Tracy Morgan on First Sunday


Funnyman Tracy Morgan took a few minutes to talk to in between takes during the day we were on set for First Sunday. The unpredictable comedian was refreshingly candid, upfront and of course hilarious. Do you have a lot more offers now since “30 Rock” than you did when you were on “Saturday Night Live”?
Tracy Morgan: You know, I can’t say that, I can’t say that. I am just glad that I have the opportunity to do this movie. I wouldn’t say that…you know, I’m not Will Smith, I’m not getting three movies this summer, nobody’s really banging down my door. But when the offers do come I appreciate it. I’m going to leave it at that.

CS: Were you approached to do the film?
Morgan: My agent and my manager called me and said people were reading for this movie and would I be interested in it. And I said, “yeah, absolutely.” I’ve worked with the Alvarez brothers before and they told me that Ice Cube was in it so right there for me the deal was sealed. To work with Ice Cube is something that I always wanted to do since “Are We There Yet?” I wanted to work with him face-to-face though so I came and I read for the movie and they gave me the part. So hallelujah.

CS: I heard you before say that this is going to be the take that gets in the trailer. What other kinds of things do you do to get jazzed up on set?
Morgan: Oh man, just think about it. You think about the premiere, you think about the red carpet, you think about all the things that go into it. You think about the people who are going to come to the movie. That jazzes me up – $9.75, that’s the price of admission. You know, all of that jazzes me up! When it hits, you just get psyched. It’s not work when I’m here, you can see it. So being here you don’t have to do much to get hyped – just coming to work. I know big comedians – I still go to the comedy clubs and a lot of them will probably unfortunately never get to this level. So, haaah, holler at me!

CS: What is it like working with first-time director David Talbert?
Morgan: He’s awesome. I think he’s going to be one of the greats. As a matter of fact I know this about him because he’s like Vince Lombardy, he gets in your soul. I mean as a director he inspires, he trusts you. And that means a lot to performers when there’s trust, when a director trusts you and your instincts and the choices that you make. It feels bad when somebody doesn’t trust a choice that you make. As a professional you’re like, “wait a minute, that’s how I saw the character.” But he gets in there with you and he’s like, “yeah yeah, do that, do that, do this.” He isn’t trying to create the magic for you. As a director the No. 1 thing you want to do is capture it and he’s capturing all the magic. Cool stuff, like Martin Scorsese, he’s capturing the magic. He doesn’t give it away, he doesn’t build walls, he tears the walls down. As a director he doesn’t bring it, “I’m telling you Tracy Morgan, you hear me, can you hear me, I’m telling you, you asked me a question I’m telling you, I’m very engaging.” I love him because he doesn’t bring any anxiety on the set, he releases all of that – relax. He’s a Zen man, he’s like Phil Jackson, he’s a Zen master.

CS: Is it a different challenge to create a character over a series of episodes of TV as opposed to something more self-contained like a movie?
Morgan: Not really for me because I mean I understand the role I have in a series. I’ve always wanted to make a distinction in everything that I did. I mean, when you look at Al Pacino when he did “Scarface,” he’s a Cuban! When you looked at “Carlito’s Way” he was Puerto Rican but from the east side of Harlem and you see that! And I’ve always watched that. I’ve always wanted to make a distinction. I don’t want LeeJohn to be the same as Tracy Jordan. So I have to find out what do I have to do to make that distinction. So yeah, that’s where knowing your craft comes in.

CS: What then distinguishes this character from others you played in the past?
Morgan: I don’t know yet. I haven’t really thought about it, but I know there is a distinction. What distinguishes, I’ll tell you. I do know. LeeJohn is showing emotion and he has a buddy. Tracy Jordan doesn’t. I mean he is loveable, he’s likeable, he’s an international movie star. You don’t get to that level not being loveable and likeable, but in this movie I’m showing a range of emotion. Most comedians never get asked to do that, especially when you’ve made box office success being funny. I would love to see Eddie Murphy in a tear-jerker. But who wants to see that? Who wants to pay for that? Eddie is known for doing his funny thing, but I’m quite sure as a dramatic actor he would be pshhhh (gesturing with his hands) because all the great ones make you laugh and cry. Remember Richard Pryor in “Lady Sings to Blues”? He cried. So that’s what I want to achieve.

CS: What’s the balance between comedy and drama in “First Sunday”?
Morgan: They’re the same. Shakespeare said that. Dude, you didn’t know that, you didn’t study that? Comedy and drama are both the same. It’s like love and hate, joy and pain – you can’t have one without the other. I’m doing LeeJohn and all this funny stuff in this movie, but who knows what I’m going through in my real life. Who knows what kind of phone calls I get. So there is a balance whether you know about it or not, ’cause life is not perfect and it gets a little bumpy for all of us, a little rough for all of us. Yeah, I have my stormy seas. With that, I’m doing this movie and look at this opportunity I have. Do you want to know the balance on me? I’ll show you the balance, bro? This is how f**king real I am (showing his house arrest ankle bracelet). That’s the infamous Tracy bracelet. That ain’t cool and I’m letting you all see that because I’m not hiding nothing. I’ve always been an honest person, but you know I had some problems. But look where I’m at right now. My boy Ice Cube came and said, “we’re going to fix you right up homey, we’ll fix you right good.”

