a lot to say about the potential disasters that can come with that status. Louis C.K.'s own comical take on marriage recently came to the fore in his decidedly frank, controversial HBO sitcom about a working-class couple, "Lucky Louie."
"I sent Louis the Erich Rohmer movie, and he loved it," remembers Rock. In fact, C.K. not only loved the movie but saw in it the potential for him and Rock to really go to town with a subject close to both their savagely funny minds. "This was a great story for us because I think Chris and I both share a certain realism about marriage. We know that it's a mixture of hope and despair, a constant fluctuation between the two," C.K. observes.
He continues: "It's a subject that's very universal and timeless. To me, I THINK I LOVE MY WIFE isn't really about infidelity - it's about testing one's ability to stay with one of the toughest things in the world, which is marriage with kids. I think married people can look at this material and find a safe place to acknowledge the miseries of marriage and parenthood -- but laugh at it at the same time."
In fact, both Rock and C.K. note that there haven't been very many comedies geared to the current generation that tackle the touchier, more trouble-prone side of marriage. And yet, it is very much on people's minds, especially as more and more young people become parents. "I think guys are starting to take a really long look at who they are as married men and as fathers," says Louis C.K. "So the idea of Chris being in a movie like this was really compelling. The character of Richard thinks he's kind of got life figured out, but then this woman shows up and says 'maybe you're sort of dying early without realizing it. Maybe you're not really living your life.' It's every married man's biggest nightmare."
He adds: "People will always wonder not only whether the grass might be greener on the other side, but also, if maybe there's some candy there, too! It's human nature to be fascinated with whatever you don't have. But I also think in any long-term relationship between husband and wife, people fall in and out of love several times - and that's what Richard and Brenda are going through in the film."
Rock and C.K. faced a unique challenge in adapting CHLOE IN THE AFTERNOON, which was rife with a 1970s European sensibility and lengthy voice-over discourses. Although they retained the original film's basic structure - a successful businessman with a wonderful wife and family meets an old friend who offers a nearly irresistible temptation - the dialogue and situations began to bear the unmistakable marks of Rock's raucous stand-up comedy candor. Certain scenes, including one in which two married couples meet for dinner and the wives are friends while the husbands are not, are derived directly from some of Rock's best-loved routines.
By the time the screenplay was finished, the forthright, fast-paced tone of the piece had become quite stylistically different from Rohmer's existential musings. The story was not only infused with a lot of Rock's humor, but also the bracingly fearless honesty that has set Rock apart among his peers. "When I do stand-up, I talk about things that make people a little uncomfortable, and the laughs a lot of the time are the release of the tension that's in the room," Rock explains. "Hopefully that's what happens in this film."
Although it hadn't been his intention at the outset, Rock eventually reached the realization that the film would become his sophomore directorial effort. "This is kind of an intimate project where I felt I would really need to share a point of view with the director," says Rock. "Working with a stranger on this was just not appealing to me."
While Rock took on the multi-faceted roles of director, producer, co-writer and star, Lisa Stewart - whose credits include co-producing Cameron Crowe's award-winning rock memoir ALMOST FAMOUS - came on board to produce along with Rock.
Stewart couldn't resist the idea of Chris Rock directing a film about the trials and tribulations of modern marriage. "I think Chris brings a really unique and funny perspective to a great, relevant subject," she says. "It's also not your typical Chris Rock comedy, which makes it even more interesting. You might expect this from Woody Allen or any number of people, but not from Chris Rock. This is really adult, sophisticated comedy he's venturing into."
The film's ultimate avoidance of the usual Hollywood romantic fairy tale particularly appealed to Stewart. "I think it's a very honest portrait of a marriage, and it's that same honesty which makes Chris's comedy so unique," Stewart comments. "He doesn't shy away from the warts."
A long-time fan of Rock's work, Stewart thinks his evolution as a comic has brought him to the new place he explores in I THINK I LOVE MY WIFE. "We've all watched Chris go from being this fearless teenage comedian in the clubs to a married man in the suburbs," she says. "Now, he has to deal with the issues of being a husband and a father that everyone has to deal with, and this is a lot of fun to watch."
