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July 2006
TALLADEGA NIGHTS: THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY: An Interview with Michael Clarke Duncan

By Wilson Morales

Michael Clarke Duncan is too big for a lot of roles to play but when the opportunity came for him to be in a comedy film opposite Will Ferrell, he couldn't resist. Later this Fall, he will be seen with Jon Heder in "School for Scoundrel". In speaking with blackfilm.com, Duncan spoke about his role in "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" as well as other films he would like to be in, such as Daredevil 2 and Sin City 2.

So when you do a film leading, acting film, are you funny?

Duncan: I know that I am funny at home. It's a different type of funny because their type of funny is such a natural transformation. If you see the hospital scene with Will [Ferrell] and John C. it just went. For the first couple of takes I didn't know what to do, they were just going I was just like 'This is really cool.' And I'm looking at them and thought oh I'm supposed to be working too. So I went over to Adam McKay and I said 'When do I cut in?' and he said 'Michael, you just got to learn to cut in there. It's like grabbing a rebound you just got to get up under there and mix it up.' I wasn't used to that, I am used to if I step on your line I apologize, excuse me for cutting you off, okay next take I will let you get that out. But they don't give a damn about no lines, it wasn't all that was them, nothing in there was scripted, nothing. They just went and Will stabbed himself and after that all hell breaks loose and after that you are just sitting there. You can get caught up in looking at them act. I got caught up in watching them be so funny and thinking 'They are really good.' and I had to say 'Ok, Michael you are in it too you got to say something.' I was in amazement watching these guys act.

Were any of the lines from you or were they all scripted?

Duncan: No, they were from me. Especially the line where I said 'Stick another knife in here too' I got that from, I used to work at the Gas company and when you get your drill bits stuck in the concrete you just take it out and go get another drill bit and dig around that one and take it out, so that is where I got that line from.

How about the singing? Was that your choice?

Duncan: That was Adam McKay, he told me to sing something by Donna Summer. That's the only song I could think about, I didn't think it was actually, I thought it was going to be on the DVD. I thought nobody will see it for at least a couple of months.

Any co-worker from the gas come to you after you became famous and say 'I Knew, I knew!'?

Duncan: You know what? All of those guys gave me hell when I was at the Gas company, in a good way because you got to understand you working with guys that’s been there 10, 20, 30 years and here comes a new guy saying he is going to be an actor. That’s the person you are going to pick on, it's like wearing a clean white shirt to a public school. What makes you think that you are so good that you had to wear a starch white shirt like I did every day and got beat up? So I knew those guys were going to give me hell everyday but they fun part was that they actually didn't know that I was going to do this. I had it all in my mind 'I don't care what you guys say, you can tease me everyday.' I never got mad at them because it was funny. I said 'One day you going to have to pay 15 to see this face so have your fun now. Get your jabs in now because I am going to be gone pretty soon.' Actually I did go back and see most of those guys and everybody was supportive at the Gas Company.

What was it like going back here? This was where you grew up.

Duncan: It's like surreal man, like a fantasy. It's like you couldn't have written, you raised up here on 47th street in the heart of the ghetto, gang infested, run down buildings, 15, 20 years later you comeback as a movie star. I never thought that would happen to me. I was happy to go to Hollywood and work security and I wanted to be LAPD officer, I wanted to be a Chicago police officer, those were 2 of the things I had really set my mind on. If I am not in Chicago I am going to LA and I'm going to be a police officer if I don't get into acting. I would have been just as happy doing commercials maybe twice a year and been LAPD also, that would have been a dream for me, but fortunately somebody saw something a little bit different and I got a little break.

How young were you when you decided I want to be an actor?

Duncan: I wasn't young at all, I was old. I was a lot older man, my mother wanted me to do that. If I go by what my mother did, it was 5 years old, she wanted me to be an actor. My mother is such a good actor. I saw her a month ago and she can just break you down, I look at her and boy she could have ran circles around Dorothy Dandridge in her day. So I think vicariously she lives through me and this was something that she wanted to do and I wanted to play football. I wanted to be a football player, I wanted to play for the Bears or the Raiders. In 85 I had a tryout here and that was the year they were going to win the Super Bowl and Mike Ditka was the coach and Doug Flutie was the quarterback and he threw me 10 passes, I caught 7, that's not good enough in the NFL if nobody is guarding you, you got to catch all 10 so I immediately got cut the next hour and that was that.

Were you a fan of NASCAR before this?

