Tribeca: J.J. Abrams, Chris Rock Talk Collaborating, Joke About Denzel Washington-Starring 'Fantastic Four'
The two entertainment industry insiders had a funny, career-spanning discussion in which they also discussed what they look for in people they hire.
J.J. Abrams and Chris Rock's hourlong Tribeca Film Festival conversation was billed as a chat between two directors, but when Abrams called Rock a director, the comedian was quick to say he doesn't consider himself in the same league as the Star Wars: The Force Awakens helmer.
"I make movies occasionally," Rock said. "You're a director."
"Yeah, J.J., you and me. Star Wars, Pootie Tang," Rock added, referring to one of his earlier films.
It was that sort of joking banter that made for a funny exchange from two entertainment industry insiders. Rock and Abrams talked about the early days of their career, the qualities they look for in people they hire and whom they want to work with, with a frequent answer being each other.
Abrams worked with Rock on the 2016 Oscars, directing the series of movie parodies that included Leslie Jones in The Revenant and Tracy Morgan in The Danish Girl, which Abrams cited as a particularly fun moment. Rock said that he asked Abrams to help but "figured he'd get some minion from his office to do it."
"I get there, and he's directing the stuff," Rock said.
Abrams explained: "When Chris Rock calls you and says, 'Will you do this for me?' You direct that shit yourself."
But could another, more extensive collaboration be in the works. The possibility first came up when Rock asked Abrams — whose TV credits include Felicity, Alias, Lost, Fringe and other shows — what sort of small-screen project is right for him.
"If I were to do a show, because I'm running out of money and it's, I'm of a certain age, let's cash out this credibility," Rock said. "What do you see me doing?"
Abrams asked, "If I nail it will you do it with me?"
Rock enthusiastically replied, "Yeah! … Nothing to do with a car wash."
They talked about possibilities aloud for a few minutes, with Rock saying he's more inclined to do a single-camera show and Abrams saying he "would love to do a half-hour drama," musing that unlike his favorite show, The Twilight Zone, there aren't many half-hour non-comedies out there.
Regarding the half-hour drama prospect, Rock chimed in, "I'm down."
Later, when discussing their dream collaborators (Abrams said he'd love to work with Meryl Streep or Robert De Niro), Rock said, "I'd love to work with you. I had fun on the Oscars. You were about as intense a person as I've ever worked with, but a sunshine-y intensity, like 'Hey man, we're really working hard on this thing. Got any more ideas?'"
But Rock said that his real hope is to "direct Denzel Washington in a comedy."
"He hasn't done it," Rock pointed out. "I've seen him: He can turn a phrase and be kind of charming and kind of funny. He can kind of do everything. I'm trying to figure out what I can get him in that's kind of funny."
Abrams, meanwhile, said he's working with Washington now — sort of.
He explained that Washington is currently using his office at Paramount to prep his new movie Fences, which he's working on with Abrams' regular script supervisor.
Abrams also suggested another potential Rock-Washington collaboration, as he dodged Rock's plea to have Abrams direct a well-received Fantastic Four movie.
"I love the Fantastic Four and they keep f—ing it up," Rock said.
Abrams suggested, "Get in there with Denzel, man. You do it."
Rock mused that he was "too old" to be in the film and could direct it, but, "They need someone better than me."
The comedian also revealed he wasn't impressed by another recent comic book-inspired film: Batman v. Superman.
"Did anyone see the Superman/Batman shit, what the f— was that? Superman can't fight a guy that drives a car," Rock said, riffing about how Batman "needs AAA."
If Rock and Abrams do work together, the comedian better be on his best behavior. Abrams revealed that one of his deal-breakers in terms of those he hires is "people who aren't kind."
"When I've heard that there were people who were difficult, I've almost always said no — kind of a life's too short thing," he added. "A deal-breaker for me is someone who's not going to be a human being."
And Abrams recalled how he urges those he works with to treat each other with respect and follow the golden rule, explaining that he stresses the importance of that at the beginning of every project, including The Force Awakens, which the director also offered a few insights about.