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Wednesday, March 26, 2003
Updated: March 28, 11:47 AM ET
Chris Rock

Page 2 Staff

Chris Rock directs and stars in "Head of State," co-starring Bernie Mac, Tamala Jones and Dylan Baker, and opening nationwide this weekend.

Rock plays Washington D.C. "alderman" Mays Gilliam, who, due to a truly unforeseen set of circumstances, becomes President of the United States. Page 2's Ralph Wiley sat down with C. Rock to ask him 10 Burning Questions, and under the pressure, the actor/comedian occasionally slipped into character as President Mays Gilliam.

Chris Rock
Chris Rock is Mays Gilliam, and he wants your vote. And he wants you to see his movie 10 times.
1. Thanks for having a one-man press conference.
Chris Rock: Best kind. So ... is that it?

Uh ... no. Right now, our nation's at war in Iraq. Some film releases were postponed. So much commercial TV time usually used to advertise new releases has been pre-empted by war coverage. Air travel, theme-park visits, box-office receipts ... all are down. Yet your movie's being released anyway. That tells us you're your own brand, you make your own hype. But can anything really be funny in this environment?

Rock: Actually, I think probably so. I think Leno will be getting off a few good lines about Saddam.

2. How'd you come up with "Head of State"?
Rock: I thought this was the funniest movie I could make at this time. I told (writing partner) Ali (LeRoi) that if we didn't write a comedy about a black president soon, we wouldn't get a chance; it'd be like black quarterbacks -- one day they're aren't any, the next minute, damn, they're all over. Figured we'd better get our shots in now.

We see you've got Bernie Mac with you.

Rock: Bernie plays my older brother Mitch Gilliam, who becomes vice president; he gets off the train slapping folk. Some people have a chip on their shoulder. He has more like a tree. We wrote the part for Bernie from the start. He's hilarious from word go, soon as he shows up. In a lot of film comedies, there's only one guy being funny; in "Head of State," we give you two for the price of one.

A formula that worked for "Old School." Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell were kind of hilarious in that.

Rock: ...what?!

Chris Rock, Bernie Mac
Rock teams up with Bernie Mac, but don't ask Byron Scott if they can act.
Speaking of you and Bernie Mac, or rather your psychotic cinematic brother Mitch the Veep -- you have been called "two of the most brilliant comedians at work today," by A.O. Scott in The New York Times. Unfortunately, A.O. Scott also writes, "(In the trailer for 'Head of State') I was also looking for evidence, as yet unforthcoming, that either man can actually act ... "

Rock: Yeah? What does Scott know? So he had one good year coaching the Nets. Personally, I've seen no evidence that the Nets are going back to the Finals. I see no evidence that Jason Kidd will stick around Jersey next year. Who is Scott to talk? Needs to be watching his back for Mailman, Ron Artest, or the Hornets and Pistons.

Mr. President, not Byron Scott, A.O. Scott.

Rock: You got that right.

3. Moving on, Mr. President, we were at Camden Yards when you filmed throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at an Orioles game -- only it was really a pitch between the fourth and fifth innings, and you got booed.
Rock: It was a smattering of boos.

Yet you threw a strike. Near-strike. Well, actually the catcher needed a ladder and a butterfly net, but ...

Rock: Let me just say that we as a country don't need to assign blame. But, if you are going to blame somebody, blame Rick Dempsey. He coached me. I had Tim Wakefield-ish velocity. The gun got me at like 38 miles an hour. Lucky I wasn't there looking for a job.

Impressive, Mr. President. A Tim Wakefield reference. Will you be a President who's well-versed in baseball, who uses baseball as metaphor for America?

Rock: If I do, then shoot me. I'm kidding, Secret Service. Let's just say if me and you follow baseball, that makes two of us. Not many people under 50 following baseball. Almost no black people. And if they are following it, they sure ain't getting no good tickets to the game.

4. What's your favorite sport, Mr. President?
Rock: Basketball.

How does a former hood rat turned world leader manage to keep his Timberlands on the ground and come up with a fun movie in these trouble times? Can you, with the refrain from "Basketball Jones" in the background, explain it to the American people in hoop terms?

Chris Rock
Despite Rock's questionable pitch, Steinbrenner offered him $10 million.
Rock: How does this brother keep his feet on the ground? I got family to go home to for that. I'm just Chris to me, but on this production I'm also Phil Jackson. So Ali LeRoi and I devise a game plan, called Operation "Head of State." We decided Bernie's Shaq and I'm Kobe -- there's a little more finessse to my game, see. But let's not forget I'm also the Phil Jackson of the production; so some people get to ad-lib, some don't. Kobe/Chris, do whatever you want, Shaq/Bernie, go 'head, dunk it with a twist. But Lynn Whitfield, you just bring the ball up court -- we don't need you to be trying to post somebody up! Be Derek Fisher. Rick Fox's fine team player role is played by Robin Givens as Kim. Look, Rick & Robin, be heads up, you only shoot the wide open jumper off the double-team.

5. Mr. President, what the's one sure thing we could expect from a Mays Gilliam administration? What would be your No. 1 national priority?
Rock: After the party you mean? I'd contract some baseball teams. The pitching's a little diluted ...

Mr. President, which is you favorite team?

Rock: Like all presidents, I love winning teams. I want my throwbacks from everybody who wins! Best thing about being president -- getting jerseys from the winning teams, man. Personally, I love the Knicks; they're probably in the LeBron Lottery, but will be guaranteed not to get him. I follow the game. I debrief myself on it. The Joint Chiefs are always wanting me to hook them up ...

