Bringing Down The House (2003) – Q&A with Steve Martin

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Steve Martin lives up to his reputation as one of the world’s funniest actors in the hilarious new comedy BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE. This is Steve Martin at his most outrageous as a divorced lawyer who finds his world turned upside when he does some internet dating and the woman who turns up at his door – Queen Latifah – is not quite the kind of romantic partner he was expecting.

The uproarious story is delightful and outrageous with strong supporting roles from the talented Eugene Levy, Joan Plowright and Betty White.

According to the multi-talented Martin, who’s a playwright, novelist and producer, making the movie was a joy from start to finish.


What motivates you these days to do a film, why this one?

I met the director, Adam Shankman and he had so much energy and that gave me supreme confidence, I just liked him. That’s really why I did the movie. I felt he wanted to make a fast moving, fast paced comedy. It’s hard to find those people like Adam; they can be too serious or too mechanical to make a comedy. A comedy has to have room to breathe. You just have to walk on that set on any given day and know that anything’s a possibility.

How do you choose your roles?

Poorly. Seriously I choose based on the script but also the people I’m working with. If I get the feeling that it could be funny and fun to do, then that starts to feel really good to me. Having a lot of good people to work with makes a big difference.

Do you still have a passion for comedies like this? A lot of Hollywood observers are saying they’re glad to see you return to the old Steve Martin type of film.

What I really have a passion for is the kind of fun we had on this one. The drudgery of making a movie can only be ameliorated by the fun you have making it. You’ve got to feel like you’re in a creative space. Between Queen Latifah and Eugene Levy and Adam it was great. They’re just bright people. But you know I never viewed myself as having gone away from this kind of thing. For example I did BOWFINGER three years ago, a big physical comedy, which I wrote.

Is acting still a thrill for you, when you have so many other interests, writing for instance?

Yes it is. This was a thrilling movie to make and to watch. You know movie making is hard; it’s a minimum twelve-hour day. It’s exhausting. But then after finally seeing the finished film, I thought “this is all worth it, this is what you worked for, those kind of laughs from the audience.”

Do you think in the current international situation which is pretty grim, that there’s a real purpose served by comedies like this?

I really do. I also think that films like this are antidotes to violent films. This film is edgy but also conventional. It’s a comedy: two people don’t get along and then they do. But violent films are also extremely conventional. I have no problem with violence if it’s relevant but I often feel that a lot of the violence in movies can be purely ugly. For example they’ll say “We want you to hate this bad guy so we’re going to open the film by killing three children” and you’re suddenly manipulated into artificial hate. And I think films like BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE are kind, they’re good, and they’re funny. So I think movies like this do have an important place.

How well did you know Queen Latifah’s work and music?
Not so well before the film, but don’t tell her (whispers). I knew who she was and I’d heard her music but I didn’t know what kind of person she was. When we met, it was an instant connection; she’s a warm happy loving person. We got along really well.

There’s a lot of African American street language and slang in the film. Did you check everything culturally with her to make sure it was authentic?

Oh yeah, I checked everything with her. She came up with a lot of the slang, everything was passed by her. She vetted all the language to make sure it was real and true.

You do some hip dancing in one scene, when you’re out clubbing, are you naturally a good mover?

I never considered myself as a dancer but I can learn things by rote. In this case it was a little different, this was not choreographed dancing it was just how insane you can go and it was fun knowing I didn’t have to get a Fred Astaire look, this was just me being crazy.

The clothes that you wear for the club scene are great, very funny, when
you’re dressed as a rapper . What did it feel like?

I felt like I was in a robe, it was all kind of loose, and you do feel a little funny wearing baggy clothes when you’re used to belts and sort of conservative dress, I felt like I was walking from the spa in a hotel to my room. But eventually I enjoyed wearing my pants real low. I did like that.

Do you have a favourite scene?

Yes it’s in GANGS OF NEW YORK (laughs). No my favourite scene is when Queen Latifah teaches me how to make love to my wife, I loved doing that scene, it was something I didn’t want to do but I had to.

In that scene, she’s literally showing you how to get passionate. How many times did you have to grab her chest?

Well not that many, three or four times, because it was one angle. So it was one sweeping shot. In the other scene where we’re both on the sofa, there are all the different camera angles so you can end up doing it a hundred times. It was great fun, absolutely.

Did your relationship with Queen Latifah remain professional?

Strictly professional – although at one point I did say “now you do me!”

What happened on the set when you weren’t filming?

Intercourse. No not really. When the camera’s off we would sit around talking, the director is lively and funny and shouting, so we always had fun, sometimes we wouldn’t go back to the trailer because you just want to hang out with funny people. And I played the banjo. I actually learned two new songs.

