“People are too perfect sometimes in movies. It’s nice to have a flaw.”
Chris Rock has been focused on flaws a lot lately. He’s opening up about his flawed approach to directing in the past, the flaws he sees in Hollywood, and for several weeks, he’s been writing and speaking about the flaws in the way America views race. The funnyman has always offered an unflinchingly raw look at human foibles through his comedic lens. Rock has offered his take on issues that affect American culture, in particular — both in his stand-up and in his always-candid interviews. He’s been making headlines with his musings on politics and Hollywood, offering critique and candor in assessing the current state of both, as it pertains to Black people. With his new movie Top Five hitting theaters, Rock wanted to make sure he made this project, one which he wrote and directed, a story that was as real and honest as he tends to be. And he wanted his protagonist, a comedy superstar named Andre Allen who is at the crossroads of his career, to be as flawed as the best characters always are.
“That’s what I like about Denzel,” Rock explains. “[With] his characters, there’s always a flaw. Something’s always wrong. There’s always something wrong with them. I just think that’s better filmmaking. It’s better that your character is a real person.”
“Real” is an appropriate description for Rock’s film. Top Five boasts a wealth of all-star talent, including Rosario Dawson, Kevin Hart, Gabrielle Union and Cedric The Entertainer, and tells the story of Allen, an alcoholic comedian who becomes a superstar after launching a corny blockbuster franchise and who is now struggling to reinvent himself and his career.
“I kinda wrote it two years ago,” says Rock. “Just when we were filming Grown Ups 2. I was, like, number four on the call sheet — [co-stars] Adam [Sandler], Kevin [James], Salma [Hayek], then me — I just didn’t have nothin’ to do. I felt like James Harden on the OKC [Thunder]. I got game, man!”
Rock shares that his idle time on the set led to him focusing on getting his own story across.
“I had things to do there, but I wasn’t gonna really get no light there. So I was like, ‘I gotta write.’ I’ve written movies before, but I’ve got to do something where I really, really perform and act the whole movie; something a little edgier, something that feels like my stand-up.”
This was Rock’s third time directing a film, following 2000’s Head of State (“I’d never directed before”) and 2007’s I Think I Love My Wife (“My choices were a little weird there”), and he says that he’s grown more comfortable steering a production over time.
“I was learning how to direct on those other movies,” he says. “But this one — it kinda came together, I think. My stand-up career was the same thing. You saw me for years and then one day — you saw me for ten years before [his HBO special] ‘Bring the Pain.’ So I did a bunch of movies and here we are.
“I’m kind of a throw-myself-into-the-deep-end [guy],” Rock explains. “There’s still not a lot of Black stuff — [there aren’t very many] scripts to just act in, there are not a lot of Black directors, so you’re kind of on your own when you want to tell certain stories and it’s like — no one else is gonna do this, I guess I gotta write it, I gotta direct it and I’m gonna star in it.”
Rock’s view of the current supposed “Black Renaissance” in Hollywood is a pragmatic one. There have been a string of critically-acclaimed Black dramas and hit Black comedies, but Rock says he felt the audiences needed something that was different — albeit that combined elements from both cinematic approaches.
“The movie’s got a different tone than something like Think Like a Man or something,” Rock states, before elaborating on why he didn’t want to make a movie that resembled the standard contemporary Black rom-com. “They’re movies. You know you’re watching a movie from beginning to end. With this, I tried to do something you could get lost in. You think this s— is real. You’re really in the projects. You’re really outside in New York. It’s not a soundstage in Atlanta with a fake street. We’re really in it. We’re really on Fifth Avenue. We’re really on the train.”
“And our acting is a little different than what you see in one of those other movies. Like, we’re gonna really rehearse. We’re gonna really act like normal people. Not like a sitcom,” Rock shares.
“I wanted to make a movie I hadn’t seen,” he says.