Bernie Mac has successfully transformed himself from a TV star to a movie star, and nothing more evidenced by his winning performance in Mr 3000. In this new comedy, Mac shines as an egotistical baseball player who learns humility the hard way. The complete opposite of his character, Mac talked to Paul Fischer about who inspired the character, sports and being just an entertainer.
Question: Do you have to be a baseball fan to get into a script like this, to really appreciate this script?
Mac: I don’t know. I think it depends on the individual and the actor but I think being a baseball fan and being a baseball player helped me.
Question: How big a fan of baseball are you?
Mac: Oh, I’m a real big fan because I grew up with it and I played the sport and I played every position except pitch. I played high school, semi-pro. At Chicago we had a thing, softball, 16 niche, which you play with your hands. I don’t know if you all are familiar with that, but there’s no gloves. It’s a mean game, it’s a mean game. You pitch underhand with the hump on it and you play with your hands. It’s gruesome. I’ve got footage, I’ve got tape, history, I would love to send to you and I’d blow everyone away every time I introduced them to this. I played softball in the Winter City Classic at and it’s the highest competitive summer game in Chicago and you see if you’re up close and personal, you see some of these games at the level they are played, it will blow you away.
Question: Did you ever think of the pros?
Mac: I wasn’t disciplined. I wasn’t disciplined at all. As good of an athlete as I was, I was not disciplined. Had I had the drive that I have in comedy, and acting, and writing, that’s why I knew it just wasn’t right for me.
Question: So you’re more disciplined as an actor?
Mac: I’m very much disciplined because I’m more mature. When I was young I just wanted to live, I could jump, I could run, I was quick and I was relentless, when I lost, I had in high school, I had like three deaths back-to-back, and I used them as a crutch, [inaudible] around my mother, I wasn’t a good student, I used every excuse there was to fail, you know, I stayed with my grandmother, my grandmother was really like my backbone after my mother passed away.
Question: So when did that change for you? When was failure no longer an option?
Mac: It was a transition. I got myself together mentally about my junior year in high school because I was a D student, and I was a D student only because I didn’t apply myself, only because I didn’t go to class, I just did enough to get by, to stay on the basketball team and things like that, the baseball team, and I was just, a young boy of 15, 16, 17 years old and at 17 years old my whole life and my whole mind really started to change. My grandmother was always in my ear and she saw what’s called a spin and get ’em.
Mac: My grandmother, she’s always called a spin and get ’em. She used to always have me next to her and she was always saying these isms and that’s what I get ‘Macisms’ and I never understood them and she would say these little things to me. The first will be last and the last will be first, how you start is how you finish, you know, excuses are only acceptable for those who make them. You know, she would says things of that nature and I would say Grandma what do you mean, you know, and she would say, “You’ll find out”. You find out, sometime when you win, you lose, sometimes when you lose, you win.
Question: When did you find out?
Mac: I got married at 19 and I had my daughter at 20, I had a couple more deaths before that, my father, my guardian and I started to just develop, you know. If I had that same type of drive and I had good coaches and good teachers, and they were spitting venom to me, I just wasn’t getting it man. Do you understand, I just wasn’t understanding what they were saying, and had I had, you know, what I got, at that particular time especially, I really got myself together around 28, around 28 it hit me like a ton of bricks, boing, I really understood it. My grandfather got me a job, I was doing comedy at night, I was all over the place, you know, I was here, I was there. Young. At 28 I got myself together.
Question: Could you relate to this character in any way? Was he something you could[.]
Mac: No, I didn’t wanna like him. That’s why I played him the way I did. I wanted to dislike Ross, I wanted you to hate him. I wanted you to all really dislike him.
Question: So redemption would mean much more?
Mac: Yes, yes, and what I did was my brother.
Question: So what are challenges of playing a character that you have to dislike? Because it’s very hard, it must be very difficult to do that.
Mac: I think for me, the advantage was the realism because it exists, especially today in the athletes and people in power, how they become second lower. He quit, just like the ball player from Miami, he quit. He had his 3,000 hit, everything was about him, he left with no ass and all of a sudden I’m gone. He left everybody hanging and that’s, I really wanted to do that, and I really wanted to kick his ass because to sit there and you just leave a pack of, a bunch of people depending on you like that, there’s so many people like that today, and that was the pinnacle for me, that was the fun part for me because after I did that, after we shot that scene, playing him was easy because then I had a relationship with my brother who I really mimicked, that’s all I did, just mimicked my brother Stan Ross. My brother was a baseball player, who should have played pro a long time. Lou Brock helped him, he made him look bad. He hit a couple of home runs he got cocky, he ran the street, he played the women, the whole nine yards, he came back home with his ladies, between his hair, between his legs, the way he cheated people away, he thought that he was the shit, and that’s why I did it Stan Ross. Stan Ross is my brother.
Question: Is this brother still around?
Question: How does he take being depicted this way?
Mac: He hasn’t seen it, he hasn’t seen it.
Question: Is he like that, or do you think he’s changed?
Mac: Yeah he’s still like that, you know, he’s still like that, some people just don’t learn. I love him but he’s just a self-centred son of a bitch.
