Quips from the Lips of a Comedy King
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Anthony Anderson didn't have far to travel when he decided to head for Hollywood. And it didn't take him very long to establish himself in show business either. The irrepressible comic actor met with success right off the bat, turning some studio heads in 1999 with his first three pictures, Life, Trippin' and Liberty Heights.
The very next year, he appeared in four movies, delivering a breakout performance in Romeo Must Die, before following that up with memorable roles in Big Momma's House, Me, Myself & Irene and Urban Legends: Final Cut. Since then, he's enjoyed additional hits in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Scary Movie 3, Malibu's Most Wanted, Barbershop, Exit Wounds, Cradle 2 the Grave, See Spot Run, Two Can Play That Game, My Baby's Daddy, and Agent Cody Banks 2.
His 20+ flicks have grossed over a billion dollars at the box office, establishing Anthony as a much in demand, A-list movie star. But he's been just about as popular a figure on television, where's he not only appeared on such shows as The Shield, Veronica Mars, The Chappelle Show, Ally McBeal and My Wife and Kids, but has had his own sitcom, All About the Andersons, on the WB network.
Married since 1995, Anthony lives in L.A. with his wife, Alvina, and their 2 children. King's Ransom, his latest venture, marks the affable Anderson's debut in a title role. In this madcap crime caper, he plays Malcolm King, a multi-millionaire who stages his own kidnapping, after being sued for divorce, in order to avoid having to share any money with his wife (Kellita Smith).
KW: The first time I remember seeing you on screen was in Romeo Must Die. I thought Aaliyah and Jet Li were both great in that film, but you still stole every scene you were in.
AA: "Thank you. I think that was my third film. My first was Life. My second was Liberty Heights, a small film directed by Barry Levinson. Romeo must Die was the first film that basically gave me complete autonomy over my character. Our director [Andrzej Bartkowiak] was like, 'Yo, go be funny. You can do what you want.' I don't think he really knew what he had in me, because he hadn't seen any of my work, outside of Life. But I knew what I was capable of. So, that's where it all began, that was the first time a director had given me the freedom to play. And that's why I think people remember me most from that. I was just being me onscreen."
KW: Yeah, you were larger than life and just jumped off the screen. Do you think Don King might be upset by this new film, thinking your character could be based on him?
AA: [Laughs] "I hope not. What's wild is that in another interview five minutes ago, right before I started talking to you, Don King popped into my head for the first time. They were comparing him to Bill Gates, Steve Forbes and Trump. And as I was sitting there, I thought of Don King, because of the arrogance."
KW: And also the name "King."
AA: "I didn't even think about that. It's the ego, and the self-serving, the blatant disregard for other people's time. Some of that is what drives these people to get to where they are. And I just kind of heightened it up in this character, Malcolm King. He's just a jackass, so I had fun playing him every day."
KW: This movie reminded me of Ruthless People where Bette Midler played the wife of a millionaire, played by Danny DeVito, who doesn't want to pay the ransom. Have you seen that movie?
AA: "Yeah, yeah, that was part of it."
KW: What interested you in making King's Ransom?
AA: "Outside of it's being a good script, it was New Line Cinema calling me and saying, 'If you respond to this material, we will make this film with you.' That 's what attracted me to the film."
KW: And how did you get so many attractive and talented actresses, Kellita Smith, Nicole Ari Parker, Regina Hall, Leila Arcieri, all attached to this project?
AA: [tongue-in-cheek] "They all wanted to be in a film with me. That's all it was. You drop Anthony Anderson's name and the fly ones all come out. [chuckles] No, seriously, these are all friends of mine. Kellita and I did Kingdom Come together, and we've known each other 11 years. Regina and I have done three films together, including this one. Malibu's Most wanted and Scary Movie 3. Leila and I have known each other in passing. And let's not forget Loretta Divine, this is our third film together as well. So, we're all friends and I was the lead in a movie. I hope they respected my talent and wanted to be a part of the project as much as I wanted them included in it."
KW: What was it like on the set?
AA: "Non-stop fun, because we were all buddies."
KW: I've interviewed Leila, Nicole, Kellita and some of the others before. They're all very down-to-Earth.
AA: "Yeah they're cool. Regina's from South-East D.C., Kellita's from Oakland, and I'm Compton. Come on, man, you ain't gonna' get more grounded than what we are. You know what I'm saying?"
KW: Yep. Have you ever been to Princeton?