Queen Latifah is very sexy and stylish in the film; also completely different from the usual skinny Hollywood actresses. What will this film do for normal sized curvaceous women do you think?

Now you’re making me want to be one. Well certainly when you see a sexy full figured woman you’ve got a new idea in your head, even if you didn’t have that idea of a beautiful woman before. But its not about measurements its about – what they’ll do for you! (Laughs) It’s about what’s inside.

What kind of woman do you go for? Do you have a fixed idea of “your type”?

No I’m very open I think. A friend of mine said and I’m stealing the line: “my mother taught me you buy the whole chicken.” You know, it’s the total package. There’s a level of meeting someone that’s certainly physical at first, or if it’s not it could be conversational and then you peel away the layers, metaphorically of course.

Is it difficult to date and find the right woman, being famous?

Well all fame does is provide access to more people. It doesn’t make anything better; it just means that the person you might have not been able to meet before, you can now meet. But another problem with being famous is that there’s no natural process of selection, meaning that someone who might not go out with you normally, will do because of who you are. I have even had dates with women who’ve said they had boyfriends; I said to one woman: “well what do you mean? Does he know you’re out with me?” She said “yeah”. I said, “well what does he think?” She said “he thought it was cool, because it was Steve Martin.

Would you get married again?

Sure, yeah

Are you dating anyone now?

I keep that all personal. It hurts relationships when there’s an eye focused on it – it hurts people. They might publish something that’s untrue, or put a person who doesn’t want to be in the spotlight, in the spotlight. It’s never good to have people watching.

What makes you tick as a person? Is it still the acting?

Everything, I love doing the writing, I love writing jokes, I love it all. And I play the banjo for the dog. I have for me a perfect creative life. Writing and acting are opposites, like sleeping and waking. You’re home and you’re asleep and you go, “I’d like to get up and go out” and when you’re out you think, “I’d like to go home and go to bed.” When I’m writing I think, “maybe I’d like to do a movie” and when I’m doing a movie I think, “I’d like to go home and write.”

Is your comic ability a God given talent do you think or something you’ve created?

I don’t feel it was God given because I really worked hard but I also feel after a while you get comic baggage and people do expect you to do something funny and they’re anticipating something funny and that makes it easier.

Were you funny when you were young?

Yeah I was always trying to entertain. I had a magic act that I did and I worked at Disneyland as a magician and I worked at a theatre when I was 18 for three years doing comedy performances. I have good funny friends and we’re always sparring in the nicest, friendliest way.

What’s the key to comedy? Is it timing?

Timing? I don’t even know what that is anymore. Timing to me is how long you wait before you say the punch line. Or you can jump the timing, doing it a little too soon or a little longer. Really, it’s about the twist and the surprise, it’s a mystery.

Do you still have loads of goals and ambitions?

Yeah there are still things I want to write, I have a book coming out in the Fall, I’m very pleased with. It’s a novel called ‘The Pleasure Of My Company’. It’s located here in LA in Santa Monica – it’s contemporary. It’s very different from my last novel ‘Shopgirl’. The central character is a man, it’s written in the first person and there’s some similarity in the sense of the isolated person.

How do you identify with these people you write about, these lonely characters having ordinary lives so different from your own?

Well I think when I was a kid I was a dreamer. Of course I could never have dreamt what happened to me, not even in my wildest dreams. The fantasy I’d have as a fifteen year-old kid would be to be a good magician and actually levitate someone. I thought that would be incredibly mythmaking and attractive. So I was off in a world of my own and I think the characters in my novels are in a world of their own too.

Presumably as a writer and actor it’s not that easy to get access to ordinary people living ordinary lives?

Well the people I know are real. Actors, writers, celebrities, art dealers, artists, they’re just as real as anybody else, they don’t have to be in a mall somewhere to be real. So all the experiences that the Queen Of England has are the same as experiences other people have, they’re emotional I think. She has her heart broken too.

You have a big influence as an actor and comedian. Do you think you inspire people?

I don’t think that’s true. But I do think comedies like BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE can turn a knob in your head. You know – maybe there’s someone who had this racial prejudice that was expressed angrily and they’ll see this movie and it’ll turn that knob a little bit and they’ll go “oh you know what, I’m tired of that”. But that’s the movie I don’t think that’s me.

But you obviously lift people’s spirits.

Yeah that’s a good thing but I think it’s like an aspirin. It’ll take your headache away for a while but then some day it’ll come back unless you treat it in a different way.

Question and Answer text Copyright Buena Vista International