Rob Schneider for “The Animal”

He’s part animal, part comic and loves to make us laugh. Deuce Gigolo turns animal in his new film, but the real Rob Schneider is not what one expects, as Paul Fischer discovered when he chatted one-on-one with the man brave enough to take on Pearl Harbor and Moulin Rouge, in this most competitive of US Summers.

Rob Schneider begins with his Michael Caton impersonation. Now for the uninitiated, Michael Caton was the star of the hit Aussie film The Castle. Schneider and pal Adam Sandler loved that movie so much, that they went after Caton for the role of the twisted professor in The Animal. “Firstly I’m a big Anglo-file”, the actor explains when discussing his love of The Castle. “I really grew up with English humour; Monty Python was ‘it’ for me. So I’ve discovered that Australian humour is in that area and I just think The Castle is one hilarious movie with so many great lines and characters. Sandler was the one who insisted we see it, and we were just DYING in there, and we just loved this guy and his family”. Now Schneider is hooked on Aussie movies, he says. “Adam and I went to see the The Dish here on opening day. You know what it is? They’re fine filmmakers and I thought Dish had even more levity than The Castle, but I loved it and the pride those people had in their town, and they capture the kind of spirit that tends to get lost in Hollywood filmmaking”.

Though Schneider remains an entrenched part of recent American cinema, the comedy actor/writer criticises Hollywood films for “being about ‘the thing’ – the movie is about THIS, but I think it has to be about ‘this’ as well as how it affects the people”. While The Animal is, on the most simplistic level, an escapist comedy about a man who discovers the animal within, the film has the kind of na├»ve sweetness which is attractive to the ex-cast member of TV’s Saturday Night Live. And along with last year’s surprise hit, Deuce Bigelow, Schneider seems to have cornered the market on playing the ultimate ‘nebbish’ [a Yiddish word meaning a timid, meek, or ineffectual person]. Schneider laughs at his on-screen persona. “I guess in some weird way that’s how I see myself”. As a child, he recalls, he “was so shy and stammering that I could barely complete sentences, and as for talking to girls, forget about it”.

Humour was his ultimate escape from that world of introspection. In developing the characters in both The Animal and Bigelow, Schneider defines them as being guys who, ┬ádespite your own life’s failings, are not as bad as someone else. “The idea came from the philosophy that no matter what you did for a living, look at THAT moron”. Schneider, who previously played comic relief to the likes of Stallone and Van Damme, came into his own and proved that he could carry a comedy with Deuce Bigelow, inspired by Richard Gere’s American Gigolo. “I saw that movie and I just thought it was hilarious that this beautiful supermodel Lauren Hutton would actually need to hire Richard Gere to do ANYTHING. So I asked myself: Who are the real women who would need to hire gigolos? Then I said to myself: If I were to play a loser, this guy who cleans fish tanks for a living, who lives next door to a Richard Gere-type, that spelt instant comedy for me”.

Also, as it turned out, instant success at the box office. It was a film that came about at the right time for this bright Jewish comic from San Francisco, whose comedy career had its roots in the comedy clubs of Los Angeles, and who admits that until recently his “career was down the toilet”, having starred in the poorly received TV series Men Behaving Badly, not to mention such films as Judge Dredd and the regrettable Knock Off. “I lost that excitement I had when I first started out. It was all about the need to just get a job, and so I found the joy again when I was writing Deuce Bigelow. I was laughing so hard and along with my writing partner at the time, simply laughing until we cried. We kept on thinking: This is insane; will they let us do this? We made it small enough so they WOULD let us do it”.

Keeping within that tradition, Schneider takers his brand of comedy one step further with his irreverent new film, The Animal, which he also co-wrote for Adam Sandler’s company. In the movie, Schneider plays small, wimpy Marvin, who doesn’t have what it takes to fulfil his lifelong dream to be a cop. But his luck changes when he’s critically injured in a car accident and a deranged scientist (Michael Caton) secretly uses animal organs to rebuild him. Energized by his new parts, Marvin leaves his weakness behind and achieves instant fame as a supercop. Now a hero, life is going great for Marvin, until his animal instincts start taking over his body at all the wrong times. Marvin struggles to remain civilized, and be a perfect gentleman with his new love, Rianna (Colleen Haskell of TV’s original “Survivor”) in a series of hilarious situations that would drive any animal crazy.

As with Deuce Bigelow, Schneider says that he had genuine fun making The Animal. “For me it was just incredibly rewarding to write something really funny and then get to make it”. But he also loved the performing. “I try not to have too much of an ego. I’ll do anything,” such as a very funny love scene – with a goat. “I try not to worry about what that’s going to look like. If you worry about looking stupid, that’s when you look really stupid”. In fact the scene with the goat was cut back for the final cut of the film, because it was originally way over the top. . “There was one scene with the goat where I’m being romantic with it, and you pan down my face and I’m laughing and then you pan down my chest and you see the goat’s tail is tickling my nipples. I still think that’s funny, but we cut it out because it made some people uncomfortable, and uncomfortable in a bad way”. But he concedes that scene may stay in “for the international version of the film”. Not to mention the DVD.

Schneider also shares the screen with Survivor Colleen Haskell, though concedes he never watched the show that took the world by storm. “I didn’t really see it until I heard we might be working with her, and I said, ‘What! Are you guys nuts?’, and then I saw her and I got it right away. She was awesome. She can’t do anything but be natural. She said she’d never acted before, and I said ‘Don’t start now’. When it came time I had to lick her face [for the movie], we didn’t rehearse. I went and looked in the camera and made sure we were looking in the right direction, and I went up and I licked her face and I kind of got into her eyeball a little bit, not the whole ball. She gave the greatest reaction and her line really made sense then: “It’s either the nicest thing that ever happened to me or the grossest”. So sweet. And I didn’t mind kissing her, either. She’s cute”.

Schneider is working on other projects as a writer, is dying to visit Australia and continues his love affair with Aussie movies by having fallen for Moulin Rouge “which was the most original film I’ve ever seen”, he told me later that night after we bumped into each other at the LA press screening. “It’s just a pity both our movies open on the same day”. Schneider also hopes to be doing “a very small dramatic film which I’m very excited about”. It seems that Rob’s career and life are in full swing again.