AA: "No, I haven't, but I'll be nearby in Boston this summer doing The Departed. How close is that?â€?
KW: Not very. Princeton's in New Jersey.
AA: "For some reason, I thought it was in Connecticut."
KW: You were probably thinking of Yale.
AA: "There we go."
KW: Were you actively involved in the casting of Kingâ€˜s Ransom?
AA: "I weighed-in on the casting. I'd say, 'I think so-and-so should come in. They valued my opinion and we got who we wanted. That's how it happened, man."
KW: How much improvising did you do during the filming?
AA: "We did a lot. You can't assemble the cast we had, with Donald Faison, Charlie Murphy, Jay Mohr, Regina Hall, Kellita Smith and myself, and not allow us to play."
KW: This film brought out a lot in Nicole, too, who seemed to stretching herself here. She was pregnant when I spoke to her last year. I guess she's had her baby by now?
AA: "Yeah, she had a baby girl. Sophie's her name."
KW: Where did you get your sense of humor from?
AA: "My mother, man. I get it all from her, really. and then, i'm just a clown; I'm just a fool. You'd be surprised at hat runs through my head sometimes. And I'm foolish enough to say what's on my mind. And more times than not, it's funny."
KW: What makes somebody funny?
AA: "I don't know. Either you have it or you don't. And I'm lucky to have it. I'm one of the fortunate ones."
KW: Yeah, there are actors who have a certain comedic spark, like John Candy, that as soon as you see them you're ready to laugh.
AA: "I'm glad you said John Candy, that someone who I really respected.â€?
KW: What other projects are you working on?
AA: "The F/X Channel brought Glenn Close and myself onto The Shield this season. So, I'm working on that as the new resident bad guy going head-to-head with her and Michael Chiklis. I'm having a great time playing a character like that who's dark and sinister, and a little left of center of what people mat know me from. I've also been cast in Martin Scorcese's next movie, The Departed, opposite Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Matt Wahlberg."
KW: Is that a drama also?
AA: "Yes it is."
KW: Any other upcoming movies?
AA: "Hustle and Flow, a movie I made with Terrence Howard that we took to Sundance [The Sundance Film Festival] where it won the Audience Award this year."
KW: What's the film about?
AA: "It's about two men going through a mid-life crisis trying to find themselves. It's a great, gritty, in-your-face piece of cinema."
KW: When I last interviewed Terrence, he was living in Philadelphia and said that wanted to make movies of social significance. So, I'm glad to hear that he's met with success making a movie like that.
AA: "He's still living in Philly. He's been a friend of mine for a dozen years. We're close, but this was our first chance to work together since Big Momma's House."
KW: Which do you prefer to do, comedy or drama?
AA: "I love them both, though I'm digging the drama right now, just because it's afforded me the opportunity to give the public something that they haven't seen me do before."
KW: How is it you've managed to remain so grounded?
AA: "That's who I am, man. I'm a simple man with simple pleasures. I just happen to have an alright job. I had a sense of who I was before I got into this business. I didn't need show-biz to create who I am or what you might think Anthony Anderson should be. I'm just a regular cat who everyday people can relate to. I'm approachable on the street because people see my work and think, 'Wow, that's my cousin,' 'that's my brother,' or 'that's my boy who lives down the block.' I'm someone people so identify with that they think they really know me, because they know someone like the characters I've portrayed. That's what keeps me centered, along with my faith in God and my family."
KW: But it has to be hard to maintain that humility the more you become a mega-star.
AA: "It's difficult to maintain, if you don't know who you are to begin with."
KW: Doesn't money change you?
AA: "Not really. Money and fame change the people around you. If you're a jerk, you've always been a jerk. Fame only heightens it."
KW: Which is your favorite scene in King's Ransom?
AA: "One I'm not even in. Charlie Murphy in the hotel taking a bubble bath with the plate of grapes."
KW: You know, I never realized that Charlie Murphy was Eddie Murphy's brother.
AA: "How could you mistake the resemblance?"
KW: My son's whispering that he knows Charlie from The Chappelle Show.
AA: [laughs] "What's up little man?"
KW: Heâ€™s also saying that he loves all your movies.â€?
KW: Well, thank you for the time and I hope we can do another interview in July when Hustle and Flow comes out."
AA: "You got it, Kam. My pleasure, brother."
KW: And I apologize for being a little late.
AA: "That's okay, it's not like you kept me waiting a half-hour."
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