Chris Rock, 'Top Five' Co-Stars Talk Filming With Friends at Glitzy N.Y. Premiere
"There's nothing better than playing a role that you've already been playing all this time"
Chris Rock made his new movie Top Five — which he wrote, directed and stars in — for a budget that he previously told The Hollywood Reporter was less than what Leonardo DiCaprio pays his agents.
But when Rock's little movie screened at the Toronto Film Festival, it became a big deal. After it premiered there in September, Top Five became the subject of a bidding war, with a major studio, Paramount, emerging as the winner, paying a reported $12.5 million for the film. Rock said in THR's cover essay about Hollywood's race problem that doing his movie independently allowed him to make certain choices he wouldn't have been able to get away with if he'd made it within the studio system. And at Wednesday night's New York premiere of Top Five, he still seemed mystified by the fact that his indie's being distributed by a studio.
"I just never thought it would be ... " he began, trailing off. "Even this premiere is just wow. This is like the premiere for Transformers."
Indeed, the movie's debut (it hits theaters on Dec. 12) was celebrated with a star-studded black-carpet premiere at Manhattan's glitzy Ziegfeld Theater and a swanky after party at New York's appropriately named Terminal Five concert venue. But Rock conceded that the studio's probably right.
"It's a little scary, but they know more about this stuff than I do," he said.
Yet despite all the stars who walked down the black carpet or were spotted mingling at the after-party, many of whom are in the movie, the night, like making the film, was just about old friends getting together to have a good time.
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Rock's main co-stars in Top Five — J.B. Smoove, Rosario Dawson and Gabrielle Union — were all friends with him for years before they made this movie, and they told THR the process of making a film with your pals is pretty fun.
"I always say any time I get to work with friends, I jump at the chance," Union told THR. "Any time I get to work with friends and they're in charge and I get paid, I don't think there's a better day at the office."
She said Rock had started talking to her about the project years ago, letting her read various drafts of the script, and when it came time to make the movie, they were able to find a way for her to fit her role as reality star Erica Long into a busy schedule that had her working on two projects back-to-back.
For Smoove, he wasn't just able to work with his friend, he was able to get back the money Rock owed him.
"So this right here is twofold: I'm doing a movie, and he's paying my ass back," Smoove said. "I got my money."
He added that it was a breeze to play Rock's character's friend and bodyguard, since he'd already inhabited the role as a longtime acquaintance.
"Everyone is friends in the movie, and it's comfortable and you can play that role very well," he said. "There's nothing better than playing a role that you've already been playing all this time. We're all really friends. Everyone on [the film's] poster I know, Chris knows. He called every last one of these people personally and asked them to be in this movie because he wanted certain pieces for the movie."
Dawson was one of the people Rock contacted with a role in mind, telling her that he'd written the part of Chelsea for her. But it took her a while to commit to the project, being reluctant to tell her friend that she thought her character needed a bit of work.
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"I gave it to my brother, and I was like, 'What do you think?' And I was like, 'I think it's really funny. I think it's really good. I think it's really smart. But he's my friend, and I don't want to say I feel like Chelsea needs a little tweaking.' My brother said, 'He's your friend — you should say that. And I'm sure he'd prefer to collaborate with you than for you to say no,'" Dawson said.
And ultimately working on the movie was a collaborative process.
"We went back and forth, and he'll say I auditioned him for his own movie," Dawson told THR. "It really was him being my friend and us not losing our friendship over it, and him not being too precious with his words or me being too challenging; it was him making me funny and me supporting him on certain dramatic beats, and really just making each other greater."
Rock told THR that it helped not only that his co-stars were his friends, but also that they know what they're doing.
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"We've been doing this a long time," he said. "They're my friends, but they're also real professional actors and comedians."
One of the stars that wasn't friends with Rock before was Ben Vereen, who plays Rock's character's father in a small but significant scene.
Vereen said he'd admired Rock and wanted to work with him, so when Rock said he wanted Vereen in his movie and called him up, the two met, and now they're onscreen together, and Rock seems to have made a new friend.
"He's a wonderful director, as well as an organizer, as well as a visionary," the veteran actor said.
Others spotted at the premiere included Kanye West, Paramount CEO Brad Grey, Louis C.K., Cedric the Entertainer and Jerry Seinfeld (who both make risque appearances in the movie), Questlove, Ice-T, Larry Wilmore, Michael Rapaport, Pauly Shore and Steve McQueen, whom Rock has joked he's harassing to land a part in one of his movies.