Monday, August 9, 2010

Eating Up the Attention: Larry Wilmore

Eating up the attention

Emmy-winning writer Larry Wilmore eyes the next course following ‘Dinner for Schmucks’

By Carl Kozlowski

Larry Wilmore has had a richly varied career, from winning an Emmy and a prestigious Peabody Award for “The Bernie Mac Show,” which he co-created, to writing his own nationally published humor book about the African-American experience, “I’d Rather We Got Casinos.”

But his latest career move might be his most visible to date. His major supporting role in the new comedy film “Dinner for Schmucks” not only placed him next to comedy stars Steve Carell and Paul Rudd, but also forced him to share screen time with a most unusual performer.

“It’s my biggest role yet in a film” explains Wilmore. “I had to audition for it, and I’d forgotten about it because I was focused on another project when the call offering the job came. But when I learned I got it, it was exciting, because the thought of working with Rudd and Carell was pretty good. But there was a vulture in the cast as well, and it was crapping all the time, so it was really scary to be around it. Steve Carell got terrified a couple times too.”

“Schmucks” is a remake of the 1998 French screwball comedy hit “Le Diner de Cons,” following the antics that ensue when a group of corporate executives force employees who are vying for promotions to bring the biggest fool, or “schmuck,” they can find to a lavish private dinner. The person who brings the biggest schmuck to dinner earns the coveted position, but the twist here is that Rudd plays a man who has a crisis of conscience while participating in the contest with Carell as his guest. The pair team up to turn the tables on the mean-spirited execs, resulting in nonstop hijinks.

As a Pasadena resident, Wilmore was also happy to shoot “Schmucks” close to home. While the interior sets were located on the Paramount Pictures lot in Hollywood, the mansion where the dinner was hosted was the Pasadena mansion that served as the Caped Crusader’s secret home base in the 1960s “Batman” series.

“That was also a lot of fun, because I’ve lived in Pasadena for years but never knew the Batman house was here,” says Wilmore, the joy of discovery still in his voice. “We shot some pre-dinner scenes outside that house, but the actual dinner was shot at Paramount.”

For Wilmore, the biggest challenge of all on the film was adjusting from his natural writer’s mindset, which made him want to work from the film’s screenplay, to adopting the improvisational techniques that Carell and Rudd favored. Director Jay Roach (of the “Meet the Parents” and “Austin Powers” films) shot 900,000 feet of film while most directors shoot 500,000 feet on a feature, which meant that the cameras were always kept rolling through the leads’ infinite attempts to make the scenes as funny as possible.

“It was really a lot of fun watching Carell and [supporting actor] Zach Galifianakis really go for it,” says Wilmore, who’s perhaps best known to the public as the “African-American Correspondent” on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” “They did a scene where they’re playing mind games with each other. To see them going take after take, doing it really different, made it almost impossible not to laugh. It was really scary, challenging and fun at the same time.”

With the film’s world premiere at New York’s classic Ziegfeld Theatre now behind him, Wilmore is waiting to see what his next career move will be. He’s a consulting producer and actor on the new NBC show “Love Bites,” but he doesn’t see another book happening any time soon, and he seems doubtful that he’ll suddenly face a major loss of privacy from his heightened profile.

“My life’s really gonna change,” he laughs. “I don’t think so. I’m very low on the totem pole in terms of power on this movie. I’m more of a straight role in it, not one of the crazy parts, though I still have a lot of funny lines. But there are no more offers yet — I’m thinking maybe less. I’m counting on this article to really put me over the top. This is what I call the tipping point.”

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