HUSBAND, WIFE AND BREATH-TAKING TEMPTATION: CASTING THE LEADS
At the heart of I THINK I LOVE MY WIFE's humor and human observation is the character of Richard Cooper, a well-heeled investment banker who appears on the surface to have absolutely everything of which a man could dream. He lives with his lovely schoolteacher wife, Brenda, and their two young children in the suburbs of New York City and commutes everyday to his job as the sole black executive at the prestigious investment firm of Pupkin & Langford. But Richard has one hazardous weakness: a wandering eye. No matter how much he loves his wife, he can't help but see ridiculously gorgeous women everywhere he goes -- on the train commuting to work, on the streets walking to work, at work, on his way home from work, everywhere. He just can't seem to escape them, or the reminder they carry that a certain part of his life is over for good.
There was never any doubt for Chris Rock, who knew this character inside and out, that he would play Richard. For Rock, the character's mix of family devotion and over-active fantasy was perfect for his kind of comedic portrait. Producer Lisa Stewart notes that Rock kept adding layers and lines to the character even as the film was in progress. "He's still Chris Rock so there were all kinds of ad-libs," she explains. "We'd be doing a scene that was already beautifully written but then he'd just go off on a tear - and everybody had to try to keep up!"
Says Rock of the character: "I always say that there are two types of guys who think about cheating. There are those who just hate the opposite sex, and it's just a way of letting out their frustration. But then you've got guys who simply love women. They're just always a sucker for a damsel in distress. And to me, that's Richard Cooper."
Despite his mischievous imagination, Richard never even considers cheating on his wife until one particular damsel provides a terribly tempting opportunity. This is the stunning Nikki Tru, the girlfriend of a friend of Richard's from his long-past clubbing days, who appears at Richard's office door one day looking for help finding a job, and looking very fine indeed. As Nikki and Richard start spending innocent afternoons together during Richard's late lunches, their relationship gets more and more complicated by mutual attraction.
Yet even as Richard begins to falter at keeping Nikki at bay, he becomes more and more keenly aware of what's at stake - the entire life he has created. "Richard definitely goes from being very selfish to figuring out what he wants in life and also seeing how his actions affect a lot of people," explains Rock.
For Rock, Richard's ultimate need to make a choice is what makes his predicament not only filled with hilarious circumstances but very real. "There's no black or white in this situation," he comments. "Hopefully when people walk out of the theater, there's a debate that will continue over who he should be with."
Key to creating Richard's crisis of temptation would also be casting the character of Nikki Tru. Rock knew he needed an actress who could make Nikki absolutely, unavoidably alluring, but without being the clear-cut villain. Even while he and Louis C.K. were writing the screenplay, Rock had asked Kerry Washington to take the role of Richard's wife during an informal reading. The two had worked together years ago on the comedy BAD COMPANY and Rock had watched with pleasure as Washington ascended to critical acclaim with diverse performances in such films as the Oscar®-winning RAY and the recent LAST KING OF SCOTLAND. Now, he saw her in a whole new light.
"Kerry was like that kid in the neighborhood you still think is a kid and then you come home and - she's sexy! 'You think - hey, what happened to you?'" Rock explains. "I saw her on the cover of some magazine, and I was like, who the f--- is this? She was so hot, and I was like, 'Kerry Washington? Wow! We gotta get her for Nikki!' She's one of the most beautiful women out. I think we got lucky."
Lisa Stewart was equally excited by the idea. ""Kerry's got a really interesting body of dramatic work," says Stewart. "Chris saw a chance to showcase her talent in a more comedic light."
Washington loved the frankness of the screenplay and was drawn to the chance to explore something not often explored on screen - what might cause a single woman to make advances towards a married man. "I know women who have gone through this kind of experience," she says. "I think it really comes from a place of needing to be loved, of needing to have attention. I think it's very complicated and very human."
Nikki, Washington notes, is the kind of woman who has always relied on the obvious impact she has on men to help her along in life. And yet, Washington thinks her sexual bravado is partly a cover. "She acts braver than a lot of woman, but she's also more scared than a lot of us are," Washington explains. "Ironically, it's Nikki's vulnerability and her need and her weakness that helps to make her so seductive."
