Dane Cooks Up a Storm
by Paul Fischer
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A stand up comedian for nearly two decades, Dane Cook is making quite the reputation these days as a serious actor, not just a comic one. He does both in his new film, My Best Friend’s Girl, in which Cook plays Tank who faces the ultimate test of friendship when his best friend hires him to take his ex-girlfriend (Kate Hudson) out on a lousy date in order to make her realize how great her former boyfriend is. In this exclusive interview, Cook talks comedy and acting with Paul Fischer.
Paul Fischer: This is—I guess—even though it’s not your first lead in a movie, it’s your first above the credits. That’s kind of a big deal. What was the attraction of this particular movie for you?
Dane Cook: I mean, Paul, the first thing is, within pages of reading it, I was already pacing around reading the script, walking around my house and reading lines out loud, laughing. I just thought it was a howl. The thing I was looking for in a script was—I’m trying to continue to build a film repertoire, after 18 successful years of stand-up comedy, and I’m trying to figure out characters that I can play that capture the essence of my stand-up, but at the same time, evolves and matures as a film actor. Which, you know, doing movies like [Mr.] Brooks or Dan in Real Life, I got to really step away from the comedic. But a movie like My Best Friend’s Girl really was something in my—forgive me, but in my wheelhouse. And I thought it was a nice way to continue to keep my audience, core audience, happy. But working now with very established actors, and comedic actors. Kate Hudson and Alec Baldwin. It was the best of several worlds, in one story.
PF: Do you see this as being both a conventional comedic character that your fans are used to seeing you playing, as well as a character that stretches you a little bit beyond what you normally would be expected to do in a comedy?
DC: Absolutely, Paul. I mean, this is a character that—you know, I looked at it as—certainly Tank, when he’s in his Tanking mode, is the furthest thing from me. This is a no filter guy, who isn’t afraid to become the bull in the China shop at any given moment. And I’m certainly much more reserved, and—although tenacious, plot a course that’s a bit more sensitive. So in aspect of acting, that jumped out at me. And then away from that, it was just—you know, I want to be able to get people laughing. I just want to really make people have a great howl. And how often do you get to play a character that—we all love villains. You love the Darth Vaders, you love the Hannibal Lectors. It’s not very often you read a character where you get to use the powers of evil, ultimately, in the end, for good. In that last scene in the movie, which bookends—you know, you feel the audience actually hoping he’s going to go back into Tank mode. And I think that it just really captures a great—like I said, essence of my abilities, but at the same time, I get to play the movie villain with a heart. Which is—you know, there’s not too many of those.
PF: In fact, when you got the script originally, was there as much of an arc to the character as there is in the final movie?
DC: Sure. I mean, the movie that we made was the script that I read. There was definitely improvisational moments, and a couple of things that we implemented, that we thought would show off some of mine, and Jason or Alec’s skills even more fine-tuned. But when I read the script, the entire arc was there. It was a guy that was tanking these dates. And really—again, no filter, with salacious behavior, who ultimately kind of meets his match, so to speak, with Alexis. Feels the cockles of his heart start to vibrate. And as a little bit of the rom-com comes into this straight out comedy, it has a nice ending that ties—you know, something for the guys and something for the girls together. So that was always the attraction to me, from the beginning. Is that there was a complete story that I didn’t feel like other comedies that I’ve participated in necessary had the entire journey there. I think I’d made some great highlight moments in comedies. But this is the first film that I feel old fans and new fans are going to look at as an entire movie that they would put alongside a Knocked Up or a Wedding Crashers—you know, modern rom-coms with an edge.
PF: How do you use your skills as a stand-up comedian, in order to play characters like this?
DC: You’re really looking at the very core of it. You know, the foundation of great stand-up is honesty. Honesty, whether it’s true stories of your life, or even more so, sharing with an audience the beliefs that your point of view, that—you know, that linger in your cerebellum there. And so when you’re looking at a world like this, and especially coming out of comedy, the first thing I want to be able to do is put truth in there. You know, even the comedy. I want it to come—even if it’s really over-the-top, or if it’s broad, or just well-written—some of the written lines. You know, when Tank says, “I’m going to make her lose her shit like a shit-collector with amnesia.” I mean, when I read that line, I was like, “Oh.” Just as a comedian, as an actor, to be able to nail a comedic, outrageous line like that! You want to be able to use everything you’ve learned. And certainly that comes from being truthful, and at the same time, the confidence to deliver lines like that. And that’s—you know, from being road-tested after 18 years in front of audiences. I know what people want from me, and I know what works best coming from me.
