Robert DeNiro, Billy Crystal, Harold Ramis, Lisa Kudrow for “Analyze That”

It seems an eternity ago when Analyze This hit our screens, followed by the huge success of The Sopranos. In the sequel to Analyze This, Analyze That, it would appear that art imitates art. In the sequel, Paul Vitti (Robert De Niro) is re-leased from prison into the custody of Ben Sobel (Billy Crystal), a psychiatrist who needs to find Vitti a job.

Ultimately, Vitti ends up as a consultant on Little Caesar, a cable show about a mob boss, starring an Australian actor [Anthony LaPaglia – TV’s Without A Trace, Lantana] determined to get it right. In a New York hotel room, director Harold Ramis, who also directed the first film, goes out of his way to dispel the myth that there is somehow a correlation between Analyze That and its more dramatic counterpart. “This is not a parody of The Sopranos or a slap at them. We knew they were getting made when we made the first movie and they knew about us. We don’t attempt to do what they do and they don’t attempt to do what we do.” Crystal jokingly says that the series managed to take a poke at the movies long before the sequel was written. “In the first season, Tony Soprano said [of Analyze This], ‘It’s just a fucking comedy'”.

Laughs or not, both the movies and TV’s The Sopranos have attained the wrath of Italian-Americans. Recently, for instance, the organizers of New York’s Columbus Day Parade refused to allow cast members of The Sopranos to march. Ramis says that before the first movie started production, he received letters from Italian-Americans protesting the depiction of Italians as mobsters.”I got an injunctive letter from an Italian-American anti-defamation organization that made a good point. It said that there are over 16 million Italian-Americans in this country and about 3,000 have been involved in organized crime at any point. The letter went on to say that if Jews or African-Americans were treated that way in the media there would be tremendous pro-test. There would be a Congressional hearing, but for some reason Italian-Americans are fair game. However, we went ahead and made our movie anyway,” he concludes laughingly.

Meanwhile Oscar winner De Niro, clearly uncomfortable at meeting the press, was surprisingly vocal on this subject. After all, De Niro has played Italian-American mobsters in several movies, and says that he has never had much sympathy with offended Italian-Americans and was clearly annoyed at the recent Columbus Day protest against The Sopranos. New York’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, decided to boycott the parade and instead had lunch with two cast members, Lorraine Bracco and Dominic Chianese. “I thought Bloomberg did what he had to do,” says De Niro. “I just felt that it wasn’t a good idea to make such a big issue of something like that. I don’t know why they took such a hard position. They [the Mafia] are just part of our [Italian] culture and you just have to accept that. We all know what it [the Mafia] is and so you don’t have to take a stance like that and make an issue of it. I think it is just foolhardy and not necessary.”

Analyze That of course is just a movie, a comedy designed to generate laughs, not controversy. For De Niro, it remains a chance to show audiences that he has a sense of humour. The actor says that it was a risk doing a sequel, but one he was willing to take. “With this, there was hesitation but I think from my standpoint, I thought there’s nothing to lose and we could have some fun and why not?” Crystal agreed. “It’s hard with a second one after the first one is so successful and such a good and well-liked movie, to make the story good and the characters good. Why would people come and why would they care again about us? So, it took a long time until we all felt comfortable with what it was and it actually kept being developed as we were shooting sometimes. We’d change and keep making it funnier, making it more on story until we all felt satisfied with it.”

Preparing for both films, DeNiro went back to therapy describing the experience as “really interesting because the people there were just interesting to watch.” Being the actor’s first sequel, DeNiro had to try and inject new blood into him. Unwilling to elaborate, Ramis steps in. “When we thought about doing the sequel, we didn’t want to just send them to Hawaii or something, or go on a cruise. But we wanted to continue the story where we left off, so I think for an actor it’s interesting because it’s a continuation, it’s developing his growing insight into the same problem which is how therapy works. In therapy you don’t finish with one problem and then move on to the next. You keep recycling the same material your whole life and I think that’s why it was an interesting sequel from an acting point of view.”

But DeNiro does manage to engage in far more physical comedy this time around, which was fun for the actor. “Again, the point was to have fun doing it and you’re never sure if it’s going to work. You just try your best, so the physical stuff, sometimes I would not be comfortable or not sure, but I would do it anyway. If you don’t try it, you’re never going to know, so go ahead and do it. And some of it I thought was funny on paper. I wasn’t sure if I could execute it or not.” Crystal, who has his share of physicality, agrees. “I have much more physical stuff than I did in the first movie and I had a lot of fun with beating up the guy at the bus and other things at the restaurant, so I felt great about getting a chance to fly a little bit more in this piece so we could take Ben out of the office and see what his life is like more as it’s falling apart.”

Asked about parallels between Crystal and his shrink character, the actor laughs slightly before responding. “There are pieces of you in everything you do hopefully. You just find a place where we can be humorous and funny and then are able to be honest about things, so it just happens. Working with Lisa [Kudrow], we have a lot of laughs and just fun. Of course, we’re always at a tough part of our marriage, which is not a part of me. But hopefully you can find the honesty in what you say and Harold is such a good guide for us that we very rarely are out of character at all, and the characters fit us very well.”

Returning to the Analyze fold is Friends’ Lisa Kudrow. Sounding very Phoebe-like when we meet, the actress believes that “I’m not that conscious of how much a character is like Phoebe or isn’t like Phoebe. However it comes out, I decide they’re all different.” She did have a blast working on the film and says that she uses humour in her own life, “sometimes as a device just to crack myself up or the imaginary audience in my head. That’s okay, right? That’s normal. But most of the time, I’m thinking of things and I just squelch it because there are certain things that aren’t appropriate in normal society,” Kudrow says with a laugh.

As to future projects, most of the cast have a busy slate. DeNiro never stops working, and is about to shoot another comedy sequel, Meet the Fockers. But it’s his next directing stint that generates the most interest, The Good Shepherd, a history of the CIA which is due to star Leonardo Di Caprio. “I’ve always been interested in the subject and finally I’m going to get it done and if I’m lucky, I’ll do it as a two part thing. I’ll do the first part, The Good Shepherd and there’s a second part, but you have to do the first one first.” The actor has always been fascinated with the CIA, he adds. “Just the whole intelligence, it’s so psychological. It’s fascinating, that whole world is, fascinating stuff. That’s about it. Even the technical stuff that they do. What’s called human intelligence, the interaction you can’t get from satellites and stuff like that is all great stuff. All of it is just fascinating to me.”

Following Crystal’s last directing stint, ’61, the actor hopes to direct again soon. “I’m looking for anything that makes me feel the way I did about doing ’61. If you’re going to spend a year and a half on a project, you really want to love it as much as I did that, so I’m looking to feel the same way about something. I have a few things I like but nothing that makes me want to spend that much of my life and my energy and my talent on yet, but I’m hoping to find that same feeling again.” He is also not ruling out a sequel to the Disney hit Monsters Inc, “Because I hear they pay on those,” says Crystal, laughingly. “I had a great time doing that and obviously people liked the movie and it was a big success, but I really had a good time doing it, so I’d look forward to that.”A sequel that won’t be coming to a cinema near you, however, is Ghostbusters, says Ramis. “We’re going to combine them. Paul Vitti thinks he’s seeing ghosts, goes to Billy, Billy calls the Ghostbusters and these three very aging fat guys come in, in really tight jumpsuits.” That would be a no.