Even though (or maybe because) you can't say the title on TV or in front of children, The Motherf**ker With the Hat definitely has people talking. But not, strangely, its stars. We sat down with Bobby Cannavale and Chris Rock at the LAByrinth Theater Company rehearsal studios, hoping to elicit tidbits about Stephen Adly Guirgis' gritty comedy at the Schoenfeld Theatre. What we got were riffs on everything from "Mars Attacks!" (Rock: "It's f**king great! Tom Jones music kills the aliens! [singing] 'It's not unusual…'") to the Magic Johnson talk show (Cannavale: "Who thought people would be interested in seeing someone with a forehead that low every night?") — plus a glimpse at the chemistry between stage vet Cannavale and comedian/Broadway neophyte Rock.
Playbill: You both play former addicts, right?
Bobby: I've been in prison for 26 months. I got in the program in prison with the help of my sponsor. He's been clean for 15 years.
Chris: I'm clean and sober. Then the play makes a detour, and we're both in the Negro Leagues. And Bobby's the first not-black guy in the Negro Leagues. [Ed. note: This interview has made a detour.] Bobby: You think I'm not black.
Chris: In the spring, when he gets a little tan on, people kind of let it slide.
Bobby: I've got a girlfriend who's not committed to sobriety at all; she's still getting high. That's Elizabeth Rodriguez. [Ed. note: And we're back.] So I'm sort of balancing my commitment to sobriety with my commitment to my relationship and this hat that comes between them.
And Annabella Sciorra is…
Chris: Annabella has magical powers. When she waves her magic wand, you don't want crack! We pray to her and she comes out of an egg…
Bobby: And then she sings "Defying Grafity"! [Ed. note: As far as we can tell, there's no Lady Gaga egg or Wicked music. Rock and Sciorra play spouses. Also, Yul Vázquez plays Bobby's cousin Julio.]
Chris, were you looking to do a play?
Chris: I was just looking for something good, something with a little more substance. As we prep "Pootie Tang 2," I was reading plays. When I read this one...I couldn't even believe it existed. I had to read for it — which was good in retrospect. So I didn't come in with a bad attitude. Not that I normally have a bad attitude, but my head would have been a little bigger. [Ed. note: We hate to disappoint fans of Rock's comedy sketch-turned-2001 feature-film flop "Pootie Tang," but alas — there is no "Pootie 2."]
|photo by Krissie Fullerton|
Is this what you thought Broadway would be like?
Chris: It's about the hardest thing I've ever done. You can't do your version of the play like everything else. "Can you Chris it up?" No, I gotta play this guy.
Bobby: The mime work surprised you, though, right? [Ed. note: Don't expect any miming in Motherf**ker.]
Did you guys know each other?
Chris: Vaguely. I called him up one time and told him he was good in something. "Hey, I'm a big star calling you up! I don't have a job for you, you don't know how I got your number, I got it cause I'm famous!"
Bobby: You know what's funny about that? When some friend of a friend calls you, the first thing you say is, "How'd you get my number?" But when Chris Rock [calls], you don't even think about it. You're like, "Hey!"
Chris: I saw him in "The Station Agent." I was like, "Who the f**k is this guy?"
Bobby: Same. I saw "Pootie Tang" and I was like, "Who is this guy?!" [Ed. note: Have we overlooked the cinematic value of "Pootie Tang"?]
Chris, did you know Stephen's work?
Chris: I didn't know anything about him. Now Stephen's one of the more fascinating people in my life.
Bobby: Dude, his plays, seriously, are the easiest things to read. You've gotta read In Arabia, We'd All Be Kings. And there's another one — Dominica: The Fat Ugly Ho. His titles are good.
Is everyone completely obsessed with this title?
Chris: A little. I just tell my kids it's The Man With the Hat. Even though they kind of know it's The Motherf**ker.
Bobby: When you see the play I think you'll [know] it can't be called anything else.
Bobby, you were in Suzan-Lori Parks' F**king A in 2003 at the Public Theater. Now Motherf**ker…
Bobby: I've been doing theatre for a lot of years in New York, and they don't think of me for Shakespeare in the Park. They think of me for s**t like this, which I'm fine with — because they're usually really good plays.
Do you want to do Shakespeare in the Park?
Bobby: Kind of, yeah.
Chris: I'm going to do Tyler Perry in the Park.
Bobby: What would a Tyler Perry version of Shakespeare in the Park be like?
Chris: I guess it would be like "Madea Buys a Car Wash."
Bobby: Or like "Tyler Perry's Two Gentlemen of Atlanta," "Tyler Perry's Two Gentlemen of Lenox Avenue".… S**t, man, that's a good idea.
Chris: I should call up Tyler. I don't really have his number, but I am famous.