With big screen adventures such as Planet of The Apes, Armageddon, The Scorpion King, Sin City and his Academy Award Nominated performance in The Green Mile, Michael Clarke Duncan star continues to shine brightly with his eclectic roles. His latest project teams him with Broken Lizard, the creators of such comedy cult classics as Supertroopers and Beerfest. In the filmaking comedy group’s latest outing, The Slammin’ Salmon, Duncan plays the role of eccentric former Heavyweight Champion turned celebrity restauranteur of a high end Miami seafood restaurant, The Slammin’ Salmon. To help clear gambling debts he’s run up to a Japanese Yakuza, Cleon institutes a contest to see what waiter can earn the most money in one night. The winner walks away with $10,000 whilst the loser will be on the receiving end of a punch to the ribs from The Champ. The stakes are high and the restaurant’s staff prove to be some of the most cut throat individuals ever assembled. While this isn’t the first time that Duncan has turned his sights to comedy, this role certainly establishes him as a true heavyweight in the genre. Teamed with the sharp writing of Broken Lizard and impeccable comedic timing, Michael Clarke Duncan manages to steal every scene. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with the larger than life actor to discuss his past and his role in the latest chapter in the Broken Lizard story.
Hey, Michael! Hope all is well with you.
Hey, man. Everything is great.
First, I wanted to give our readers a little background on you. Where did you grow up and what got you started on journey in the entertainment industry?
I grew up in Chicago. I wanted to be a football player but my mother would not allow it, so she said I was going to be an actor and actually, she was right! Everything turned out to be ok, but initially I wanted to play for the Chicago Bears and do that whole thing. I was homeless in Chicago in 1994, 1995 and decided that my life needed to change. I got with a traveling play called ‘Beauty Shop’ and after a year of touring we ended up in Los Angeles and that is where I stayed. The rest is history.
Growing up and even today, who were some of your influences as an actor?
Ya know, one actor that I can remember watching that I was just in awe of was Sidney Poitier. This guy was so well spoken and so eloquent. Today, I met another great actor that I have always admired, Andre Braugher. I have been a fan of his for years and I got a chance to meet him today. It is so cool meeting these guys, talking with them and getting their insights on Hollywood and the knowledge that they have.
I want to touch on your latest exciting project, Broken Lizard’s ‘The Slammin’ Salmon’. How did you first get involved with Broken Lizard?
Actually, they called me. I read the script and I was like “I don’t know, man!” I called my agent and asked him what he thought. He said “It’s a funny script!” and I said “I don’t know, it’s a lot of work, this that and the other.” Then I asked “Do you think I can pull it off?” Then Kevin Heffernan called and said “Michael, you are our first choice, our only choice! Please! You have to do this!” and ya know what?, I decided to do it. The script was so thick and my parts were so meaty, I felt like it would be a real challenge. I did it and I am really glad that I did!
What can you tell us about your role in the film?
Well, my character is a little crazy! Cleon Salmon, he only knows one thing and that is how to box, that’s about it. He knows nothing about running a restaurant and he basically rules by fear. So when Cleon tells you to do something, even though you know he doesn’t know what he is talking about, nine times out of ten, you just do it! Cleon has a bet going with his waiters that whoever gets the most sales gets a ten thousand dollar bonus for the night. The only problem is that he is trying to make twenty thousand dollars to pay off a bet, so giving away half of it doesn’t really make to much sense but to Cleon it does. It really takes off from there. The guy rules with an iron fist and I think that people are really going to enjoy seeing me in a different light.
You really made the character jump off the screen!
Did you do any research before tackling this role?
No, ya know, I just thought about how I pictured this ex-champ would be and I asked them “Is this guy over the top? Is he this or is he that?” and they told me just to have fun with it. That is what they said every day, “Just have fun with it!” So that is what I did every day and I kept having fun. Every day the scenes just kept getting better and better and I kept putting more into the character, so I am certainly glad I did what I did. It turned out to be better than what I expected.
The guys from Broken Lizard definitely provide the laughs on-screen but are they all business on the set?
No! They were not all business! [laughs] They have so much fun doing these movies. There is an aspect about them where they do get serious about the script and who is directing. ‘The Slammin’ Salmon’ was Kevin Heffernan’s turn to direct. They all take turns directing, but this was his baby. They all write the films together. It is just amazing how they were all together at college, being roommates and actually being waiters at the same restaurant and now they are doing another movie together about a guy who owns a restaurant. It is truly amazing. Ya know, they have their serious moments where they would discuss certain plot turns in the movie but they were pretty relaxed. I went over and said “Ya know what? If this movie takes off, I should be the “S” on “Broken Lizard’s”… there should be a black apostrophe “S”… that “S” would be me! [laughs] They said they’d think about it!
Did you get to do much improvisation while on set?
Definitely. Kevin and the guys were really loose about that. We would do several takes the way he wanted and then he said “Ok, now do whatever you want to do.” So it was really good and a great environment to work in.
What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
For me, I think it was studying over the Super Bowl weekend, like I had to do. The script was so big and they gave me four days off to go to the Super Bowl. I went to the Super Bowl in Miami and I took my script with me. The Chicago Bears were playing, of course they lost to the Colts that year, but I was studying! I was doing my thing and trying to make the script work, so I think that was the biggest challenge for me, being at the Super Bowl but still finding time to study my script!
What is your fondest memory of the experience on ‘The Slammin’ Salmon’?
Ya know, I can’t think of one particular incident that stands out that I can say was my fondest memory because with the guys from Broken Lizard, each day was something different. Every day they would come up and change something or they would have five different opinions that were all funny. Every day was something new and there was never a dull moment on the set, and I guess when you are doing comedy there shouldn’t be. These guys were really, really good and every day was like a party, let’s put it that way.
Just one more quick one before I let you go. You have had quite the journey in your life and in the entertainment industry. Any chance we will see an autobiography in the future?
Yeah that is possible. Hmmm… and a title.
No pressure! [laughs]
‘Walking The Dream” because my life has truly been a dream, man. If someone said to me “You can have one hundred and thirty million dollars or you can have the life that you have right now… I would pick my life right now. I am truly blessed.
All the best to you, Michael and we look forward to seeing more of you work in the years to come!
Thank you, man! I appreciate it!
Be sure to catch all the latest happenings with Broken Lizard at their official website located at www.brokenlizard.com!
‘The Slammin’ Salmon’ hit theaters nationwide on December 11, 2009. Check out the official site for the film at www.slamminmovie.com.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.