Did you ever play the game, Mr. President.

Rock: I have what are called bitch-like skills. Horrible. There's a hoop over my garage; that's about it.

6. Mr. President, you spend a lot of time in the West Coast White House ...
Rock: West Side White House.

Sorry. So then can we assume you would be well-versed on the Lakers? What's your intelligence on them?

Rock: The Lakers are a beatable dynasty. The Lakers are the most beatable dynasty ever. Never has there been a dynasty without the most talent. San Antonio may have more talent, Sacramento has more talent definitely, Dallas has a lot of guys. But two people have to take it personal. Shaq and Kobe -- and let's not forget Phil -- they take it personal. For them it's like, "We win, I lose." Let's not let Rick Adelman off the hook so easy here, either ... this is the second time he has the second-best team, only this time this ain't Jordan he's going up against. This is a beatable dynasty. If you're well-coached, strong at power forward forward and point guard, you can beat the Lakers."

Wow. You do keep up, don't you, sir?

Rock: Look like.

Then need we ask whom you consider to be the best coach in the NBA, Mr. President.

Rock: It ain't no real big mystery. It's not like trying to figure out how to bring peace to the Middle East. I don't get the Nobel Prize for knowing Phil Jackson is the best coach. Put him in Sacramento or San Antonio, they probably beat the Lakers. The Lakers were the Sacramento Kings before Phil got there. Del Harris had Shaq, Kobe, Eddie Jones and Nick The Quick ... still didn't win.

Allen Iverson
Allen Iverson's new contract is not all it could be.
7. So who's your favorite player?
Rock: A.I. would be my favorite, if I had to watch one guy do his thing. Kobe's great to watch too ... when he's hot. Little Kobe-hating going on there. It's fun. Everybody does it. Some of it's the Shaq factor. Everybody with any brains -- including Kobe and Phil -- wants to align themselves with Shaq. You cross Shaq, you cross his line of death, that's it. Plus, Kobe came too close on the heels of Jordan. We needed maybe 10 years to get over Jordan. Kobe came too fast. He came before we needed him.

How does Shaq dominate?

Rock: You seen Shaq? I know what you mean. With Shaq, it's all about three inches. The defense has to lean toward Shaq, which gives you the three inches, if you're Shaq's teammate, to get your shot off, to get your game on. It was the lack of those same three inches that put Dennis Scott out of basketball ... the three inches that Shaq gives you when he's out there. And it's not like Kobe even needs three inches. Give Kobe an inch and you're all done.

8. Do you have an NCAA pick?
Rock: I'm not really watching it. Wait, let me say ... North Carolina? Is that a good pick? (huddles off-mike with his press secretary) ... OK, I'd say Duke. (Press secretary motioning to show Mr. President the result of Thursday's Duke-Kansas game.)

9. Mr. President, tell us which four current or former athletes you'd want to sit by you at a White House dinner.
Rock: Right off the top, A.I., he seems like a big party guy, plus I want to smooth it over with him, that some A.O. decided not to have him on the Olympic team. A.I.'s on my Olympic team, and I'm the President, which is almost as good as being Jerry Buss. Who else? Maybe John Salley. Bernie won't be there, so I need somebody to make me laugh. Then Serena, to look at her, and maybe Kournikova ... just to, you know, have her around.

If you can portray an athlete, who would it be?

Rock: Well, I always liked Hank Aaron, but I do funny, and I don't know how funny that one would be.

Not very, or wouldn't seem like it.

Rock: Satchel Paige?

10. Perfect. Get that on Ali's production schedule for us, will ya? Who's funny?
Rock: Charles Barkley. Charles Barkley is absolutely hysterical. He doesn't even have to say anything. He's not trying to be funny; he just is. So that makes him even funnier. Especially when he goes for serious. When Charles gets serious, I fall out of my chair. I feel sorry for Kenny -- he could be a good coach -- but the show's so funny because nobody takes him seriously. He's Charles' straight man. Kenny's got two rings, played for a good coach in Rudy T. -- but because Charles is a Hall of Famer, people assume he knows a lot more. But Kenny knows his s---. I'm not trying to get rid of Don Chaney, but Kenny'd be interesting. Who else is funny? Bernie. Lotta people.

Chris Rock
If you haven't seen "Bring the Pain," then we're going to have to ask you to leave.
You've been accused of being pretty funny yourself. Your breakthrough came with your taped stand-up in D.C., "Bring the Pain." Amazing -- the Mother of All Stand-Ups, best since "Richard Pryor Live in Concert," 1979. Shot you into the stratosphere; captured a tone, a mood, a frustration, it berated those people thought needed it, wasn't p.c., just killer. Your career took a quantum leap after that set.

Rock: It changed everything. I had no idea when I came off that stage how much life was going to change.

Now when Barry Bonds hits one into McCovey Cove, he feels it in his hands. He doesn't have to look to know where the ball's going to land. As a comic, when you have a great set like that, where exactly do you feel it?

Rock: You feel it from outside in -- off the audience. It's physical, it's their reaction to you; it invades you, it's a tingling. You feel their anticipation. After the set, you're absolutely exhausted -- there's nothing left -- and that's when you know. If you do your set, and then you're ready to go to the club when it's over, you didn't do such a good job.