Duncan: No, because I looked at it as mostly a white sport, there weren't any African Americans in it, I didn't see any brothers racing around. I saw a lot of crew chiefs, a lot of brothers are crew chiefs, so when they picked me to be a crew chief I wasn't surprised. I knew I wasn't going to be one of the main drivers so [Laughs] I thought okay cool, I will be a crew chief, but I wasn't a fan at all. I would glance at it on TNT every now and then and I like certain drivers and I would want to see what they are talking about or what their psyche is going around this thing 500 times. Once we started doing the movie you find out there are so many other nuances in it like going to pit crew school and having to change these tires and having the, I thought you get a bathroom break. I really thought that you get a pee break. There are no pee breaks in NASCAR. Once you start, you start, once you finish then you go do whatever you got to do, so I am like 'If I have to urinate, what do I do?' and the guy said 'You go in your suit.' I said 'In your suit?' and the guy said 'Yeah, you think you stop?' I said 'I don't know, I thought you get a penalty or something if you stop.' He said 'No Michael, you go in your suit but the car is so hot it dries up in 5 minutes. You don't think about that.' I said 'You don't?' he said 'No, everybody just goes in their suit. If you really have to go, you go in your suit.' Not anything else, but just, let's straighten that out.

So now that you are done filming you kind of know the film, do you ask yourself why you think there aren't many brothers in this field?

Duncan: You have to understand something that I found out, in Charlotte and in most of the NASCAR cities, they start their kids off with the go cart races. It is just like you would take your son and put him in pee wee football, hopefully one day he will make the NFL. Their long term goal is to get their kid to be a NASCAR driver so they raise their kids in the carts and you got to something else, then something else, then if you are good you get to the truck series, then you get to these other little like go carts but they got a wing on the back and you get to that, then if you are really good you get to NASCAR. They raise them from 5 on up racing these little bitty things and hopefully in 20 years from now they will be a NASCAR driver. I don't think that African Americans, I don't think we had the accessibility or the money to say 'I want to put my son in a go cart and I am going to raise him to be a NASCAR driver.' That's what I think.

What is it about crew chiefs that it has crossed that color barrier?

Duncan: Crew chiefs it is a little bit different. You may have once wanted to be a driver but now you want to be on the mechanical side of it and I think for the guys in Charlotte at Chip racing they all played football in college at a school and they were really big guys. The thing was you don't have to be an athlete to be a NASCAR driver. Most of those guys in the pit are former athletes, all Americans in football, baseball, basketball, but you have to be very strong to take a 100 pound tire from a squat position, hand it off, somebody hands you another one and then slap it on. I thought that was the easiest thing to do when I used to look at it on TV. I was like 'Why is this guy struggling? He's right there, the lug nuts are right there, just slap it on!' you get down there and a screeches in, and you have 15 seconds at tops to get everything done and you got to do 4 tires, its' not that simple. Fortunately I didn't have to do it at the pit crew school, I was a crew chief so my job was just to monitor everything. For 3 hours I just walked around, sipped on some cold water, looked at Will and them bust their butts down there and actually they got really good at it I have to say. At first I told them, because I was there the day before them, and I said 'At this crew school man, you going to have to bust your behind.' And they said 'It's not going to be, it shouldn't be that hard Michael.' I said 'No, I saw the guys work for 2 hours yesterday, they are really good. You got a lot to learn.' They thought it was just going to be a little Hollywood, take my hand and walk me through it. The first hour was like that, then the 2nd hour the car would make a lap and actually come in sliding on the brakes and they had to run out and Will had to jump over and around the car, get that jack up because it all starts with him, and that jack is heavy. It is not something that you going to wheel around and just do this, you have to jump up, put all your weight down on it and get that car up in the air. Because if he doesn't get it up you can't put the wheels on, nobody else can do anything and it throws the whole timing off. So by the end of the 3rd hour they were drenched, they were so sore the next day when we started filming and I said 'I told you guys it's not that easy.' And I found a whole new respect for those guys and the crew chiefs and drivers and all of that.

Obviously this isn't the first car film to see racing stripes, what is your role going to be in the 'Transformers' of another car film?

Duncan: Wow, you know what? I hate to tell you guys this but I am not in 'Transformers' man. Everybody in every room, I am so mad that I have to tell you that but something happened and we didn't get the deal done. I was really hurt about that because my friend Michael Bay is directing and he is like to me one of the top action directors ever, to me, I love working on his movies. I did 2 movies with him 'Armageddon' and 'The Island' and he just has a certain way of directing but it was just something that we did not get done that I felt bad about because I watched 'Transformers' man. I was supposed to be the Navy Seal guy taking my team in against the Transformers? Man that is like heaven, which is a kids dream that you hit up a Seal team to against the Transformers, man? Oh my God! I said 'Michael we got to do something.' But it just didn't work out and I told him man 'I would be in there that day, the second that movie opens I will be in there.' Because I am an action freak like that, and to be able to do it? It blew my mind I said man I could have been a Navy Seal leader going against the Transformers, that in itself blows me away. Anything like that, I just want to see how the movie turns out and I will pay my money at least twice that weekend to see it but I hate to tell you guys I am not doing it, I'm sorry.