PF: Now, have you given up on the stand-up, or are you going to go back on the road at some point?
DC: I’m working harder than ever on my new album. I’ve been in the lab, as I lovingly call it. Been in the comedy clubs every night. And have a brand-new hour of material that I’m hoping to record as a special, and a CD, in probably the late winter. And we’re looking at spring for another tour, and a new release.
PF: Now, when you were growing up, Dane, was it comedy or acting that kind of interested you as a youngster?
DC: Oh, comedy. Absolutely comedy. I mean, I’m a fan of film, and certainly grew up in a family that loved—you know, we were a very musical family. And, you know, movies and skits in my house. We were always dressing up and playing characters, anything to amuse one another, or entertain one another. But comedy—I would watch comedy the way a racecar enthusiast just wants to watch all 100 laps, all 500 laps. I wanted to know what made that—what made Johnny Carson so good at making it look like it was absolutely effortless. How many years went into that? I was already trying to figure out the science of comedy from a young age. And I knew I wanted to be a comedian from probably about 11 or 12 years old, is when I told my family, “I’m going to be a stand-up comedian some day.”
PF: And they took you seriously, I presume.
DC: Yeah. Especially my mom. My mom knew right away that I had a sense of humor. And she knew from the first moment that I uttered those words, she believed in me and knew—she pretty much knew what I would accomplish before I even believed in it. You know, my dad was a little bit more real-world, and—you know, had to kind of try to talk me into Plan B. But there was no having it. I was going to graduate high school and be in nightclubs the next week.
PF: Were you a bit of a class clown?
DC: No. No, I was very introverted, and quite shy. I had to get through a lot of anxiety, which I dealt with pretty much up until graduating high school. You would never, if you knew me at 17, 18 years old, you would never have believed I was going to be a performer. I had panic attacks, and was very troubled when it came to communicating with people. So it took a lot of years and hard work for me to turn myself inside out, and enjoy what I wanted to share.
PF: That’s interesting. Do you find acting and comedy almost a release for you, as someone who’s introverted?
DC: I can say, Paul, that stand-up comedy—I’ve said this before, but it saved my life, and it gave me a life. I really—it’s glamorous to me, as it is from the first day I stepped on stage, a place that I can stand and share my ideas, thoughts, possibilities, truths. You know, like therapy, but at the same time, just a form of escapism and entertainment. And nobody can edit that. There’s no standards and practices. It’s a glamorous thing to me, and I really have a lot of respect for the craft of comedy, and the people that do it.
PF: How surprised are you by your own evolution as an actor?
DC: I’m enjoying it, probably more so now than ever. I feel like I’ve played some really great roles, that have helped to build a foundation. And now I’m starting to get offers and opportunities that are very mature, and quite different from some of the standard comedy fare, or dramatic fare that’s out there. So yeah, look forward to seeing people watch what I’m about to do in the next couple of years.
PF: What kind of stuff are you signed up for at the moment?
DC: Well, it’s very tricky right now, Paul, because—you know, this community is in such a flux, with strikes and things being shuffled around and moved, that basically what I’m doing is playing the patience game, and focusing on stand-up comedy. There is a few directors that I’ve read and met with, a couple of things that are—I guess blinking yellow lights, as they would say out here. So as soon as schedules come up—and I can probably talk more about specific projects. But I don’t want to jinx anything yet. Right now I’ll be in the clubs doing my stand-up, and talking about My Best Friend’s Girl.
PF: And I presume it’ll be these clubs around the country? Are you traveling the country, or are you going to the particular regional areas?
DC: Yeah, I’ve been popping in and out of a few places around the country. But for the most part, just based out of my favorite club in the country, which is The Laugh Factory in Los Angeles. And just getting up there every night.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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