Chris Rock Talks Top Five

Blending standup and filmmaking is no easy feat. But funnyman Chris Rock, who wrote, directed and stars in the multi-genre satirical, bittersweet romantic romp Top Five, felt, as he relates in this rather comedic conversation, more than up to the task. Rock sort of plays himself in Top Five as he probes his personal roots, and origins of his raucous personality as well. And as he’s pursued by a couple of journalists like yours truly, including a fetching but suspect reporter played by Rosario Dawson. The first question of course put to Rock during this sitdown about standup and other matters, was what it felt like to join the other side for a bit.

Well how did it feel to have some of us from the other side of these interviews, like film critic Steve Schaeffer, in your movie?

CHRIS ROCK: Ha! I can’t wait to see his review! You’re not in the movie, right?

Uh…right! Talk about that hopscotch, crazy punchline thing you do with Top Five as the filmmaker?

Rock at the Israeli premiere of Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, on November 22, 2008.

CR: That wasn’t in the script. At all. And that’s one of the big differences between this movie, and other movies I’ve done.

I was like, okay. I have all this footage, but it doesn’t matter. It’s like, let’s make music. You know, let’s do something different.

Who are your influences here?

CR: Uh, Woody. He’s been known to jump around. Tarantino has been known to start a movie in the middle, you know? And you come back to that scene an hour later, or whatever. So…

Chris, what about being your own romantic lead in Top Five?

CR: Um, I knew relationships were going to be the heart of this movie.

So did you start off saying, I want to be edgy in this movie? And was it ever frustrating, going in this very different direction for you?

CR: As far as edgy, I mean, I knew I wanted to do what I do. And not have it so filtered down. And I thought I had a decent idea.

And I never had the balls to go to Scott Rudin with anything else! So I thought I kinda had something. And that I was in a good head space to pull it off. And um…That’s what we got!

What’s the big difference between putting yourself in this romantic comedy, and putting yourself in your standup? Or anything else you’ve done.

CR: You know, it’s weird. I made this movie just like my standup. Like I used to have like a movie process, and a standup process.

And I used to go okay, these are the jokes for the movie. And then I’d have a whole different file for standup.

Not this one! I like put it all together. You know, I workshopped it a long time, like I do my standup. I treated it just like my standup.

And that was kinda the goal. To get a movie that felt like my standup. You know, that kinda went all over the place. Like start here, and then went there.

And it can be about relationships, and have a political component to it. So yeah. It feels, you can look at this movie, you can look at my standup.

And if you saw the play Motherfucker With A Hat, like it’s all kinda…Good Hair! Yep. I try to, you know, go into it all kinda the same way.

This movie is all about fears. Career fears. And fear of failing. What are your fears looming over you?

CR: Unemployment!

Putting such an ambitious movie like this together, was there ever a fear of going off the tracks, or did you ever feel overwhelmed?

CR: Um…No! That’s sort of what pre-production is for. We have pre-production!

I mean, there is a fear of, you can’t make anything good, unless you know how much it can suck! So I was aware of…how much it can suck!

And you know, the worst movies tend to have the best people in them. You know what I mean?


CR: Because they aggressively suck! You know, there’s lazy movies. Where you just do safe stuff through the whole thing.

And it kinda sucks. But it’s lazy. You’ve seen it before. And then there’s…Howard The Duck!

Where they’re just trying stuff, like every…Like they’re just tryin’! I knew I was gonna try and I was, you know. But luckily, we didn’t suck! So…

Related to the theme, Top Five, how do you feel about the hip hop perspective in movies?

CR: Hmm. I would say that, this is a movie with a bunch of characters that grew up on rap. And we don’t question it.

We don’t even call it hip hop. It’s just like music. We’re just like, okay. We treat it like it’s any other music.

And in most movies, they treat rap music and hip hop music, like it’s this new thing, you know? Like only old people call it the Internet!

You know what I mean? Or, social media! Young people, you know, it’s just, whatever it is. They don’t think about it. Yeah.

So what’s it like taking charge over your own movie?

CR: You know…I forget who said this to me. But it’s like, I don’t consider – I’m not even the director, I’m the protector.

I write a script. And it’s my job to protect this idea that I came up with. And you gotta protect it.

Because there is nothing worse than a bad comedy. You know what I mean? Drama, you actually get credit. For completion! You know?

I like Gone Girl. You can make nine different versions of Gone Girl, that work. But when you’re doing a comedy, there’s kinda one version that works.

And you know, you miss anything to the left, to the right, one second, two second syllables, and you got nothing. So it’s my job to make sure all this stuff works.

Prairie Miller
Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network's Arts Express.