George Lopez is one of America’s most irreverent comedians, whose critically lauded George Lopez Show helped redefine the Latino sensibility. Lopez is now on a fast track to movie stardom, and he starts the ball rolling as an FBI agent in the outrageous ping-pong comedy Balls of Fury. Lopez talked to Paul Fischer.
Question: Now with Balls of Fury did you relish the opportunity of playing a kind of a satiric James Bond type character, or wannabe James Bond character?
Lopez: You know what? I did. From the beginning ’cause the guy’s kind of a gnat, kind of unsure and he doesn’t want to fight in the beginning, he let’s the girl fight for him and along the way, once he divulges to Dan that his career is kind of taking a downward path in the FBI, I think those two guys bond and then brining Christopher Walken’s character becomes a partnership you know.
Question: What were your feelings about this script? What was the appeal of doing it for you?
Lopez: I actually enjoyed the part of it was very Asian, you know, because Asian culture is very proper, yet there is that kind of underside, dark, sinister side that I think this move did very, very well. And it looked like it was going to be a lot of fun to shoot in Chinatown, you know, the blind master that teaches the guy how to play ping pong was appealing. And there was a lot of great moments in there and once Christopher Walken was going to be the guy Feng, I mean is like, man, there was going to be a lot of comedy that if I hadn’t have been in the movie I think I’d go see it just for the fact that I want to see Walken.
Question: There is a moment towards the end of the movie that you also engage in the art of ping-pong playing. Are you much of a fan of the game or did you have to learn from scratch?
Lopez: I played a little bit, when we shot some scenes and there was a bunch of tables I played a little bit. And I’ve played a little bit in my life, not a lot, but I appreciated it and I actually ended up with a table and some paddles and ping pong balls at my house which we’re going to use a lot,
Question: Are comedy scripts that suit your particular comic sensibility hard to come by?
Lopez: You know what, I think so. Because I’m not a kind of a guy that wants to do that kind of stuff. I actually would like to carve out a career where you can have some, a spectrum of being serious and being comedic and then going back drama. Robin Williams and those guys made a nice point of doing a little bit of everything.
Question: What did the TV show, the George Lopez Show teach you?
Lopez: You know what it did? The TV show actually took me in every home in America for 120 weeks so it kind of syndicated to September so it’ll allow the brand of George Lopez to continue to be in peoples’ homes. And I was the biggest American Latino for four years so I expect that they would be considered the last episodes, probably thirty or fifty last episodes of the George Lopez Show that the majority of America hasn’t seen which I know that they’ll enjoy because I thought that show was very well written. And then it taught me, because when you’re a comedian, you’re singular and you only have to answer to yourself and your free 23 hours a day and then you work one hour at night. I was there with a purpose and I think that that’s really when an actor is an actor, when he gives and makes other actors better and then make him better.
Question: And now is the TV show done?
Lopez: Yeah. It’s done. It’s in syndication September 10.
Question: You have a very busy movie career at the moment.
Lopez: It was almost like the minute the show was announced that it wasn’t going to come back, and I can honestly tell you that three months ago when the show didn’t come back, it just looked like I was going to try and do an extended comedy show which I think I committed to anyways. But then when the phone started to ring and I’m producing a movie with Salma Hayek and I have a deal to produce movies at Warner Bros and there’s some really nice projects coming my way. The last thing I expected from being cancelled at the beginning of the summer, and then I knew Balls was going to come out at the end of the summer, was that there would be this much buzz about a potential movie career, which is a surprise.
Question: Now I understand you’re part of the incredible ensemble of Swing Vote with Kevin Costner. Who do you play in that?
Lopez: I play this guy who’s name is Sweeney right now. He’s the producer, the manager of the television station where the girl, the reporter works, that Kate was involved with Kevin Costner’s character.
Question: Is it fun to work with that group of people?
Lopez: I haven’t done it yet. I start next month. But the script is great, the director is a good dude with a great heart. You know, with those actors and that script and Kevin doing it and playing that guy, it’s another project that I’m excited about doing.
Question: And you are shooting Henry Poole too right?
Lopez: Yes I just finished Henry Poole yeah. And that was again, you know, my scenes were with Luke Wilson and Adriana Barraza who got nominated for an Academy Award for Babel, you know, so we had stuff together. I don’t think there’s anything more frightening or more rewarding than to hold your own with somebody who was nominated and who I thought should have won the Academy Award.
Question: What kind of character did you play in that?
Lopez: I play a Priest, who her character Esperanza, brings to Henry Poole’s house because she thinks that she sees a vision of Christ in the stucco behind Henry’s house in the back yard.
Question: I’ve heard a lot of great things about South of the Border. In fact I remember interviewing the producers earlier in the year. It sounds like a very odd film. Are you a dog in this?
