Rock Relishes a Rare Turn as Straight Man

By STEVE DOLLAR, Wall Street Journal

Chris Rock is the secret weapon in "2 Days in New York." In the sequel to director Julie Delpy's romantic comedy of 2007, "2 Days in Paris," Ms. Delpy's character invites her eccentric family to New York for a weekend that turns everyone's life upside down. Mr. Rock, who is 47, plays her journalist husband, Mingus, with whom she's raising a young, mixed family and trying to balance a quirky art career with parenthood and marital intimacy.

The film, screening this week at the Tribeca Film Festival ahead of a theatrical release in the fall, offers Mr. Rock a rare serious role, grounding a story in which everyone else is playfully out of their minds.

He spoke recently about the movie, his teenaged dating habits in Brooklyn and the pleasures of French cinema during an interview Thursday at the Tribeca Grand Hotel.

So you finally get to play the straight man this time?

Yeah. I get my laughs.

What did you like about it?

It was a script that would exist with me or without me. Hey, she wrote a person! This is Mingus! It's not like me doing stand-up jokes. This could be me. This could be Brad Pitt.

But the character really seems to fit your personality.

It did. Plus, I know these guys. It's almost like I was playing [journalists] Nelson George or Elvis Mitchell.

It's a bit ironic that Mingus writes for the Village Voice, since that paper is mostly known for having laid off its most iconic staff writers.

I'm friends with Nelson George. Nelson was working for the Village Voice when I met him.

It's reflective of the times, but that character has several gigs going.

That's what Elvis Mitchell does. He's got a writing gig. Can you come on my radio show? "Hey Chris, I'm doing a podcast!"' OK, whatever. It's always something. I'm sure you've got a couple of things. Different names.

You don't think this is my real name, do you? One of the lines that jumped out at me was a reference to your character being from Park Slope. Are you really from Park Slope?

No, I'm from Bed-Stuy. But I used to hang out in Park Slope all the time because it was nicer. There are people in Park Slope that think I'm from Park Slope. I used to always have a girlfriend in Park Slope. I didn't want to spend my summers in Bed-Stuy, so I would comb the streets of Park Slope to get a girl. If I broke up with one I'd get another one. It's like chicks who would make sure they had a boyfriend in the Hamptons. It's no different. Some people are just more geographically appealing than others.

The parts of the movie that are most like "old-school Chris Rock" are Mingus's monologues with a life-sized cardboard cut-out of President Obama. Did you write most of that material?

Me and Obama? Me and the Prez? To me, that was like trying to channel De Niro in "King of Comedy," like when he's talking to a Jerry Lewis cut-out, Jerry Langford. Julie wrote some of the stuff. You know, like "Take three, keep ripping."

Has the President seen the movie?

No, not yet.

You deliver a very funny riff, and unprintable in this context, on oral sex. I wonder if Mr. Obama would be tickled to be included in it—or maybe not?

He can't tell us if he's tickled by it until four years from now, hopefully. I would hate to find out that he can tell me next year. "Hey! What are you doin'? I got time on my hands!" Let's hope I don't get that call.

In 2007 you remade "Chloe in the Afternoon," a 1972 Eric Rohmer film, as "I Think I Love My Wife." Was that an isolated thing or are you a fan of French cinema—which also gave the world Julie Delpy?

I think it just happened that way. But the French make some good movies, I've got to say.

Any favorites?

[Rohmer's] "Claire's Knee" is pretty good. [François Truffaut's] "The Woman Next Door." That's one I really want to do as a comedy.

Who would you cast?

Halle Berry, but we'll see.

Do the French understand something about human nature that Hollywood doesn't?

They acknowledge it. [Laughs]. We're a Puritan society. We're not into gray. They totally embrace the gray.

The movie is very candid about all elements of human nature and biology. But it's not a bunch of flatulence jokes.

You mean like in American movies? That's why I did it. Hey, a real movie! Hey, a grown-up movie! This is probably the closest I'll get to being in a Woody Allen movie. Hey, this is the kind of movie I like. This is the kind of movie I watch. No one's f—ing a pie! That was a fine movie, with the pie.

It's a culture-clash comedy, and a lot of the humor is based off of the French characters expressing well-meaning but exaggerated misconceptions about who Mingus is, because he's African-American. How did that work for you?

In a weird way it's just like being famous. I meet people all the time that don't know what to say. I kind of have those conversations every day I leave the house. "So, you like Salt-N-Pepa?" People say stuff like that all the time. "You mean the seasoning?" "No, the group!" That, unfortunately, is a big part of my life.

One of the running bits in the movie is that you and Ms. Delpy's character never get to have happily married sex, because various family members keep disrupting your privacy. How was it playing those scenes, which are funny but still quite intimate?

We had real good chemistry. She let me touch her a lot. I was always feeling her a—. Like a couple.

You were in character, of course.

I was in character. When you're a decent couple, it's not all about having sex, necessarily. It's these squeezes and these hugs from time to time. Copping a feel. Keeps it loose. She let me squeeze her a— the whole time.

Did she squeeze back?

Every now and then. It was good.