Wanda Sykes Interview, Evan AlmightyPosted by: Sheila Roberts
MoviesOnline caught up with Wanda Sykes at the Los Angeles press day to promote her new film, "Evan Almighty.â€ Sykes has been called "one of the funniest stand-up comicsâ€ by her peers and ranks among Entertainment Weeklyâ€™s 25 Funniest People in America. Her smart-witted stand-up has sent her career in many different creative directions.
She was last seen co-starring with Luke Wilson and Uma Thurman in the romantic comedy "My Super Ex-Girlfriendâ€ and in the new New Line feature "Monster-in-Law,â€ opposite Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda, and was recently heard in the animated features "Over the Hedgeâ€ for DreamWorks and "Barnyardâ€ for Paramount Pictures. She also recently guest starred on "The New Adventures of Old Christineâ€ and on NBCâ€™s "Will & Grace.â€ And she was seen on Comedy Centralâ€™s "Wanda Does It,â€ where she tried various non-showbiz jobs. Her first book, titled "Yeah, I Said Itâ€ and published by Simon and Schuster, is a hilarious collection of essays touching on life, family and current events.
In the upcoming "Evan Almighty,â€ Steve Carell reprises his role as the polished, preening newscaster Evan Baxter of "Bruce Almightyâ€ and is the next one anointed by God to accomplish a holy mission in this hilarious new comedy directed by Tom Shadyac from a script by Steve Oedekerk. Newly elected to Congress, Evan leaves Buffalo behind and shepherds his family to suburban northern Virginia. Once there, his life gets turned upside-down when God (Morgan Freeman) appears and mysteriously commands him to build an ark. His befuddled family canâ€™t decide whether Evan is having an extraordinary mid-life crisis or is truly onto something of biblical proportions.
Wanda plays Evanâ€™s no-nonsense assistant, Rita, a member of his crackerjack team of congressional aides who struggle to bring order to Evanâ€™s increasingly chaotic life. Adding Sykes to the mix of gifted actors provided a backdrop ripe for good comedy. Shadyac comments, "I love these moments of creativity and spontaneity. Iâ€™ve watched Wanda get into her head for a second, and then come back with this gem.â€
Wanda Sykes is a fabulous person and we really appreciated her time. Hereâ€™s what she had to tell us about her upcoming film:
MoviesOnline: I take it 90% of what you had to say in this movie was improv. Being a clean cut family film, did you have to censor yourself as you were riffing there or were you aware of the audience when you were doing this?
Wanda: I would say youâ€™re right. In the nineties â€“ thatâ€™s about right as far as ad libs. And as far as to censor, there are some things that just wouldnâ€™t work, you know. I guess it just felt like â€“ OK well put it this way, we werenâ€™t told that â€˜Hey, this is a PG. This is going to be a clean movie, so no cursing.â€™ We werenâ€™t getting â€“ at least I wasnâ€™t getting that direction, which Iâ€™m happy he didnâ€™t give it to me because it probably would have stifled me. But you just could feel it. Youâ€™re standing here in this big ark, and you know, all these animals so, you know, you just had that â€“ it just felt right. But as far as â€“ there was a couple of incidents when I wanted to say â€˜assâ€™ and Tom was like, â€˜Oh thatâ€™s so funny but you canâ€™t say ass. Try butt.â€™ And I was like â€˜Nah, buttâ€™s not funny man.â€™ And heâ€™s like â€˜No, it will, just say butt. Just give me one buttâ€™ and Iâ€™m like â€˜No, Iâ€™m going to do butt because thatâ€™s the one youâ€™ll use and then weâ€™ll be fighting at the premiere so letâ€™s â€“ Iâ€™ll just try another line.â€™ So yeah, there was quite a bit of that.
MoviesOnline: It seems like thereâ€™s some things in this movie where they just put you alone in a room and said â€˜OK read that.â€™ Is that kind of an accurate way to describe how it happened?
Wanda: Yes, thatâ€™s very accurate. There was, like the scene where Iâ€™m looking at the â€“ when he goes to Congress I think, his first time and Iâ€™m just looking at the TV screen and Iâ€™m kind of just making comments as far as whatâ€™s going on. First, Iâ€™m just looking at a blank screen â€“ thereâ€™s nothing going on. And they hadnâ€™t even shot that scene yet so I didnâ€™t even have anything to even go on. Tom was just â€˜OK, heâ€™s going to have this thing and heâ€™s going to look something like the guy from Fleetwood Macâ€™ and blah blah blah and Iâ€™m like â€˜Alrightâ€™ so it was a lot of that and at times funny but frustrating â€˜cause I felt like I was working in the dark. You know, Iâ€™m like â€˜Man, can I at least see the scene first and Iâ€™m sure I can come up with stuff thatâ€™s betterâ€™ and heâ€™s like â€˜No, no, itâ€™ll be fine.â€™ Those were the days that I would call my agent and go, â€˜You know what? We really didnâ€™t get a good deal on this movie. I mean it sounded good at first. But trust me, theyâ€™re gettingâ€™ every penny out of me.â€™ (laughs). â€˜Theyâ€™re making up stuff. Theyâ€™re making up stuff! It isnâ€™t even in the script. You should see it!â€™
MoviesOnline: Hey Wanda, a couple of questions. First is you roll into God on the street and he told you to build an ark, what are you putting on it?