There has been talk about the sequel to 'Daredevil' have you heard about that?

Duncan: Yep. We've talked about it, I just want it to be, if there is a sequel I don't want to gain the weight back. I am at 270 now, lost like 90 pounds since we last talked and I feel good at this weight. This weight is comfortable for me, I'm into yoga now, all that crazy stuff, running, I feel good, my body feels good at this weight, this is a comfortable weight for me. I wouldn't want to get back up to the 300 because you work so hard in a year in a half to lose the weight, to go on a diet, to run in the morning and everything. Then to think okay stop all that, get those glazed donuts back out, get those burgers going again. To me it is a mental thing, now 20 million dollars can erase all of this, 20 million dollars and you will see big 350 pound me again! [Laughs]

After the first film that character was taken away. Where do you see the character coming back?

Duncan: I thought it would be kind of cool that we see him in jail, we see him in prison, you start from the end of 'Daredevil' where the sirens at and the Daredevil is gone. You see the Kingpin going to prison, see him getting locked up, you see his boy sitting there going what are you going to do now? He starts saying 'I need to train. I need to get better. I need to get quicker.' Then next thing you know you flash back to Kingpin doing pull-ups, doing running, and now he's slimmer. His mind he thinks he lost because he was so big and if he'd been a little quicker he'd have kicked Daredevil's behind. Then you see him getting out of prison and now you got this looking nice and everything. Then take it from there, that's what I think.

Talking about Michael Bay, when you do a movie like 'The Island' which you obviously had a great time on, it wasn't received as well, does that surprise you and does it effect the way you look back at the film when it doesn't get received as well as you hoped?

Duncan: I felt that I had asked Michael Bay to do a little background story on my character. Maybe that would have added just a little something, but when you add stuff that is money, if you talk about doing a background on my character that is another day or 2 of money and if you are trying to stay here you can't add anything. Anything I am in anything and it doesn't do well it sort of bothers me. Even though I have had people come to me and say 'I didn't like 'The Island' I liked your part.' That still isn't a gratification to me because it is a team thing. It said 'The Island' it didn't say Michael Clarke Duncan in 'The Island' so we were all a team. If the movie doesn't do well then I don't do well, that's how I feel about it.

But does it change the way you look at the movie later on? Do you look back and say I loved 'The Island' or do you look back and say I wish…

Duncan: The only thing I wish we did more was background on me, on my character instead of just a poster hanging up there, I wish you had just shown how he got to that position.

Are you definitely back for 'Sin City 2'?

Duncan: You know they talk about it and the good thing about that is that Manute is not an overly big character, he's not big in size, and he's just big in fierceness and his look and everything. So I can probably play him like this, because he has on all black so you really can't tell how big he is but definitely that is something that is on the burner. Working with Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller is like another heaven gig. It don't get no better than that either so hopefully they will come up with something and start writing something soon.

Is there any talk at all for any 'Planet Of The Apes' sequel?

Duncan: I would love to do it, but no I haven't heard any talks about it. Somebody asked me about 'Armageddon' yesterday and I said the one thing about 'Armageddon' is that I was new, nobody knew me, Ben Affleck was just coming in, I think he had his Academy nod for writing, everybody knew Bruce Willis, Owen Wilson was fairly new. All of those guys exploded after 'Armageddon' I don't think you can get that group back without having a really big budget. You talk about doing a movie like 'Armageddon' sometimes you look at a movie and you think 'Why haven't I saw that?' because they figure they can't get you anymore for what they got you back then 7 years ago, now you up there, so now you cost millions of dollars. Ben Affleck is worth this much, Bruce is worth whatever astronomical amount, so now you are talking about doing a movie for 50 million dollars where now you might have to do it for 100 million dollars based on the cast you are trying to get back. If they did get that whole cast back together man? It would be an on slot.

You did an Indie film?

Duncan: Yes, I am doing another Indie film right now with Anthony Hopkins called 'Slipstream' he wrote it and he is directing it. I play 3 different roles, I play a dude named Mort, Phil Henderson who is an actor who is playing Mort, and then I play a state trooper. It is one of those movies where if you don't pay attention you are gone. I had to read it 3 times and I called big Tony, Anthony Hopkins, I call him big Tony, he doesn't like the 'Sir Anthony Hopkins' so I call him big Tony all the time because he is such a big personality and he is the nicest guy you ever want to meet. When he wrote it I had to call him and I said 'Tony I don't get it, if I am going to do a movie I have to get something. I can't just go in there and do my part and say whatever happens. I have to know what is going on through the whole movie.' And he explained it to me step by step, exactly what was going on and it’s a brilliant movie, like I said he wrote it, he is directing it, and we are still filming.