Question: What keeps you grounded? I mean, you’ve become a very successful actor, you’re a big star —
Mac: I’m not a star, I hate that word, and I’m an entertainer. Stars fall, you know, I’m an entertainer. I want to be known as an entertainer, and I think what would help me is going last. One thing I learned, watching Flip [Wilson], watching Red, watching Johnny Carson. You know, Johnny Carson I ain’t got nothing but respect for him and for that Flip Wilson, the way they left. You know, that’s how you leave, you don’t come back. You know, Johnny Carson, he gave his best, and I had the opportunity to watch and see individuals and watch it and understand what it’s truly about, and at the end of the day, you’ve got to top what you did, you’ve gotta keep going. It’s not over. It’s not over, Bill Cosby is still working, Johnny Carson worked til the day he retired but every time he came back, Johnny Carson, ain’t nobody could take his place to this day. They tried, he wasn’t the best comedian in the world but he sure was the best personality. He was a hell of a personality, but the animals and everybody keep trying, you can’t do it, you can’t do it, you can’t touch him. He could do animals and he was funny. He had Eddy McMahon. Eddy McMahon said, everybody tried to get it, it didn’t work. You know, Flip Wilson, he did his thing and went out honey. He left the scene baby and he didn’t come back. Unfortunately he passed right after that but the whole thing about how I stay grounded is being coming from that era, and having my grandmother, watching my brothers and sisters, watching them with talent, talent is not everything, they weren’t disciplined, they didn’t have the drive, they didn’t have the passion, didn’t have the love and they didn’t have the heart and that’s something I wanted to give in this movie, show the heart. Because sometimes man, when you do things, and you think you have it all like Pharaoh. Pharaoh had everything to the point he had nothing. When he was sitting there, with two ladies had ostrich feathers on his side, another lady was doing his nails, other one was feeding him grapes, another was rubbing his neck, another was doing his feet, and all of a sudden he saw all the way over here and he said who is that guy. The guy says, I don’t know, he’s just a visitor.
Question: He’s licking his feet?
Mac: He did everything. He’s off with his head, cut his head off, now how the fuck did you see all that, with all this going on, all the attention you’re getting, now how did you see someone as small as that. That is selfish, you know, and that’s what I learned from watching other people.
Question: Do you think that’s old fashioned today, there’s a lot of talk about old school, and there’s maybe a meaner sensibility now?
Mac: We pity the fool, we co-sign everything, we feel sorry for the nut, poor thing, he don’t have a daddy, he don’t have no father, my father left me, you’re 57, let it go. We co-sign. If a kid’s messed up, we don’t believe in discipline, can’t say nothing, don’t get involved. Then in the next breath, we say, a fellow needs a hug. You know, discipline and drive is what made this country.
Question: Talk about how you prepared to do this movie, physically, and what that did to you.
Mac: It was fun because once again I played baseball and what I did was (and I didn’t tell them) when I got the role and I started to break down the script, I went to Swing Town in Chicago, and that was a month before I was supposed to report for the movie and I worked out with some of the Cubs and I was in the batting cage and being a ball player, and a ball player from my status, I had the high kick and if you all reporters, I don’t know if you know what a high kick is, you know, when you’re doing your thing, and seeing the ball come, do a high kick and pow. Well now they have this new swing where you come across and you hold, you know, the bat like that, more profile.
Well when I was in Swing Town I was working out, I had always been a hitter, always to hit, and they were trying to take that away from me. But I’m a good listener, I was always taught you know, take, listen, good listening, apply to yourself and then I went there a whole month, at Swing Town, and then when I was to report at New Orleans, we had training, we had to start training, we had to start a month earlier before the film. So I didn’t say anything to them so when I started training and everything, I was a month ahead of the game, but I didn’t express, like Tom Cruise did, and Paul Newman. I didn’t display it, and I let them go on and train me and I went and did the training and when I went to the batting cage and all that stuff, when it came time to shoot the movie, I was two months in, my hands were conditioned, my swing, I had my swing, I was working out all the time, you know, so I was in, not just baseball shape, but movie shape to do the aseball movie.
Question: Did that allow you to focus more on the acting part of it, just having that done in advance, ahead of the film?
Mac: The acting part was separate because I didn’t want it to be remembered as a baseball movie. The player, Stan Ross, just happened to be a baseball player. The acting was always separate because I really wanted to really put and show some range with Stan Ross.
Question: How is the TV show going? Are you still putting in as much effort into that? Is it easy to do that when you’re trying to balance?
Mac: Yeah, yeah, it’s easy to do because I’m not doing them all at the same time. If I was doing them all at the same time, fortunately for me I had a good team, to pair them off. When I’m done, I’ll be done with everything when I get back to the television show, I won’t have, oh shit, I wanna have a dinner party or anything.
Question: And how’s Oceans?
Question: Where were you shooting? Where did you go for that?
Mac: Oceans is the best thing I’ve done in my life and that’s between us. Top shelf, top shelf.
Question: Has Clooney played any pranks on you on “Ocean’s 12”?
Mac: Clooney always plays. He plays too damn much. You gotta watch Clooney. You come in the door, a bucket of water fall on your head, he got it propped up at the top. You got tacks in your seat, all that kind of bullshit. He found a rabbit cage and let it loose in your room. You gotta watch Clooney.
Question: Will you be the best part of “Ocean’s 12”?
Mac: You know what, man? When you’re talking about some hammers that we’ve got up in there, I appreciate all of that. I don’t know about the best of. I just want to be a part, you know. Now, this being mine? Yeah. But when you participate in somebody else, I’m not into that.
Question: What is the Ashton Kutcher project?
Mac: “The Dinner Party”. And that’s a blast too. I want to do good films. Really, that’s what I want to do. And I want every time I meet you guys, I want you all to say I did proud. And you know that I always start off like that. You always start off, I see ’em too. No, I do. I see ’em too and when they get away from what got ’em there, all the time, because they always introduce, they’ve got a lot of stuff thrown in their face. We live in a place where everybody just does things for money. I want to do good films. John Wayne and them did good films. Those guys did great damn film.