Lopez: Yes I am. And it’s kind of like what they’re trying to do with Underdog is use the actual dogs and then have their lips move. It’s not an animated dog movie.
Question: What kind of dog are you?
Lopez: I’m a Chihuahua rescue.
Question: Did you discover the Chihuahua in you as you were doing this?
Lopez: You know what, I already had the Chihuahua in me, so Drew Barrymore had to discover her inner Chihuahua. I already had it. I’d already inherited it. And actually that kind of street – I think in doing the voice, I just heard from Disney that they’re impressed with how the voice matches up to the dog. But I think in being my own self and coming where I came from gives that dog like a little bit of like, you know, spine and soul and motivation in that voice. I mean my voice isn’t one that isn’t authoritive, and that helps when you’re doing characters like that.
Question: Are you still involved in The Richest Man in the World?
Lopez: A little bit. My initial thought of that movie was a remake of Watermelon Man which was brilliant with Godfrey Cambridge about peoples in the early seventies or maybe late sixties and modern day and the guy who was biased and doesn’t think the Latinos should be in the United States and then he wakes up Latino and then ends up in one of those riots for immigration.
Question: Was it acting or comedy that drew you at the very beginning of your career?
Lopez: No, comedy. My love of stand-up comedians and TV situation comedies and Cheech and Chong, George Carlin, and Richard Pryor. If I could put a saint on the dashboard I think I would put a six-inch figure of Richard Pryor on my car.
Question: Did you see comedy as being something you could do for a living when you were very young?
Lopez: No I didn’t know. I think you inherently have to jump into probably the most frightening parts of your personality which is like the darkest, most troubling times in order to find anything good. But that’s scary because you want to talk to strangers and you kind of tell them your life when they don’t know who you are. But the more that people, if you can get to an opportunity where people actually know you and have invested in you and now, twenty years and fifteen years of being visible doing it, eighteen years of being visually doing it, that people have, they’ve actually grown up. People who are fifteen are now almost thirty. People who are twenty or are in their mid thirties or are in their thirties. So you have a general where you’ve created your own style of comedy and had people follow along with you.
Question: Was your style of comedy heavily influenced by your own cultural background?
Lopez: Oh completely. And you know, I’m not embarrassed for that because I think that Woody Allen did it. I think that every great comedian from Newhart and Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor and Dick Gregory and comics who were comics look to inherently what was cultural to them, so the biggest strength in their comedy.
Question: Do you think that being a Latino now is less relevant to what it might have been a decade ago?
Lopez: Oh no, I think it’s more relevant now. I think people get it now. I think before they were afraid to subscribe but yeah, I sell a lot of tickets to live shows in the ten and fifteen thousand seat theatres and that doesn’t happen unless you have a lot of people who believe that there’s a necessity and a drive and a connection that they get from one guy standing in the round, with fifteen thousand people around them telling them the way the situations are.
Question: How have your audiences changed?
Lopez: Well they’ve become stronger Latino wise but they’ve also, like I said at Radio City in June, and it was very, you know, multidimensional Latino. There was Asian, middle-eastern and white. I think the HBO special, this year that’s out on DVD did a lot to broaden the scope of – HBO will do that – the scope of my comedy.
Question: What things are different in your comedy now than there might have been?
Lopez: You know what, I think my voice is stronger. I think I inherently have an agenda, which all comedians try to search for. I think that Latinos really kind of run this country from the ground up in building and the produce and the architecture. There’s a lot of Latino nannies who raise successful people, who trust their most prized possessions, which are their children, to Latinos. So I think that in politics and economic times, whenever times are really hard they always go to the weakest link and that’s what this whole immigration thing – and I agree that there’s a problem and if you get rid of twelve million people there’s still probably thirty million people who were born here that aren’t going to be happy.
Question: Are you an optimist?
Lopez: Yeah I think so. I think humanity has a way of kind of just knocking everybody back into shape but I think that diversity is not something that’s going to go away and I don’t think that black and white is going to be a category that’s going to exist much longer because we’re all going to be kind of hybrids or redefinitions of human. We’re just going to be one race that, you know, I don’t know if I’ll live long enough but there’ll be just one race. There’ll be boys and girls like we were kids.
Question: What kinds of unfulfilled ambitions do you have?
Lopez: Well to see what happens in the movies is interesting but also my wife and I are heavily involved in the National Kidney Foundation because I am a donor recipient. I had a transport two and a half years ago, so probably my long term goals would be to keep this kidney pumping good blood, so I wouldn’t have to go through that process again. When you have been ill and you’re well and you’re able to create in a business that is very difficult to be successful in but you don’t take your health for granted, I think you’re well ahead of the game.