In playing Nikki with a vivacious realism, Washington hoped to add to the film's no-holds-barred look at how married life can get derailed. The actress finds the topic wonderfully provocative. "I really think this film is an amazing reflection of the thoughts so many people are having about relationships and about fidelity and sexuality," she says. "It's also interesting that this is a remake of a film that was made thirty years ago, yet all the issues remain the same."
As the story of I THINK I LOVE MY WIFE unfolds, Nikki's seductive powers don't only turn Richard Cooper's life upside down. They also begin to shake up Richard's wife, Brenda, as all three begin to carve out a complicated triangle. To play Brenda, the filmmakers sought out an actress who would be just as strong a character as Nikki - the kind of confident, capable woman on whom it would be a very bad idea for any husband to cheat.
They found what they were looking for in Gina Torres, a rising actress who has been seen as the super-villain Anna Espinosa on television's popular "Alias" and as Forest Whitaker's ex-wife on the acclaimed "The Shield," but remains a fresh face to film audiences. "I wanted someone who hadn't been seen in this kind of role before so that it would help the audience really get lost in the character," says Chris Rock. "Gina is not only an excellent actress but really funny in a straight-man kind of way."
Kerry Washington was thrilled with the choice of her rival and nemesis. "I was excited when they brought Gina on board," says Washington, "because I think she's incredibly talented and perfect for the role of this terrific woman who sees her marriage in danger."
For her part, Torres enjoyed that the role was devoid of clichés and filled with funny but realistic complications. "Chris did not just write a typical 'wife role' for Brenda. He wrote a very balanced part for a real woman," she says. "That's what attracted me to the script. Brenda's not just a wife in name but someone who's really in tune with and knows her man. She trusts him and believes he will come back to her, but she's not gonna let him get away with everything, either."
Also impressive to Torres was Chris Rock's commitment to the material. "You could see that Chris really cares deeply about this story that he's telling," she says. "He wanted to make an honest movie about love and marriage and I have to applaud him for that."
To Torres, Richard Cooper is still a good guy, even if he does fall prey to his sexual imagination. "What's unique in this movie is that there really doesn't seem to be anything wrong in this marriage. We're not at each other's throats. I'm not a harpy, he's not a womanizer. It's just that it's our human nature to crave drama. I think men are conditioned to think that they're giving up so much to settle down and sometimes they start looking for the tornado. In this case, the tornado is about five foot two, with perfect chocolate skin, the personification of single and naughty, and is what every married man thinks he's missing out on," Torres sums up.
With three black actors cast in the leading roles, I THINK I LOVE MY WIFE definitely looks different from the original all-white, all-Gaul CHLOE IN THE AFTERNOON. Yet like the comedy of Chris Rock, I THINK I LOVE MY WIFE tells a story that, while never shying away from race issues, is something to which nearly everyone can relate.
"What's important to me about this movie is that it is not a different perspective," explains Gina Torres. "We're not saying, oh, black people do it differently. What we're saying is, it's universal and we all have these feelings."
Adds Kerry Washington: "I think this film has the potential to break barriers in a way because Chris is so loved across the board and he's really committed to making a film that, even though it's primarily an African American cast, really crosses color lines. I think he has the potential to, in some ways, combine the best of Spike with the best of Woody."
AT THE OFFICE: ABOUT THE SUPPORTING CAST
Trapped between his beautiful but predictable wife and his stunning new female friend, Richard Cooper's only source of male advice comes from his co-workers in the offices of Pupkin & Lanford. There, one married man who's not missing out on any extra-marital activity is Richard's friend George, the office's unlikely Don Juan. To play George, Chris Rock went for an amusingly offbeat choice - Steve Buscemi, the acclaimed actor who's a lot better known for his unforgettable performances than for any kind of matinee idol looks.
"Once again, I tried to get off the beaten path where you usually get this hunky guy who's sleeping with all the women," says the writer/director. "Nah - the guy that sleeps with all the women is the guy with personality and that's George."
Rock even wrote the role with Buscemi, whose many memorable roles have ranged from FARGO to CON AIR to "The Sopranos," in mind. "I've always loved him as an actor and I figured he'd be perfect," says Rock. "I think he'll get some of the biggest laughs in the movie. He annihilated me every time he opened his mouth."
