Wanda Sykes is one of Hollywood’s most irreverent comediennes. In Evan Almighty, playing political secretary to the title character Evan Baxter, it gives Sykes the opportunity to riff and have fun, which after all is how the actress loves to work. She talked with out LA correspondent about the project.
Question: I take it 90% of what you had to say in this movie was improv. Being a clean cut family film, did you have to censor yourself as you were riffing there or were you aware of the audience when you were doing this?
Sykes: I would say you’re right. In the nineties – that’s about right as far as ad libs. And as far as to censor, there are some things that just wouldn’t work, you know. I guess it just felt like – OK well put it this way, we weren’t told that ‘Hey, this is a PG. This is going to be a clean movie, so no cursing’. We weren’t getting – at least I wasn’t getting’ that direction, which I’m happy he didn’t give it to me because it probably would have stifled me. But you just could feel it. You’re standing here in this big ark, and you know, all these animals so, you know, you just had that – it just felt right. But as far as – there was a couple of incidents when I wanted to say ‘ass’ and Tom was like, ‘Oh that’s so funny but you can’t say ass. Try butt’. And I was like ‘Nah, butt’s not funny man’. And he’s like ‘No it will, just say butt. Just give me one butt’ and I’m like ‘No I’m going to do butt because that’s the one you’ll use and then we’ll be fighting at the premiere so let’s – I’ll just try another line’ so yeah, there was quite a bit of that.
Question: It seems like there’s some things in this movie where they just put you alone in a room and said ‘OK read that’. Is that kind of an accurate way to describe how it happened?
Sykes: Yes, that’s very accurate. There was, like the scene where he goes to Congress I think, his first time and I’m just looking at the TV screen and I’m kind of just making comments as far as what’s going on. First I’m just looking at a blank screen – there’s nothing going on. And they hadn’t even shot that scene yet so I didn’t even have anything to even go on. Tom was just ‘OK he’s going to have this thing and he’s going to look something like the guy from Fleetwood Mac’ and blah blah blah and I’m like ‘Alright’ so it was a lot of that and at times funny but frustrating ’cause I felt like I was working in the dark. You know, I’m like ‘Man, can I least see the scene first and I’m sure I can come up with stuff that’s better’ and he’s like ‘No, no it’ll be fine’. Those were the days that I would call my agent and go, ‘You know what? We really didn’t get a good deal on this movie. I mean it sounded good at first. But trust me, they’re getting’ every penny out of me’. (laughs). ‘They’re making up stuff. They’re making up stuff! It isn’t even in the script. You should see it!’
Question: Wanda, if youwere to roll into God on the street and he told you to build an ark, what are you putting on it?
Sykes: Ah, well first, you know, I’m walking down the street and this guy whoever tells me to build an ark, I’d give him a dollar and keep him moving. You know, like, ‘Hey yeah, God bless you. Yeah, whatever’. What am I putting on it? A flat screen TV, some air conditioning, but it’ll be a hybrid though. (laughs) A bar. Two bars – that’s a big ark. Jacuzzi, a pool.
Question: What about all the critters?
Sykes: I really don’t need them. Animals wouldn’t make it I don’t think.
Question: How distressed are you about the Paris Hilton situation?
Sykes: Oh, I stay up. I lose sleep. I lose sleep over Paris. I’m like ‘Oh is she in jail today or is she at home? Oh what’s going on with Paris?’ It’s just so ridiculous how famous she is for absolutely nothing. I mean, she is such a non-celebrity but yet, I mean, people are camped out on front of her house and want to see if she goes to jail or not jail. I mean, she’s rich and she’s screwin’ up just being rich. You know? That’s pretty sad when you fuck up rich. You’ve got to be the biggest idiot in the world if you just can’t sit your ass down somewhere and be rich. If I’m a Hilton I would have been premature. I would have. I would have shot out the womb early. As soon as I found out, ‘Wait a minute, I’m rich? I’m outta here!’ ‘Let me get my life started. I’m rich?!’ Man, she’s just screwing that up. I just think it’s really ridiculous, the whole thing you know. It’s sad. We got war and everything goin’ on, ‘Where’s Hilton?’ It’s crazy.
Question: Do you come from a funny family?
Sykes: My family, they’re funny but they have to work small rooms, you know. Like the family reunion, they’re really funny. Anybody looking on the outside would be like ‘What the hell?’ They wouldn’t find it funny. My mother, she’s a really good impersonator but, it’s like people you don’t know. So it’s like ‘This is the lady that sits in the third pew’ and she’ll do something and I’ll go ‘ha ha ha, that’s funny’.