CS: You said you’ve always wanted to work with Ice Cube, so what has it been like on the set?
Morgan: A joy. He’s one of the most well adjusted, down-to-earth people that I’ve ever met in show business. He’s a cool dude. He’s like me – we’re both 38, we both got three sons, we’ve both been married to our wives for years and we have that in common just off the bat. And then there’s that chemistry. I mean as a person, he’s cool, he appreciates what you do. He appreciates what everybody is bringing and he shows it and it’s cool. Not a man of many words, but plenty of action.

CS: Do you think you might want to star with him in “Welcome Back, Kotter”?
Morgan: Is he doing ‘Welcome Back, Kotter?’ I would love to…they just released the box set of “Welcome Back, Kotter” and I would love to do “Boom Boom” Washington – Mr. Cotter (saying it as he elongates the last name). Is he doing “Welcome Back, Kotter”?

CS: So they say?
Morgan: So cool, man. That would be so cool, man. I don’t know, who knows. Let’s wait and see.

CS: Any idea what’s in store for Tracy Jordan?
Morgan: I have no idea. I think this bracelet is going to probably to be in there. Tina knows my voice, she takes everything I do and say and she adds it to the script. That’s what I bring to it. Working with Rob Carlock and John Riggi and all of those writers, I’ve learned to be a part of some great writing, great writing, cool stuff.

CS: Right when you got to “Saturday Night Live” I thought it was fascinating that you had Chris Rock who was really supporting you on that show and seemed that he was very conscious of not wanting you to go through what he went through on “Saturday Night Live” where he was always saying he was the token black performer on that show.
Morgan: I just think I come from a different place as far as that. I love Chris. Chris is one of my comedic heroes. But I just come from a different place than Chris. I came from a world of black; Chris was bussed out and all of that stuff and he was exposed to white people. And no matter if you’re white, black, Spanish, whatever, kids can be mean. And I guess growing up in that environment they were mean and he took it extra. But I didn’t grow up like that. I went to regular public school in my neighborhood – ba ba ba ba – so it was different for me. So by the time I got to “Saturday Night Live” I wasn’t on the black and white thing, I was just on the funny thing. I’ve never been on the black and white s**t. I think comedy transcends all of that s**t. Funny is just f**king funny, you know what I’m saying. I can take anything and I appreciate all the support, but by the time I got to “Saturday Night Live” they had never had nothing like me in. And I’m coming from the hood. I grew up across the street from Jay-Z, I raised Jay-Z. I raised Jay-Z and Biggy. So it was a different challenge for me when I got there ’cause I come from Def Jam and all that. I had never performed in front of a white audience until I performed for “Saturday Night Live.” My manager, who is Barry Katz, he had Jim Brewer, Dave Chappelle, he was smart. He took me into his office and just helped me rearrange my material so that mainstream would get it. So we did that and I went out on the audition and got the gig. So for a challenge, it was for me to be on “Saturday Night Live.” Lorne Michaels had a talk with me one day and he said, “Tracy’ (doing a Lorne Michaels impression) – everybody does a Lorne Michaels impression – Tracy, you’re not here because you’re black, you’re here because you’re funny.” And that always stuck with me. I’m here on this planet because I’m funny and I got a good heart and I’m a good person, in spite of this bracelet, ok. That’s why I was on “Saturday Night Live,” not ’cause I was black. They could have gotten anybody if they wanted a black person. I was there because I always felt I was funny and that right there is what I’m dealing with. That’s my conflict. I’ll make anybody laugh – white, black, Puerto Rican, alien, I don’t care, astronaut Jones.”

CS: Have you performed for many aliens?
Morgan: Astronaut Jones has. He got a sexual harassment charge at NASA so they shot his black ass into space. That’s how he got there in the first place (doing an impression). I feel really heavy about…I’m one of the few black artists/entertainers/performers out here that really has his finger on the pulse of American pop culture. Some artists are huge in the black community, and some are huge in the white community, so it’s great to be universal.

CS: How did “Saturday Night Live” define you as an actor?
Morgan: I think it made me crazier. I was hanging around Will Ferrell, Colin Quinn and all those guys. But as an actor, “Saturday Night Live” was like theatre, so it refines you in that theatric way – you know about cameras, you know how to open up, you know about blocking, and these things. But as far as my sense of humor, I’m still f**king raw dog!

First Sunday opens in theaters on January 11, 2008.

First Sunday: The Set Visit”