Wanda: Ah, well first, you know, Iâ€™m walking down the street and this guy whoever tells me to build an ark, Iâ€™d give him a dollar and keep him moving. You know, like, â€˜Hey yeah, God bless you. Yeah, whatever.â€™ What am I putting on it? A flat screen TV, some air conditioning, but itâ€™ll be a hybrid though. (laughs) A bar. Two bars â€“ thatâ€™s a big ark. Jacuzzi, a pool.
MoviesOnline: What about all the critters?
Wanda: I really donâ€™t need them. Animals wouldnâ€™t make it I donâ€™t think.
MoviesOnline: And how distressed are you about the Paris Hilton situation?
Wanda: Oh, I stay up. I lose sleep. I lose sleep over Paris. Iâ€™m like â€˜Oh is she in jail today or is she at home? Oh whatâ€™s going on with Paris?â€™ Itâ€™s just so ridiculous how famous she is for absolutely nothing. I mean, she is such a non-celebrity but yet, I mean, people are camped out in front of her house and want to see if she goes to jail or not jail. I mean, sheâ€™s rich and sheâ€™s screwinâ€™ up just being rich. You know? Thatâ€™s pretty sad when you fuck up rich. Youâ€™ve got to be the biggest idiot in the world if you just canâ€™t sit your ass down somewhere and be rich. If Iâ€™m a Hilton, I would have been premature. I would have. I would have shot out the womb early. As soon as I found out, â€˜Wait a minute, Iâ€™m rich? Iâ€™m outta here!â€™ â€˜Let me get my life started. Iâ€™m rich?!â€™ Man, sheâ€™s just screwing that up. I just think itâ€™s really ridiculous, the whole thing you know. Itâ€™s sad. We got war and everything goinâ€™ on, â€˜Whereâ€™s Hilton?â€™ Itâ€™s crazy.
MoviesOnline: Do you come from a funny family?
Wanda: My family, theyâ€™re funny but they have to work small rooms, you know. Like the family reunion, theyâ€™re really funny. Anybody looking on the outside would be like â€˜What the hell?â€™ They wouldnâ€™t find it funny. My mother, sheâ€™s a really good impersonator but, itâ€™s like people you donâ€™t know. So itâ€™s like â€˜This is the lady that sits in the third pewâ€™ and sheâ€™ll do something and Iâ€™ll go â€˜Ha ha ha, thatâ€™s funny.â€™
MoviesOnline: How do you like the filmâ€™s pro environmental message?
Wanda: I think itâ€™s good. Itâ€™s a good message. I donâ€™t think â€“ hopefully itâ€™s not too heavy. I mean, you know, we recycled on the set, you know, with all the animals and whatever animals were harmed during the making of the film, we ate them. I didnâ€™t care for camel night. But no, itâ€™s good. I just hope that we keep moving along on this taking care of the environment, so I hope itâ€™s not just a trend, you know.
MoviesOnline: Thereâ€™s a scene in the movie where your character says â€˜I go to church. Every other week.â€™ I donâ€™t know. Iâ€™m just wondering what your relationship is to church and how do you think religious people are going to respond to the film.
Wanda: Um, I was brought up in a church and even as an adult I used to go to church all the time. And now, not so much. I donâ€™t know. I consider myself more of a spiritual person. And hopefully religious people, they â€“ Iâ€™m sure itâ€™ll appeal to them because itâ€™s a very family friendly movie. I mean thereâ€™s nothing edgy in here at all, you know. Because a lot of films they go â€˜Oh itâ€™s family friendlyâ€™ and then, you know, you get there, you sit with your kids and all of a sudden somebody gets shot in the head and youâ€™re like â€˜Hey! What the â€¦?â€™ â€˜Thatâ€™s not good, whatâ€™s going on?â€™ you know. But this is very family friendly and, hopefully theyâ€™ll like it.
MoviesOnline: What was it like working with Steve? Did the two of you try to sort of crack each other up on set when you were doing some of those outrageous takes about â€˜Who are you? What are you wearing? What has happened to you? In that musical sequence that ends the movie, were you doing the dance, the happy dance with everybody, or did you avoid that intentionally?
