He is a comedy icon whose standup tours have broken records and sold out arenas, but Chris Rock's luck in movies has never been great. Until last year, that is. Top Five, which Rock wrote and directed as well as stars in, was a breakout hit at the Toronto Film Festival, where it was snatched up by Paramount Pictures in a bidding war.
The film debuted to critical raves and delighted audiences with an insider look at celebrity and fanboy approach to hip hop. Just before Top Five drops to DVD, we caught up with Rock, on the phone from his home in New Jersey, to talk about feeling redeemed cinematically, the biggest creative risk he never took and why the BET Awards was the most fun he's ever had hosting an awards show.
You've had a rocky run as an actor and filmmaker. I think you broke the spell with Top Five — audiences and critics really embraced the film. Did you feel redeemed at all?
Hey, I'm just glad anytime people like it. If there's any redemption, I'm glad the critics liked it. You're always trying to get your Rotten Tomatoes average up.
The film focuses a lot on a mainstream actor taking a big creative risk. In your career, what is the biggest risk you never took?
I remember Dr. Dre called me up about doing an album. I figured he would be too busy and I didn't [pursue it]. Now I look back and think, "Damn, I could have done an album with Dr. Dre!" I mean, Dr. Dre does start a lot of albums that he doesn't finish, but I should have pursued that experience, even if we were only in the studio for a couple of days.
I did comedy albums before, with sketches and songs, with Prince Paul, who did all the De La Soul records. We won a couple of Grammys, actually. And I love 'em, I wouldn't trade them for anything, but when you think about Dr. Dre it's like, "Oh, man... I should have took him up on his offer."
We loved seeing Tracy Morgan in the film, which was obviously shot before his accident. Are you in touch with him? How's he doing?
Yeah, I check up on him every now and then. He's in rehabilitation. The nurse comes by and they do exercises. He's getting better. That's all I can say, he's getting better. Some days are better than others. He's really good in Top Five!
One tiny issue I have with the film: you never specify if a person's "top five" is emcees or groups. Those are two very different lists! So, which is it?
It's whatever you want! It tends to be emcees, because groups tend to be overlooked. Except Andre 3000, he always makes people's top five.
You hosted the BET Awards last year. What was the most memorable moment for you from the show?
The whole thing was probably the most fun I've had doing an awards show. You know, I've hosted the Oscars, the MTV awards, but the BET Awards was by far the most fun. It was the best audience, the biggest laughs. It's just a fun show. I really love it, I love the show. I hope to do it again someday.
Can we expect a sequel to Top Five?
I'm writing a movie for me and Rosario [Dawson] now, I mean I wouldn't call it a sequel but I think I figured out a tone of movie I like doing and I think I figured out the actors I like working with. So we'll all be in a movie again.
Top Five is out on DVD/Blu-ray and digital download now.
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(Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for BET)