Roundtable Q&A: Dane Cook

daniel cohen participates in a roundtable with Dane Cook …

Dane Cook has come a long way from his one scene performance as ‘The Waffler’ in the 1999 superhero parody film Mystery Men. Yeah, remember that one? But after 2007’s Mr. Brooks with Kevin Costner, the drama bug has bitten Cook, like it has so many other comedians before him.

His new film Answers To Nothing takes a page out of the Crash handbook, focusing on several intertwining stories of people with deep flaws trying to better themselves. Cook plays Ryan, a successful and married therapist, who’s also having an affair with a rising rock star (Aja Volkman). While the character still has dialogue that is classic Cook, he is the most compelling figure in the film as he deals with a multitude of straining relationships that include his wife (Elizabeth Mitchell) who wants a child, his rock star mistress, a mother (Barbara Hershey) in denial, and even his father who we never see.

After the live screening of the film, I had a chance to participate in an online Q&A with the actor in which he discussed the recent passing of comedian Patrice O’Neal, on doing both comedy and drama, how he relates to his character, his career endeavors, both past and future, and of course…video games?

Question: I know you came out of Boston’s comedy scene with the great Patrice O’Neal. With word of his death, is there anything you would like to say about him?

Dane Cook: We lost one of the great comedians of our time. He was a brilliant mind and a hell of a good guy. Devastating loss to his family, fans, and friends. I’m so proud to have shared the stage with him for over a decade.

Q: What are some of the challenges you’ve had to face in proving to producers and casting directors that you have what it takes to tackle more serious roles? Do most of them just see you as a comedian?

Cook with the late comedian Patrice O'Neal

DC: I believe that many director/producers realize that in the past, comedic actors have been greatly affective in weighty roles. It’s contemporaries, like Robin Williams, Steve Martin, and Whoopi Goldberg that have created a trust. Comedians are versatile. They are also tapped into emotions and are able to share pain and humor. Comedians really are vessels and I’m thrilled at the possibility of working with more industry people that I view and admire and would want to share career time with. I hope they seek me out and want me to take on dramatic roles like I have with my comedy career.

Q: You’re known primarily for your comedy films, although you successfully made the transition into drama with Mr. Brooks. Do you find it easier playing comedic or dramatic roles?

DC: First of all, not everything always works and is received as you intend to share it. That goes with standup comedy and also film/TV. Everyone doesn’t always receive it in the same capacity as you mean it. Some of my comedic roles are probably more dramas! With that being said, great writing is great writing. It doesn’t feel one way or the other as to which is “easier” — It’s just which one is more real.

Q: This movie seemed like a beautiful tragedy. What attracted you to it?

DC: I was looking for a place to share emotion and pain that I had experienced. With my comedy, I want to share my joy and positive experiences. The main point of comedy though is people coming to laugh and enjoy themselves. What attracted me to this film is that I could relate to personal experiences in a different way. I can empathize with certain aspects of my character’s life. But you can also tackle other philosophies that do not adhere to you. That is always fascinating. You get to play pretend, but also share important moments in your own life.

Q: In what ways do you, if any, relate yourself to your character?

DC: I relate to my character in that we all experience distance with emotions. We are not always connected to them. It takes work to be present and to live in a present state. It’s difficult. I understood some of the behaviors in feeling detached. I lost both of my parents to cancer and when you experience something like that, you really hold onto those moments and hope you can grow from them and become present. But I understand distance. I thought Ryan was distancing himself from people and emotions and wanted to play on that.

Q: How many days did you spend in a bed shooting those love scenes? It seemed like you had a lot of them.

DC: The difficult part of those scenes is that these weren’t fun-filled moments. You’re playing up the emotion of sadness, emptiness. In some scenes, deplorable behavior. There really were a lot of layers to those scenes. These scenes were always coupled with an understanding of the burden. It wasn’t sex for love and light and sharing. It was sex for filling voids or for escaping. But it is provocative! It is a provocative film.

Barbara Hershey as Marilyn and Dane Cook as Ryan in Answers To Nothing, directed by Matthew Leutwyler.
Photo: David Jones

Q: You have a reputation for being quite adept at Call Of Duty, particularly with the knife. Are you playing MW3 and still doing more of the same?

DC: Yes, quite enjoying MW3. I had actually taken a year off of playing any video games. Which was not easy! If I had a vice, it would probably be video games. I’m taking some time this holiday before I get back into the real world. Until then … watch your back. It will either be a knife or an ACR with the grip and a silencer.

Pop-Break’s Daniel Cohen: Your character is both a confident therapist, but also has a troubled personal life. Was it hard playing the two personalities within one character?

