Interview: Bernie Mac

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But the networks had been unwilling to bankroll a Bernie Mac vehicle, because no one had figured out how to bring his outrageous brand of humor to television. But in the wake of The Kings of Comedy, Fox-TV launched The Bernie Mac Show the very next year, a hit sitcom based, to some extent, on both his stage act and his personal life. Meanwhile, his big screen career took off, too, evidence by his enjoying roles in Ocean's 11 & 12's Rat Pack, as Bosley in Charlie's Angels 2, and as the title character in Mr. 3000.

Everybody ought to know Bernie Mac's story by now. He was born Bernard Jeffrey McCullough on October 5, 1958 in Chicago, the city where he would pay some serious dues as a struggling street performer. Eventually, the aspiring stand-up comic made his way onto the chitlin' circuit of African American clubs, finally developing enough of a following by 2000 to be the only virtual unknown included on The Original Kings of Comedy Tour. His partners Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley and Cedric the Entertainer were all already household names at that point by virtue of their gigs on popular TV
series.

But the networks had been unwilling to bankroll a Bernie Mac vehicle, because no one had figured out how to bring his outrageous brand of humor to television. But in the wake of The Kings of Comedy, Fox-TV launched The Bernie Mac Show the very next year, a hit sitcom based, to some extent, on both his stage act and his personal life. Meanwhile, his big screen career took off, too, evidence by his enjoying roles in Ocean's 11 & 12's Rat Pack, as Bosley in Charlie's Angels 2, and as the title character in Mr. 3000. His latest movie, Guess Who, is a remake of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, the provocative melodrama nominated for 10 Academy Awards in 1968. It shows how far we've come as a society that this go-round, a story of dating across color lines is no longer a source of searing subject-matter but merely fodder for the romantic comedy mill.

As over-protective father Percy Jones, Bernie does a background check on his daughter's (Zoe Saldana) new fiance (Ashton Kutcher), learning everything about him except the fact that he's white. The "bigot" in Percy comes out when he meets his prospective son-in-law, creating countless opportunities for laughs in this role reversal of the original film where white Spencer Tracy objected to the idea of Sidney Poitier marrying his daughter.

BSN: What was the source of the comedy in Guess Who?
BM: “When I was a young boy aspiring to be a comedian, I actually tried to make people laugh at inopportune times. That showed my strength. It showed me that I could do it; I could make you laugh when there was no room for laughter. That’s when I knew I would become a comedian and that’s where the comedy comes from in this movie.�

BSN: How would you describe Percy’s reaction to meeting Ashton Kutcher’s character for the first time?
BM: "In this film, it’s not so much that my daughter is bringing a white guy to the house; it’s that she didn’t tell us. I mean, you know, it’s 2005, man. I think Percy is caught off-guard.�

KW: How was it working with Ashton Kutcher?
BM: "Working with Ashton was a blast. We played football, salsa danced, drove go carts, and basically ran around.�

BSN: How about Zoe Saldana?
BM: “Zoe is unbelievable. Zoe has so much range. She has so much natural ability. She has so much inner-self and what I mean by inner-self is that she gives on-camera and it comes out.�

BSN: What message do you see Guess Who as delivering?
BM: “I think it takes you somewhere that you had no expectation of this movie going. Everyone talks about heart and warmth; it’s beyond that. I think it’s about truth. I think it’s about decision, a tough decision. I think it’s about being a hypocrite or not being a hypocrite. I think it’s about teaching your family, your kids, the right way, which comes from the heart.�

Black Star News columnist Kam Lloyd Williams is a member of the NY, NJ, PA, CT, MA & US Supreme Court bars. For more reports please click on "subcribe" on the homepage to get the newsstand version of the newspaper or call (212) 481-7745. Also remember to ask for information about advertising in The Black Star.

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