For the role of Mr. Landis, the head of Pupkin & Langford, Rock cast another unexpected and award-winning actor known for his exceptional work on the stage, television and the big screen: Tony® and Emmy® Award winner Edward Herrmann. Herrmann was surprised himself by how he responded to the screenplay. "I said 'oh, how great. This is a real grownup picture,'" he recalls. "Chris is funny and observant but there's also something very affirmative in it."
Mr. Landis of course has his own agenda when it comes to Richard Cooper. "Mr. Landis has one focus and one focus only: to get Richard focused back on his work!" says Herrmann. "He depends on Chris as one of his brightest people - and now that he's in some sort of a crisis with this woman, it's driving him nuts. He finally offers his own words of wisdom about women."
Says Chris Rock: "The funny thing about Landis is that he might be the boss, but you realize he has slept with a lot of women. He's the guy who figured it all out a long time ago."
SEDUCED BY NEW YORK: ABOUT THE FILM'S DESIGN
I THINK I LOVE MY WIFE was shot entirely on location in Chris Rock's home state of New York, mostly in and around Manhattan. For Rock, there was simply nowhere else that could replicate that crucial New York state of mind. "Chris is very much in love with the city and that really comes through," explains New York-based production designer Sharon Lomofsky. Adds Rock on his decision to shoot the film in the city: "It's simply hard to get a bad shot in New York!"
While the story of I THINK I LOVE MY WIFE was inspired by Eric Rohmer, when it came to the film's visual style, Rock admits he was influenced by a very different filmmaker - Manhattan native Woody Allen, who has made the city an iconic element in many of his celebrated comedies. Rock collaborated closely with cinematographer William Rexer II to create a luscious urban landscape that is its own love letter to the city. "In stand-up, you're always trying to get to Richard Pryor, and in doing this kind of movie, I think you try to get to Woody," Rock explains.
Uniquely, Rock also wanted to forge a picture of two contrasting New Yorks - one as a city surrounded by suburban havens where families can lead quiet lives and the other an urban wonderland for the young and adventurous. Unlike in most such portrayals, Rock strived to have each be equally attractive in their own way. "Chris and I spoke a lot about his not wanting to patronize suburbia," recalls Lomofsky. "Richard Cooper really does have this very nice American life."
Though Richard and Brenda's family home is meant to be in Pelham, a typical Westchester County hamlet, the Cooper residence was actually filmed in the Ditmas Park area of Brooklyn. Ditmas Park stands out as one of the few places around Manhattan where there remain many historic, turn-of-the-century Victorians with that old-fashioned family sensibility and spacious yards. The house Lomofsky and Rock ultimately chose felt like the perfect evocation of the American Dream, a house of considerable charm and size with a sprawling, wrap-around front porch and well manicured lawn surrounded by towering shade trees. "The house has a really classic feeling. It even has a gabled roof," explains Lomofsky.
While the home was filled with light, the color schemes that Lomofsky chose when decorating the interior are purposefully devoid of strong hues in order to reflect Richard's interior sense of boredom. Similarly, the offices of Pupkin & Langford, where Richard spends most of his waking life away from home, reflect the blandness in Richard's life with a limited, wan palette - that is, until Nikki enters his world.
Lomofsky and her crew built the entire Pupkin & Langford offices from scratch within the shell of a building under renovation at 485 Lexington Avenue - creating a kind of corporate aesthetic gone overboard. "Essentially, Pupkin & Langford is a gray world," she says. "Not one thing about it is warm or personal." Even the view from Richard's window of the skyscrapers of midtown Manhattan is a sorry reminder that his life is essentially the same as thousands of other office workers just like himself.
Pupkin & Langford's lobby was filmed at 28 West 44th Street, off Fifth Avenue, in a "Literary Landmark" building that once housed the offices of the venerable New Yorker Magazine when its contributors frequented the Round Table at the Algonquin Hotel down the block. Coincidentally, a few years ago, Chris Rock himself worked in the same building, when "The Chris Rock Show" resided at that address. "It was a total coincidence," says Rock. "Another building fell through at the last minute and we ended up right there."