How was working with Billy Bob [Thornton] in 'School For Scoundrels'?

Duncan: Easy because we worked together in 'Armageddon' and he is funny. He has a new little baby girl who is just so gorgeous I don't know how he did that, daughter is so gorgeous man. Working with him, I was a big fan of 'Napoleon Dynamite', even though a lot of people didn't like it, I laughed. I can still see that movie and sit there and people are like 'How do you sit there through that and know what is going to happen and laugh?' it is just funny to me. So seeing Jon Heder in person was just like the greatest thing to me and to actually work with him he was so cool and so down to earth that I couldn't believe it, and Billy Bob is Billy Bob, he's cool. He comes out of his trailer late he owes me $600 because we had a bet in front of the whole cast and crew who ever is late when the director says 'I'm ready.' Owes the other actors $100 and he was late way more than 6 times I just ended it at 6 and Todd Phillips knows he owes me so I am still trying to collect on that.

What role do you play in that film?

Duncan: I play Billy's right hand man. What we are doing is our school, we take a group of guys like you and lets say you guys are all losers and we take and instill confidence in you that you can do anything in life and we will take each and every one of you, if you are trying to get the girl, we will show you how to get that girl. We will teach you how to be a dog with her, one of our rules is never give a woman a compliment. We don't give out compliments. We don't hold hands. We don't send roses. We are just whatever, if you don't want to talk, we pick a restaurant that is nice and you think it's really nice, we will say 'I don't want to eat here.' And we leave. So we are teaching these guys how to have this stupid courage in themselves and actually Billy Bob falls in love with the same girl that Jon Heder is trying to go after. It's really funny.

Last time we saw you, you were a big 'Superman' fan. You had said that the next 'Superman' had to make you forget about Reeves [Christopher] have you seen this one yet?

Duncan: No I haven't, but its funny the guy looks just like Christopher Reeves to me, he looks just exactly like him. Anytime you take a comic book character and you put it on film I love it. I love it. I can't wait to see 'Ghost Rider' that was one of my favorite comic books coming up. When I am sitting in the theatre and I am looking at the trailer I told my girlfriend 'This is Ghost Rider, I can't believe it!' she looks at me like 'Who?' I said 'Ghost Rider, at night he turns into this skeleton on this big Harley he rides the building.' She don't know what the hell I am talking about, I get excited, and on trailers I go nuts. Any trailer I see that I have been waiting to see I go crazy so anytime you take a Marvel comic book, like they talk about doing 'Iron Man' I cannot wait to see that. I can't wait to see how is going to play the part, big 'Iron Man' fan.

So you cross over from D.C. to Marvel?

Duncan: I used to have, you understand when I grew up I had the comic books were like ten cents. I had like over 2000 of them. I crossed over, any comic book character that goes to film? I am there, I am there.

Have you been approached outside of 'Daredevil' to be in a comic?

Duncan: I think as an actor you can only, since I played Kingpin, I think you can only do maybe one more role, and I did Manute, which is a comic book character, I think I can do one more role. It has to be maybe some type of monster or creature or something where I have to do this make-up or something like that. I really wouldn't have minded doing Ben Grimm from 'Fantastic Four' but he was not black and there is a scene where you seen him when he is not Ben Grimm. Never thought about that.

But it doesn't matter that he is not black because Kingpin was not black.

Duncan: That's true, it doesn't matter, it really doesn't matter.

Do you like the idea of having Kingpin get involved with Spiderman and Daredevil?

Duncan: Oh man! Oh man, I would kick they ass, I know I would! I would love to sidekick Toby Maguire and punch Ben Affleck right in the face! I think if they do that you are talking about a lot of money for the actors first of all, but no matter what your budget is it would make so much more if you just have an appearance by Daredevil, he doesn't have to be in the whole movie, just an appearance, because in the cartoons that actually happened and they fought and then they became allies. The Kingpin was behind them going against each other so oh boy, you talking about some heaven boy.

What are you getting ready to shoot?

Duncan: I am still filming 'Slipstream' and I got another movie coming out soon called 'Mimzy' that I did for New Line Cinema Bob Shaye who heads New Line he directed this, it's his first movie. Really a good family movie.

What is that film about?

Duncan: It’s a family movie, I don't want to say too much but its almost like 'E.T.' it has a science fiction quality to it, extra terrestrials. I shot that in Vancouver and I am finished with it now.




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