Comedian Chris Rock Talks About the Pitfalls of Filming His New Movie In The City
By Ian Spelling
Chris Rock cracks up in that way he cracks up. It’s almost like watching glaciers split apart. His voice gets all high-pitched in that way and more white teeth than you think are practical start flashing. It happens when he recalls shooting one of the funniest bits in his latest movie, “I Think I Love My Wife.” In the scene, Rock’s character fantasizes about hitting on practically every woman in Bryant Park, using the rudest and crudest pickup lines imaginable.
“That was a nice day!” Rock said. “That was a field day. There were very beautiful women. It’s weird, too, that it was Bryant Park. The office that we shot in for the movie was my old office from ‘The Chris Rock Show.’ We used to eat in Bryant Park all the time, and me and all the married guys literally would go and eat and watch women. We’d sit in those chairs and just look at girls and then go back and write some jokes. It was like, ‘Hey, come on, let’s get some Fifth,’ because the better girls were on Fifth.”
Rock co-wrote, directed and stars in “I Think I Love My Wife,” a March 16 release that casts him as Richard, a successful Manhattan businessman who lives in the suburbs with his wife Brenda (Gina Torres) and their kids. The only problem? He and Brenda haven’t had sex in ages, and Richard is ready to pop. Then, out of the blue, comes Nikki (Kerry Washington), an old friend who’s impossibly gorgeous and practically throws herself at Richard. Can Richard keep the cork in his bottle or will he give into temptation?
During a conversation in a suite at the Regency Hotel, Rock—sharp in a dark blue suit —explains that several years ago, while looking in the foreign film section at the recently shuttered Tower Records on Broadway, he stumbled across “Chloe in the Afternoon,” a 1972 film by Eric Rohmer. In it, a man who’s bored with his wife is tempted by a lovely lady. Rock watched the film, loved it, and called his pal, writer Louis C.K. Rock and C.K then spent a few years developing what would become “I Think I Love My Wife,” Rock’s first directing effort since the forgettable “Head of State” in 2003.
“We made it a comedy,” Rock said. “It’s not really 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.”
Starting with its title, the film casts a wary eye on relationships. Rock knew going into “I Think I Love My Wife” that people might assume he was referencing his real-life wife, Malaak, and sure enough the tabloids are running wild with stories suggesting that their marriage is in trouble. Rock is quick to explain that there’s his real wife, whom he loves, and the nightmare spouse that turns up in his comedy.
Still, he notes, there’s something to be said for the phenomenon of married people falling in and out of love over the course of a marriage. “I think that’s a pretty fair assessment of what happens in a long-term relationship,” Rock said. “I wouldn’t say ‘out of love,’ but you fall in love over and over again. There are latent periods where you’re just kind of there. You’re not not in love, but you’re kind of just there.”
The finished film, Rock said, has tested well with audiences. “I think it’s the best movie I’ve done,” he said, flashing a sly smile. “I know everybody says that every time they’ve got a movie coming up. That’s part of the job. But I think the response, just from press so far, is the best I’ve had in 10 years, since my first special or something.”
Rock has several other projects in the works. He’s executive producer and narrator of the acclaimed TV series “Everybody Hates Chris.” He’s providing voices for the upcoming animated features “Bee Movie” and “Madagascar 2.” And he’s waiting on a script for a proposed movie that would pair him with his hero, Eddie Murphy. Right now, though, he’s promoting “I Think I Love My Wife,” relaxing with his family and planning to get back to what he does best.
“I’m a standup comedian,” he said. “There’s nothing better than going on road, especially if people like this movie. I just worked for Fox Searchlight (on “I Think I Love My Wife”) for a year, so I didn’t make any money. In order for me to keep making movies like this I have to do more standup. So hopefully I’ll be on tour soon.”