Lomofsky chose the building's exterior and lobby specifically for its stuffy, Old World feel. "We wanted Richard to be a bit uncomfortable in the world he's in," explains Lomofsky.
When Nikki arrives in Richard's world, she begins to liven everything up. Her effect on Richard - and her yin-yang contrasts with his wife - becomes especially clear when Richard attends the New York International Auto Show with each of the women on separate occasions. While Nikki heads straight for the sleek, shiny steel of the Maseratis and Porsches, Richard's wife Brenda is lured only by beige minivans.
However, because the real New York International Auto Show wound up taking place weeks prior to filming, the production had to scramble. After sending a small crew to film the actual car show, Lomofsky and crew later recreated entire portions of the show in very same space, New York's renowned Javits convention center.
Like the sports cars that turn her on, Rock wanted Nikki's home environment to feel exciting, sexy and full of the fun Richard Cooper fears he is missing. He located Nikki in the meatpacking district of Manhattan's West Village, in a place Lomofsky describes as "warm, engaging, a place where everything feels slightly sort of hand made, slightly crooked. There's just nothing regular about it."
CHRIS ROCK (Director/ Producer/Co-Writer)
Lauded by awards and critics alike, Chris Rock is one of our generation's strongest comedic voices. The Brooklyn-raised comedian has garnered three Emmy Awards, three Grammy Awards, including a win this past year, has seen his former eponymous talk show become one of HBO's highest-rated and most talked-about programs, and is co-creator and narrator of the acclaimed hit television series "Everybody Hates Chris," now on the newly-formed CW network.
Rock made his directorial debut with HEAD OF STATE, which opened number one at the box office. Rock starred as an unlikely Washington, D.C. alderman chosen to be a presidential nominee, while Bernie Mac portrayed Rock's older brother who becomes his running mate.
Rock also recently starred in both THE LONGEST YARD, a remake of the 1974 classic, as well as in the box office hit MADAGASCAR. Previously, Rock starred in BAD COMPANY, ; the romantic comedy DOWN TO EARTH, and the dark comedy NURSE BETTY. Rock's feature film debut was in BEVERLY HILLS COP II. He went on to write, create, star and produce the rap comedy CB4 in 1993, a satire of the world of hardcore rap, which opened #1 at the box office. Other film credits include BOOMERANG, PANTHER, a drama spotlighting the lives of the 60's activist group The Black Panthers, directed by Mario Van Peebles; NEW JACK CITY and I'M GONNA GIT YOU SUCKA! In September of 2005, "Everybody Hates Chris," the Rock-inspired sitcom about a black kid in a mostly white school in 1980s Brooklyn, debuted on UPN. Since then, it has been named one of Entertainment Weekly's "top new series," making it the most-watched comedy in UPN's history. Rock is the co-creator and narrator of the show. In 2006 the show earned an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Comedy Series, a Golden Globe nomination for Best Television Series Musical or Comedy, a Writers Guild Awards nomination for Best New Series and Television Critics Association nominations for Outstanding Achievement in Comedy and Outstanding New Program of the Year . Rock previously served as an executive producer of the hit sitcom "The Hughleys," which aired on the UPN network.
After gaining early success as a stand-up comedian, Rock joined the cast of NBC's "Saturday Night Live" in 1989. In 1993, Rock taped his first HBO special "Chris Rock: Big Ass Jokes," which was honored with a CableAce Award. Rock served as the sole 1996 presidential campaign correspondent for the acclaimed "Politically Incorrect," then on Comedy Central, and received an Emmy nomination for a shared writing credit in the category of Outstanding Writing for a Variety or Music Program for the show.
Rock's true emergence can be traced to his next HBO special, "Bring The Pain,"which was honored with two Emmy Awards for Best Writing and Outstanding Special in 1997. "Bring the Pain" was released as a home video as well as a Grammy Award-winning CD.
Rock went on to host the acclaimed "Chris Rock Show," which began airing on HBO in 1997. Rock and his popular talk show was honored with several Emmy nominations for writing and host and received an Emmy Award for Best Writing in 1999.
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