IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: David Alan Grier Talks 'Peeples' and New 'In Living Color' Series

Thursday, 09 May 2013 16:31 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: David Alan Grier Talks 'Peeples' and New 'In Living Color' Series

Actor and comedian David Alan Grier has been making audiences laugh on stage, film, and television for the better part of the last 30 years … and he’s showing no signs of stopping anytime soon.

Grier began his career in the early ‘80s on Broadway earning a Tony Award-nomination before making his film debut in legendary director Robert Altman’s Streamers. He would eventually go on to appear opposite Denzel Washington in A Soldier’s Story, as well as the comedy I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, but his big break came as an original cast member of the groundbreaking variety show In Living Color. The actor appeared on all five seasons of the hit series before starring in such films as Boomerang, Blankman, Jumanji, Baadasssss!, and Bewitched, as well as TV’s Life with Bonnie, and his own show entitled DAG. But now the multitalented actor/comedian returns to the big screen in a different type of role than audiences are used to seeing him in with his new film Peeples, which also stars Craig Robinson (Hot Tub Time Machine) and Kerry Washington (Django Unchained), and opens in theaters on May 10th. 

Peeples was written and directed by longtime screenwriter Tina Gordon Chism (Drumline), and is produced by multimedia mogul Tyler Perry (Tyler Perry’s Temptation). In the film, Grier stars as respected Judge Virgil Peeples who is the patriarch of an impressive upper class family. But his perfect world is threatened when his favorite daughter, Grace (Washington), unexpectedly brings home her new boyfriend, underachiever Wade Walker (Robinson), to meet the family for a weekend at their Hampton home. In addition to Grier, Robinson, and Washington, the film also stars S. Epatha Merkerson (Lincoln), Kali Hawk (Bridesmaids), Ana Gasteyer (Mean Girls), and living legends Melvin Van Peebles (We the Party) and Diahann Carroll (Eve’s Bayou).  

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with David Alan Grier to talk about his work on Peeples, as well as the rumors of a new version of In Living Color. The talented actor/comedian discussed his new movie, similarities between his character and The Cosby Show’s Cliff Huxtable, playing the elder statesman, being Craig Robinson’s straight man, improvisation, working with Kerry Washington, Diahann Carroll’s stories, the great Melvin Van Peebles, his advice to young comedians, the sudden shift in his career, and possibly returning for a new In Living Color series. 

Here is what the funny man had to say:

IAR: To begin with, your character in Peeples reminds me a little bit of Mr. Huxtable from The Cosby Show, is that a fair statement?

David Alan Grier: Don’t tell Bill Cosby that. I mean I didn't base him on Cliff Huxtable, but that’s flattering. He was just every mean professional guy I grew up with. My dad was a psychiatrist, and all my friends were doctors and lawyer's kids. I remember one girl that we all had crushes on who lived in my neighborhood. Her dad was just so imposing and he would say, "I don't want any bodacious behavior in my living room boy." In reality he doesn't know what the hell is going on. He's not the king of his house, his wife and his kids are.

I haven’t seen you play the elder statesman before, are you at a point in your career where you are now getting offered these types of roles?

Grier: For so long I was told I wasn't there yet. People think I'm younger than I am so I feel like I'm just now coming into all these roles now. I had longed to play, and love to play these character roles. It's a new part of my career that I look forward to because this is really fun.

Have you always seen yourself as a character actor and comedian, or are you just growing into these types of roles now?

Grier: When I was 25 I was like, I'm a leading man! My sexuality will carry me forth. But like I said, ten years ago I was like, I'm 40! Why can't I play this role? So I had to kind of wait until my bad living caught up to me. 

Audiences are used to seeing you in movies and on TV as the funny man, but what is interesting about this film is that you really became the straight man to Craig Robinson’s comedian. Was that an adjustment for you as a comedic actor?

Grier: I'd reveled in it a bit. There was a movie I saw once with Robin Williams and Walter Matthau called The Survivors. Walter Matthau sat down and looked at Robin Williams, who was going everywhere. Robin played a guy who'd joined this military militia. Walter Matthau basically sat there statuesque and I was rolling on the floor laughing. When the producers of Peeples saw me in (the stage play) Race, I was playing this really serious role. So I feel in their minds they didn't know if I could play the straight man, or if I would want to play the straight man because that's what this role required. But I think they saw that in me from that performance and that's really why they asked me to do it. I love Craig so I was like, let’s do it!

You’ve worked with some legendary comedians in the past such as Jim Carrey, Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, and Robin Williams. I think Craig Robinson is really in the next generation of great comedians, and is just starting to breakout now with leading film roles. What's your impression of Craig and what was it like working with him on this film?

Grier: Craig and I never worked together before, but we had seen each other in the clubs back in the day, and had mutual admiration for each other. I love, love, loved his work on The Office. I've seen every episode in reruns. I just love what he does and what he's brought to it. It was awesome. He and I just killed it. I was like, wherever you want to go whatever you want to do just do it! 

Was there a lot of improvisation between the two of you?