Question: How do you like this film’s pro environmental message?
Sykes: I think it’s good. It’s a good message. I don’t think – hopefully it’s not too heavy. I mean, you know, we recycled on the set, you know, with all the animals and whatever animals were harmed during the making of the film, we ate them. I didn’t care for camel night. But no it’s good. I just hope that we keep moving along on this taking care of the environment, so I hope it’s not just a trend, you know.
Question: There’s a scene in the movie where your character says ‘I go to church. Every other week.’ I don’t know. I’m just wondering what your relationship is to church and how do you think religious people are going to respond to the film.
Sykes: I was brought up in a church and even as an adult I used to go to church all the time. And now, not so much. I don’t know. I consider myself more of a spiritual person. And hopefully religious people, they – I’m sure it’ll appeal to them because it’s a very family friendly movie. I mean there’s nothing edgy in here at all, you know. Because a lot of films they go ‘Oh it’s family friendly’ and then, you know, you get there, you sit with your kids and all of a sudden somebody gets shot in the head and you’re like ‘Hey! What the …?’ ‘That’s not good, what’s going on?’ you know. But this is very family friendly and, hopefully they’ll like it.
Question: Working with Steve. Did the two of you try to sort of crack each other up on set when you were doing some of those outrageous takes about ‘Who are you? What are you wearing? What has happened to you? Do you in that musical sequence that ends the movie, were you doing the dance, the happy dance with everybody or did you avoid that intentionally?
Sykes: There is a moment of me doing the happy dance in there. But I did more of a tango with John Michael Higgins. We did more of a two step. But yeah, I think it was a thing of, you know, probably as a black woman I was like ‘I’m not dancing. You always want us to dance. I’m not going to dance’ so I was being all defiant but the shot that they got us dancing on the ark, I had reason to dance. That was the last shot and we was wrapped on the movie and I was so happy to get out of that suit I’d been wearing for the last two months. It smelled like monkey balls. It was just uughh. Oh I mean we had baboons like this close to us, so trust me – I know what a monkeys balls smells like.
Question: Working with Steve …?
Sykes: Oh yeah, right. Working with Steve. We didn’t try – we did. We just cracked each other up. Steve is very funny and the guy, you know, he shows up. He works hard, you know. Me – I would’ve been complaining the whole time, you know, with the hair and, he had to go through so much, you know, makeup he had birds all on him and they’re poopin’ on his head. So he was a real trooper and just got into the spirit of the thing. So, you know, you just had to have fun with it.
Question: Will there be anything on the DVD do you think of the two of you carrying on, that didn’t get into the movie?
Sykes: Probably not because I’m pretty sure they want to keep the DVD clean too.
Question: Oh so there was non-clean stuff between the filming.
Sykes: Yeah of course, there was a couple of F bombs and stuff we would do and, we’d have fun.
Question: Wanda, you had an HBO special a few months ago. Are you back on the road and what is your new material about?
Sykes: I just wrapped up some dates on the road. I was in, what, April and May, I was on the road. And I did more about – I’ve been travelling a lot, you know, like to Paris and Brazil and I’ve been just doing new things, you know, like snowboarding. So I talked about more on that, because I was just so sick of talking about, you know, how Bush is screwing up everything. I can’t do it any more. I just take Ambian, I’m going to take a nap and just sleep it out man. Wake me up man at 08.
Question: What else are you up to besides honing your stand up material? I mean what kinds of roles are you looking for? Have you got another film project that you’ve signed on for that we can expect from you soon?
Sykes: I haven’t signed on for anything except for The New Adventures of Old Christine. The TV show. I will be back on that as a series regular so I’m really looking forward to that.
Question: Why TV? Why do you enjoy going back to television?
Sykes: Television is fast, you know. That’s the closest thing in, you know, films whatever, TV that I can get to stand up. Because TV, you know, each week it’s a new script, it’s fresh, we get to play around, you get the quick response because we get to perform in front of a live audience. So all those things are appealing to me.
Question: I’m going to ask you about Larry David.
Sykes: I’m sorry but I am so out of the loop on that show. I didn’t do anything with the last season. Sorry.
Question: [the upcoming season.
Sykes: Yeah, the upcoming season – I didn’t do anything. You didn’t call me.