Interview: Martin Lawrence

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(Martin Lawrence).

Funnyman Martin Lawrence stars in “Open Season,� the new cartoon from Columbia Pictures where he provides the voice of Boog, a domesticated grizzly bear who suddenly finds himself stranded in the woods just before the start of the hunting season. In this heartwarming family picture, his character teams up with Elliot (Ashton Kutcher), a trash-talking deer, to rally the rest of the animals in the forest to turn the tables on the humans. Here, Martin reflects on his opportunity to perform in his first, full-length animated feature.

BSN: Tell me a little about your character.
ML: Boog is a 900-pound grizzly, but with no bear skills. He’s never been in the woods. He’s domesticated, and been living in the lap of luxury in Park Ranger Beth’s (Debra Messing) garage. He’s the star of the wildlife show in town, and he’s just loving it. He’s a cuddly, lovable bear who one day has to realize that he does have real grizzly bear skills.

BSN: How would you describe Boog’s relationship with Elliot?
ML: First, Boog doesn’t really like Elliot. He wants nothing to do with Elliot. But he finds that he’s got to get to know him, especially when he thinks Elliot can show him the way back to Timberline National Forest. I like the fact that Elliot’s so persistent. His energy is always help moving the scene. So, I like the fun of what these two characters bring in getting to know each other.

BSN: What do you think about the quality of the animation?
ML: The look of this film is beautiful. I remember them showing me storyboards, but what the animators have done is better than I even imagined. This film makes the woods more interesting. It makes you think, “Wow! You know what? If I walked out in the woods today, I’d actually take a better look at it and at all the animals that run through there.�

BSN: When you’re making a cartoon, how do you know if you’re generating any chemistry or if the comedy’s working when your co-stars aren’t even present as you read your lines?
ML: You just trust the directors’ and the producers’ suggestions about how you should be and what energy you should have. That’s the fun of it.

BSN: Isn’t that hard to surrender as a successful comedian who knows how important delivery and timing are?
ML: It’s like a coach of a basketball team. You gotta trust that he’s drawing up the right play. And you have to go out there, try to execute, and just hope it works. And even if it don’t work, you still gotta keep the trust, in order for it to build.

BSN: How did you come up with Boog’s voice and personality?
ML: I didn’t know what I was going to do. I just started talking, and they said, “That’s perfect. Keep him right there. We like that energy. Just have fun with him.� I didn’t have to over-project or under-project. I just had to be right there, somewhere in the middle.

BSN: How did you feel about making a kid-friendly cartoon?
ML: It was a joy. What makes me feel real good is that after all the years that I’ve done things that were for adults, I’m finally making something that my kids could see. That made me real proud. And I thank god to have the ability to switch it up, and to know my place.


BSN: So, how did your children react to seeing you as a cartoon character?
ML: They loved it. They quote things and have a lot of fun with it. It’s wonderful for my kids to be able to know that’s daddy’s voice coming out of there, and that at the same time they’re watching an entertaining movie.

BSN: What’s the marketing plans for this movie? Are you going to be a plush, stuffed animal or action figure the kids can play with, too?
ML: I don’t know but believe me, if a check shows up, I’m happy.

BSN: How much of your dialogue was improvised?
ML: In this, I had a little room, every now and then. And I only did it when it called for it. But I didn’t have to do much of it, because a lot of it was on the page, and the directors were always kinda guiding me, what to do and what to say. If they needed something from me, I would try it. But I didn’t have to improvise much.

BSN: Did you feel confined by that approach?
ML: No. In the world of animation that I didn’t know much about, I’d rather have a guide there to let me know where I should be. I wouldn’t want to try to take it on my own and not match up with the rest of what they put together.

BSN: Do you plan to return to stand-up?
ML: If I’ve got something to say. You know what I mean. I take stand-up real seriously. I don’t want just to get on stage for people to look at me. The last thing I did was RunTelDat. That was very poignant, and it was from the heart. To follow something like that, you got to bring it.

BSN: Do you think your next act would be different from You So Crazy?
ML: I’m older now, I’m 41, I don’t see things now the way I probably did when I was 31. But I thank God for growth, and, you know me, I just want to keep talking about things that are meaningful to me and, hopefully, meaningful to others.

What’s up next for you?
ML: What’s next is Wild Hogs. [with Tim Allen, John Travolta, Ray Liotta, and William H. Macy] I look forward to that. I hope I get to promote with some of those guys. That’ll be nice to have us all at the round table. I look forward to hanging out with my new partners.

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