Grier: There was some to feed the scene. Like when we were in the sweat lodge, that's really where (director) Tina (Gordon Chism) in that particular incident said, “Look I want to do a bunch of different takes, a bunch of different stuff, so come with it.” So I came with a pocket full of stuff, and Craig came and we'd just go back and forth, and back and forth. Craig didn't know what I was doing half the time and he would just react to it. I would do the same thing with him. So we would do back and forth like that and it was really awesome, but at the end of the day I was like, tell me how big, how small, how far you want me to go, and if should I pull it back because that's how I work best. Just be honest. You do not have to bullshit me.

Kerry Washington is mostly known for her dramatic work on her TV show Scandal and in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, but she’s a really great comedic actress too. I know that you have worked with her in the past, but were you surprised to see just how good her comedic performance was in this film?

Grier: We met on Little Man and Kerry is just great. One of the things I love about Kerry is she's glamorous, she's an icon and all that stuff, but she doesn't take herself seriously. She's really available, real, down to Earth, and she just lives it, which is funny. One time I said to her, Kerry, are you in some makeup commercial? She said, “Yeah,” and I said, what the fuck is that about? She said, “Well, I'm kind of like a brand,” and we both broke out laughing because it was one of those moments where I was like, oh my God, she's turning! So that's what I mean. She’s never taking herself seriously yet she handles her business and wears it elegantly. She would go to the White House because she's on the President’s Arts Council. We'd be like, “Steal napkins!”  But you can kick it with her. We text each other, and she’s just nuts. Her laugh is really the core of her personality. Her laugh is explosive, it's guttural, and it's real, so that's really who she is. 

Speaking of glamorous icons, I understand that on the first day of shooting Peeples you got to work with Diahann Carroll, as well as Melvin Van Peebles. What was it like for you working with such Hollywood legends?

Grier: Yeah, Melvin I met and got to know when I did Baadasssss! But for me he's just a legend in the sense that he was a real revolutionary, a real pioneer and he's just the shit. Diahann Carroll would tell us stuff about Melvin. She said, “Melvin came to my party.” She had a place up on 96th street back in 1970. “He was wearing hot pants and roller skates, and smoking this big old cigar with his hat and his sunglasses,” she said. She told us that he roller-skated into her glamorous party with Mario (Van Peebles) when he was a little kid. We loved it man. We were just dying laughing. Diahann Carroll would tell us about Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Eartha Kitt, and all that history. She took us out to dinner, and was very open and giving. She said, “Just ask me anything.” Not everybody performer is like that, especially these legends and icons. Usually it's like, “Don't approach Mr. So-and-so from the left side. Do not touch his hair, or address him that way!” I hope to be just like them as I age and as I get older. 

You’ve been doing comedy and making movies for a long time now, how do you feel about younger performers coming up to you and asking for advice? 

Grier: They do! I was doing these spots at a club here in L.A. a couple weeks ago and all these young comics wanted to come and talk to me about stuff.

Is that kind of surreal for you?

Grier: It is, but I mean I'm of that age. It's great. What would be worse is if they didn't come up and if they didn't care! If they were like, “Damn, you still alive?” The way I approach life and my career and each project and this project is with energy. I remember I met Dick Shawn (The Producers) and I worked with him years ago. He came to the set and was like a 14-year old. He was like, “What can we do right now? How can we make this funny?” He would watch all my scenes and say, “Man, that is good! You know what you should do?” I was like, this guy's crazy! I watched him as a little kid. What I'm saying is passion, energy, and commitment is important. I want to be funny right now! I'm not going to come in with re-runs of stuff I did back in the ‘90s. So I think that's infectious. Those are the kinds of people I want to work with and that's the kind of artist I want to be. I want to continue to discover and revel in it, man. 

Finally, there was some talk over the last few years about doing a new series of In Living Color with a new cast but having some of the original cast also be involved. Is that something that could still happen, and if so, are you interested being a part of that?

Grier: Yeah. Keenen (Ivory Wayans) reached out to all of us. So I was doing something else at the time but I know I talked to Jim Carrey about it. We were all down. It was at the perfect time. 

Really? Jim Carrey was interested in doing it too?

Grier: Yes, man! Let me tell you something. Me, Jim, and I think Jamie (Foxx), all of us were going to come back for nothing to work on this thing.

But you would have worked with a new regular cast, correct? You weren’t all going to be regular cast members yourselves, were you?

Grier: Correct. We were just going to do stuff in and out. I don't know what happened. It didn't come into fruition at that time, but I'm still open to it. We'll see. I wasn't in direct negotiations, but I talked to Keenen and everything so we'll see what happens. It would be awesome to do it before we get too old! I don't want to be in a fucking wheelchair going, yes, I remember. I mean we're already at the point of, “Do you remember when Mike Tyson came to the set?” No. “Yeah, he was there!” Oh okay. So it would be fun, but we’ve got to do it though.      

Peeples opens in theaters on May 10th.

To watch our exclusive video interview with director/writer Tina Gordon Chism about Peeples, please click here


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