Bernie Mac Interviewed – ‘Pride’

     March 20, 2007

If you’re expecting the normal Bernie Mac performance when you see the new movie Pride, think again. Unlike most of his roles which play up his comedic ability Bernie’s character in Pride, a local janitor, is not the normal Bernie we’re used to seeing. Instead the film shows what Bernie can do in a dramatic role, and he doesn’t disappoint.

From the synopsis (provided by the studio):

The year is 1973, and Jim Ellis (Terrence Howard), a college-educated African-American, can’t find a job. Driven by his love of competitive swimming, Jim converts an abandoned recreational pool hall in a Philadelphia slum with the help of Elston (Bernie Mac), a local janitor. But when city officials mark the new Philadelphia Department of Recreation for demolition, Jim fights back – by starting the city’s first African-American swim team. Recruiting troubled teens from the streets, Jim struggles to transform a motley team of novices into capable swimmers – all in time for the upcoming state championships. But as racism, violence and an unsympathetic city official threaten to tear the team apart, Jim must do everything he can to convince his swimmers that victory, both in and out of the pool, is within their reach…

Yes the film is another in the long line of feel good sports movies, but thankfully due to the performances and the story it’s a welcome addition to the genre.

The interview below has a few highlights – like when he talks about his role in Transformers and how he thinks Oceans 13 will be the best one yet. Rather than posting the specific quotes I’ll let you read them below.

The interview with Bernie Mac was conducted in roundtable form and if you would rather listen to it – click here.

If you would like to watch the trailer for Pride before reading the interview – click here

Pride opens Friday in theaters everywhere.

Question: How was it being dramatic, Bernie?

Bernie Mac: Dramatic was easy. A lot of people don’t know I started dramatic. Comedy is something you all know I can do. I’ve introduced myself with comedy and once you’ve introduced yourself as something that’s where people keep you. That’s where people like to hold you. But Miss Hunter in 4th grade started me in drama. That’s where I first started doing plays. I took a page out of my Big Mama and my mother’s notebook. Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. So that works in my favor. When you all see me in that light or an individual in that light, I love to hear you all say “wow, I didn’t know he could do that” and for actors and stuff, ballplayers, they sometimes when they want to do other things and the media or the critics don’t let them, they get frustrated. You shouldn’t get frustrated because that goes with the territory. For example, it’s an honor when people see you and without you saying a word just starts laughing and smiling. One person I know had that and that was Richard Pryor. And Richard Pryor in Lady Sings the Blues did an excellent job. Every time he came on the screen everybody was laughing. He was tight afterwards. Man, I did good I wasn’t trying to be funny and I learned from that. I remember when he said that and I said don’t get mad Richard, they love you. You know what I’m saying? That’s a compliment. But I realize the frustration on people’s parts when they want to do something outside of what everybody else sees them. All you do as a performer is keep doing it. If you keep doing it and then it depends on why you’re doing it. If you’re doing something for superficial monumental reasons and if you’re doing it for female attention, or if you’re doing it money, it’s like being upset. Only way you can you get upset is when you expecting something. If you don’t yet this award or don’t get that award that because you expect something. If you get mad at John or Jill or Jack you expect something – I’ve been knowing him for 30 years. Well, you gotta pay for it? Do you understand my point? So I don’t ….drama is something I can do man, I got chops, but you just have to always, always, every time you get the opportunity, that’s what this life—life ain’t’ no dress rehearsal. You know, every time it comes, every time that light comes on or every time that camera comes on, every time that microphone comes on the Mac Man seek and destroy.

Is your character based on a real person?

Kind of, sorta. I came up in the community center. I used to be physical director of the South Central Community Center in Chicago on 83rd. It’s still there. I grew up in the gym. I was a gym rat and I had Mr. Hill, Mr. Butler, Mr. Stevens those were Elston’s. Those was the guys that were in my head besides my mother and my grandmother. Those were the individuals that were in my head pushing they were my councilor, my guidance teachers, my lawyers they defended me, they sat and talked to my parents and told them how and what I was doing, how I was improving, you know my boxing Mr. Hill when I was boxing and stuff, those were Elston’s. So having experience as a physical director dealing with the black kids dealing with the single home mostly female parents, tying to get sponsors to help sponsor the kids, the kids don’t like swimming, the black kids don’t like swimming. Golf, tennis, track, gymnastics because those sports are put on the back burner, plus in my day they were sissy sports. Black kids, the minority kids feel there is no instant financial gain in those sports. But those are the most hardest working dedicated focused sports. Look at the build on a swimmer look at the build on a gymnastics. They have the best build in the world. It takes every muscle in your doggone body to swim and water you’re dealing with an element that is so under-rated. Water, man like Bruce Lee said it’s as strong as mammal water is un-estimated. Water put out fire, water sterilizes you know, water drown, water tear brick and swimming is something that you know a lot of people just don’t know. I got introduced into swimming by watching Bridges in the Sea Hunt. I always wanted to scuba dive. I used to scuba dive. See, my imagination is this large you know. They wanted to put me in the hospital years ago, you know there’s something wrong with my brother, something is wrong with him. I used to do voices and stuff like that and now I scuba. I swim all my life and boxing and sports, I never ran track and I never played tennis but volley ball, I played volley ball, you know, baseball, basketball, football. I kept chalk in my pocket. We used to play strike out. People used to holler at me “Bernie Mac don’t write on my wall” I’m not going to write on your wall. But I would draw that square on the wall. The playground used to be filled when I was coming up. Playgrounds are so empty now but my point is those sports are put on the back burner. I think those sports should be forced in the schools. We had the swim naked in high school because it was unsanitary to swim with trunks. Class after class you couldn’t wear swim trunks, so we had to swim naked. That’s where that line came from. We had to swim naked.

