Tracy Morgan (NBC’s 30 Rock) and Bruce Willis (Die Hard franchise) star in the upcoming buddy film, “Cop Out” from Warner Bros. Pictures, in theaters February 26. Morgan spent a recent afternoon fielding questions from reporters (including this one) about the film and his career.
He seemed willing to answer all questions though we were asked not to probe into his personal affairs. As if there aren’t plenty of sources already in place to divulge each aspect of his life, Morgan brought the goods.
Question: This movie follows in the tradition of the typical “black cop, white cop” movie. What are your favorites in this vein?
Morgan: The king is Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte. That’s what I had in mind when I was doing this movie. I wanted to be up to those standards. I remember watching 48 Hour. That’s what really made me want to do comedy so it was an honor to be a part of that legacy: the legacy of Chris Tucker, Martin Lawrence, Will Smith, Chris Rock and, of course, Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte.
Question: How does this role differ from your previous work?
Morgan: Well, they put the gun in my hand, first of all, and it was a lot of action; it wasn’t just being funny, it was also acting. I had to act like a Brooklyn cop. So, it was my opportunity to learn how to be on a set all over again, it was cool.
Question: Did you do your own stunts?
Morgan: I did some of them, not the really dangerous ones but, I mean, I did most of them yeah.
Question: You have at least three distinctive creative genres: you’re on TV, you’re doing films and you do stand up. What does each of these do for you that the other one does not.
Morgan: TV makes you a household name. Stand up keeps me honest; it’s the only true place in show business where there’s justice, it keeps me my edge. Movies give me freedom.
Question: You’re a comedian first and foremost; is all of this is actually fun for you? Making movies, starring in TV shows and such. Is it fun or would you rather just be on stage telling jokes?
Morgan: No way. I mean, for some people it’s for them to just do stand up but, for me, I mean, doing all these other genres helps me creatively. I like doing TV [because] it helps me with my filter because where I come from there was no filter. TV helps me with my filter and the movies help me with my confidence. You have to have confidence when there’s no audience in front of you. When there’s a key grip or a boom guy and you got to still be funny, you have to know you’re funny. The audience is not there so very few people can do that. These are the things that help me but with stand up there’s nothing in the world like live entertainment. They [audiences] let you know within in the first three seconds if they’re going to like you or not.
Question: Even before this movie opened, several websites criticized it –and you– for what they’ve called buffoonery. As a black comedian, how does it feel when you see comedians like Jim Carey or Adam Sandler –who act stupid– and it’s all good, but, if a black comedian like you does the same thing, you are criticized?
Morgan: We (black people) take ourselves maybe a little too seriously. We need to relax and laugh. It’s OK, it’s alright. That’s what we need to do.
Question: Do you see a lot of the negative imagery being reinforced or is there a balance?
Morgan: Hey, I never set out to be the next Sidney Poitier, you know what I’m saying? Every time we want to laugh and act crazy and stuff like that, it’s our own people that call it buffoonery. But who’s going to make us laugh? We can’t make fun of ourselves? We’re too serious. I’m not out to be the next Denzel … I’m just having fun. I’m just doing me.
Question: You pay homage to all of the other black comedians that have gone before you and are working along side you. In the movie, Harlem Nights, Eddie Murphy got to realize a dream come true working alongside Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor. If you were to cast yourself alongside others, who would they be?
Morgan: My heroes: Eddie (Murphy), Chris Tucker, Martin Lawrence, especially Will Smith, Chris Rock. Mainly Eddie, I love Eddie and to me he’s the king. One day I would love to work with him.
Question: You grew up in Brooklyn. When you look back on your childhood, do you see anything that was instrumental in compelling you to go further than your neighborhood?
Morgan: Yes, the deprivation that I witnessed, the degradation that I witnessed and all of these things that I didn’t want in my life; I wanted my life to be better and I think that’s what gave me my drive. My dad pointed it out to me when I was young. He told me, ‘you have to be better than this generation; you have to be better than me.’ He gave me the drive and the motivation. My mother gave me the stubbornness …
the stubbornness to refuse to lose; my mother had five kids and raised them all and she refused to lose any of us to the streets or to anything.