DC: I wouldn’t say it was hard to play both, but he is a complex individual and yet this is behavior we all do. We show up every day to work and put on our game face, but people don’t know personal life circumstances. Having career moments (SNL) coupled with hard personal experiences (with my parents), I didn’t want to let my fans down. You have breakdown moments. So I could absolutely relate to my character. That was fresh in my mind — having to switch gears.

Q: Are there any directors you want to work with?

DC: I would love to work with Woody Allen and I love Jason Reitman. I have met Jason a few times and would love to play in his world. I also love Diablo Cody. I’ve met with Steven Spielberg. Probably one of the most poignant moments of my career. I auditioned for him a few years ago and got incredible feedback. That film, by the way, never ended up being made. It was one he was developing, but never ended up on his slate. I eventually ended up conversing with Steven at an Oscar party and some of his words of wisdom have guided me and made a great impact. I would hope we could close that circle of what was a great start. He is a big inspiration.

Photo: David Jones

Q: Your appearance on Louie was absolutely fantastic. What has been the response following the episode. Have you seen a change in the tides with the feud that was exploding on the web and in social media?

DC: It was a healthy, creative way to close a trying chapter in my life. Difficult to be on the receiving end of terrible rumor innuendo. When Louis [CK] and I got together, I thought it was all worth it to share that moment with him on his TV show.

Q: Is it true that you made a film yourself and that got you the role in Mr. Brooks?

DC: I did put myself on tape for Mr. Brooks. Which in the world of film, when you’re going on tape that usually means no one is going to see it. But I was pleasantly surprised when I got the call from Kevin Costner saying this is exactly what we were looking for. Doing that film certainly grew my career. It expanded the walls of what other people feel you’re capable of. It definitely led to Answers To Nothing. The director, Matthew, saw me in that.

Q: Are you going to continue transitioning into the dramatic genre?

DC: I’m just going to continue to be patient and wait for opportunities to work with great people. I’ve had enough ups and downs and been through the whole Hollywood machine to realize what’s important now. Which is, not focusing on one particular goal, but being open to taking on unique opportunities with people that have brave, cool ideas.

Q: Are there any projects that you’re working on that you can talk about at the moment?

DC: I have two other indie films that we hope will find their audience next year — one is Detention and it’s almost a mash-up genre movie — it’s a horror, coming of age film. The other film is Guns, Girls And Gambling — starring Gary Oldman, who plays an Elvis impersonator in the movie. I really look forward to people seeing that one. It’s sort of a heist action film. Right now, I’m working on an NBC comedy for the 2012 season … as long as the world doesn’t end.

Photo: David Jones

Q: Are there any actors or comedians you look up to?

DC: Several! I grew up really loving comedic actors — Gene Wilder especially. I really have a great respect for comedians that take on challenging roles, like Whoopi in The Color Purple, Jim Carey in Eternal Sunshine, Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting. I know the pain that many comics have living within us. I love to see that way they can reach comedic audiences and then also those dramatic audiences and make them cry their eyes out. What a great thing to move people to those top 2 emotions! And when a performer can do both, that’s magic. I’d love to be able to do some of what I did in Answers To Nothing and some of what I did in My Best Friend’s Girl and create a character rich in all things good and bad that exist in us. I don’t know what that part is, or where it will come from, maybe I’ll write it — but I’d love to use all the tools in one role.

Q: Two of the biggest themes in this movie seemed to relate to fatherhood and responsibility. Even the characters who aren’t fathers themselves have daddy issues to deal with. What do you think the film says about responsibility?

DC: I think the film says that sometimes we need to go backwards to move forward. By that, we are all affected by what we see in our youth. Some years back, I had the opportunity to sit with Larry Moss, an incredible acting instructor. He said, you’re never going to fill up the hole that occurred in your youth — whatever that hole was — but you need to learn to understand what that hole is and to know that’s your hole. It made me want to understand my origins more and understand why my behavior was what it was and, where my drive and optimism came from. And in this film, I couldn’t say enough about how well Matthew made this film and how much I wanted to participate in it. Because I really felt it was a shadow of my life. We all want a breakthrough moment and these are characters that are in the breakdown moment before the breakthrough. Sometimes you have to swim through the moat before you get to the castle and these characters are experiencing that moment together. Like in Answers To Nothing, the story is not always going to be something completed, but it invites people to have conversations about the potential of these people. Everything that we appreciate about music and film.. It’s all projected by something. We are moved because other people’s art resonates with us. I hope this is a feeling this movie will create. I am so deeply proud of it.

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.