You mentioned Richard earlier. Do you think you’ll ever do like a Jo Jo Dancer.

I’m not Richard. I don’t want to do Jo Jo Dancer. I want to show and no disrespect to anybody, I run my own race. I don’t worry about what lane anybody’s in or what somebody’s doing or who’s in front. I want people to say at the end of my day, you know like I used to say about Sidney Poitier and James Cagney and Joan Crawford and Red Skelton and those guys and Bill Cosby. They did quality and substance. You always remember them. I turned down so much stuff because I want people to see when they say Bernie Mac is performing something I’m going, because they know I’m not going to cheat the people. When they say Bernie Mac is in the film I’m going to see that. That’s why I say, when Stevie Wonder had a new album–I’ve got to go get it because I knew he was going to bring it. Jo Jo Dancer is something definitely Richard Pryor wanted to do. He wanted to tell the story of his life. I don’t want to tell a story. I think it’s important for…I think I told my story #1 many times and if someone’s going to tell their story that’s their job to tell the story about you or him, for me that’s a sign of bragging. You know. I don’t want to do that.

How’s Ocean’s 13 doing?

Oceans 13. Let me tell you something. I hate to compare anything especially while I’m promoting. I feel that’s another disrespect, but Oceans 13 is the best movie I’ve ever done in my life. No question. You’re playing with the boys because I mean its personal. You’ve got all the boys, all my buddies over there. You’ve got George and Don Cheadle and Carl Reiner and Elliot Gould and Matt Damon a sweetheart you got Brad and all the boys you can’t no, it’s solid. You can’t say more dude.

What about it is going to make it better because George is on record saying he was disappointed in the 2nd movie?

We were all disappointed.

How do you guys come back for the 3rd time and make it the best one?

By making a bad film the 2nd time. They you say ok, you know what. No kidding. What are we doing? That is a perfect example of pimping. That’s a perfect example of not being true and honest to yourself. I don’t want to do that. But my connection with the boys, I couldn’t say no. I can’t say no Soderbergh–Bernie we want you in there and I was Guess Who at the time too and you fly all over. That’s how I got pneumonia from flying all over the world. I was doing that. I just through the television show 20 hours. No, I’m not doing that next time. You’re just making a film. I said man this script is booty. I didn’t know if it was Mission Impossible or what. Where are we going? But you can’t say nothing because I don’t want to do that to my fans personally. That was another entity. Me, myself, that’s a perfect example of what I’m talking—I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to just be doing and milking so I can make some money and the people will come out. This one is good. You got my man Al Pacino in there and Al Pacino and let me tell you something I’m not quickly intimidated being an athlete and where I come from but Al Pacino is one of my mentors. When I said I’ve got a scene with Al Pacino I was hooo. I was a little bit…..I could almost see how Holmes was. Then when Al Pacino came in I said “hey, Al Pacino” He said “Bernie Mac!” and I said wow and I called my wife and I said “I met Al Pacino today dude” and she said “Mac, you know you’re going to do it” and then when I saw him I was like damn you know. I kept watching him and like Don Rickles and them. When I was with Don Rickles and them I was like Don Rickles you know? I don’t have a favorite nothing you know I just like good stuff. Red Skelton, Milton Berle, Bill Cosby, Flip Wilson, Richard Pryor you know. Johnny Carson, Carol Burnett and I could go on, Jackie Gleason man you grew up…. those guys man. See the younger people don’t have them pioneers, you know. I had some pioneers even in sports like Roberto Clemente.

Can you talk about your character in Transformers?

Transformers. I’m playing a used car salesman and all used car salesmen are full of shit excuse my French but they’re con men. They came to my set and I sold them the transformer. I didn’t know it was a transformer, I thought it was a piece of junk and the first thing you do as a car salesman, and I didn’t know this I did some investigating myself, they always sell you the B.S. cars first. It’s almost like a restaurant, get rid of the food and rotate it. When they come I didn’t know what car….what is this stuff and I just through them a line and I’m a fast talker and quick wit guy you know. I got a chance to have some fun. Michael Bay, I’ve been fortunate because every director allows Bernie Mac to do his thing. I’ve not been handcuffed since my career started. From Ted Demme, every time a director….every time we do it straight they’d always tell me now Bernie Mac it. That’s a luxury, you know.

Do you ad lib a lot in this because Terrance seems to say that a lot of this was ad libbed in this film.

I only ad lib when Sunu told me to Bernie Mac it. I try to do and stay…I’m very disciplined and I’m a fan of respect. Sunu, a first time director, I didn’t want to be …and go all off the page and everything. But when Sunu instructed me he said “Bernie I need something right there.” Give me Bernie Mac, you know. That’s when I did. We took a take the way Sunu wanted it and Sunu if he had a note for me I did it what Sunu’s note described to me and then when Bernie Mac, I put the Mac Man on it.

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