Wanda: There is a moment of me doing the happy dance in there. But I did more of a tango with John Michael Higgins. We did more of a two step. But yeah, I think it was a thing of, you know, probably as a black woman I was like â€˜Iâ€™m not dancing. You always want us to dance. Iâ€™m not going to dance.â€™ So I was being all defiant, but the shot that they got us dancing on the ark, I had reason to dance. That was the last shot and we was wrapped on the movie and I was so happy to get out of that suit Iâ€™d been wearing for the last two months. It smelled like monkey balls. It was just uughh. Oh I mean we had baboons like this close to us, so trust me â€“ I know what a monkeyâ€™s balls smell like.
MoviesOnline: Working with Steve â€¦?
Wanda: Oh yeah, right. Working with Steve. We didnâ€™t try â€“ we did. We just cracked each other up. Steve is very funny and the guy, you know, he shows up. He works hard, you know. Me â€“ I wouldâ€™ve been complaining the whole time, you know, with the hair and, he had to go through so much, you know, makeup, he had birds all on him and theyâ€™re poopinâ€™ on his head. So he was a real trooper and just got into the spirit of the thing. So, you know, you just had to have fun with it.
MoviesOnline: Will there be anything on the DVD do you think of the two of you carrying on, that didnâ€™t get into the movie?
Wanda: Probably not because Iâ€™m pretty sure they want to keep the DVD clean too.
MoviesOnline: Oh so there was non-clean stuff between the filming.
Wanda: Yeah of course, there was a couple of F bombs and stuff we would do and weâ€™d have fun.
MoviesOnline: Wanda, you had an HBO special a few months ago. Are you back on the road and what is your new material about?
Wanda: I just wrapped up some dates on the road. I was in, what, April and May, I was on the road. And I did more about â€“ Iâ€™ve been travelling a lot, you know, like to Paris and Brazil and Iâ€™ve been just doing new things, you know, like snowboarding. So I talked about more on that, because I was just so sick of talking about, you know, how Bush is screwing up everything. I canâ€™t do it any more. I just take Ambien. Iâ€™m going to take a nap and just sleep it out man. Wake me up man in â€˜08.
MoviesOnline: If you had a boss who said he was crazy, would you stay or bail?
Wanda: Oh, Iâ€™m bailing. Iâ€™m so out of there. â€˜God told you what? Oh thatâ€™s good. I hope that works out for you. Alright. Iâ€™m gone.â€™
MoviesOnline: When you were just talking about what you were saying about a black woman, and you didnâ€™t want to dance and so forth, but what Iâ€™ve realised is that in a lot of movies you play the assistant. You know, you come in with your lines and youâ€™re supported. And that gets you a new film because thereâ€™s just not a lot of films out there for a black woman. What do you think of that?
Wanda: You know, I donâ€™t even know if â€“ Iâ€™m pretty sure if I didnâ€™t do this role somebody else wouldâ€™ve fit in and I donâ€™t think itâ€™s necessarily written or they were looking for a black woman. I think they just wanted somebody to be funny. You know, thereâ€™s lots of funny actresses out there who could have pulled the job off.
MoviesOnline: Yeah but you bring something else to it. Itâ€™s just a kind of magic. I donâ€™t know what it is. I start smiling the minute I see you. You donâ€™t have to say a word. Thereâ€™s something magic about you.
Wanda: Why thank you. Thank you. Yeah I donâ€™t know. I enjoy playing those roles and I guess in comedy thatâ€™s just, you know, what am I looking for? Thelma Ritter. And thatâ€™s, you know, so that role has always been there - the underling, the wise crack underling, and I think anyone whoâ€™s in power and someone that you root for, you like them because they have someone so close to them who tells them like it is. So that role was always fun to play.
MoviesOnline: What else are you up to besides honing your stand-up material? I mean what kinds of roles are you looking for? Have you got another film project that youâ€™ve signed on for that we can expect from you soon?
Wanda: I havenâ€™t signed on for anything except for The New Adventures of Old Christine. The TV show. I will be back on that as a series regular so Iâ€™m really looking forward to that.
MoviesOnline: Why TV? Why do you enjoy going back to television?
Wanda: Television is fast, you know. Thatâ€™s the closest thing in, you know, films whatever, TV that I can get to stand-up. Because TV, you know, each week itâ€™s a new script, itâ€™s fresh, we get to play around, you get the quick response because we get to perform in front of a live audience. So all those things are appealing to me.
MoviesOnline: Iâ€™m going to ask you about Larry David.
Wanda: Iâ€™m sorry but I am so out of the loop on that show. I didnâ€™t do anything with the last season. Sorry.
MoviesOnline: The upcoming season.
Wanda: Yeah, the upcoming season â€“ I didnâ€™t do anything. You didnâ€™t call me.
"Evan Almightyâ€ opens in theaters on June 22nd. Below you can checkout 10 clips for the film as well as video interviews with the entire cast! Enjoy!