Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
August 29, 2007.
Usually, when a movie studio makes stars available to the press to promote
their latest film, they summon us to a suite in one of the finest hotels in
New York City. However, it somehow makes a certain amount of sense that
when we get to talk to Dan Fogler and George Lopez, the stars of the
irreverent comedy Balls of Fury, it takes place in an Irish Pub on 48th
Street. No stuffy suites and muffins here. This movie is more comfortable
with fried bar food and the slight smell of stale beer.
Balls of Fury
– with its pun-tastic title (and yes, of course, we had to do a lame balls
gag in our headline too) and sarcastic look at the worlds of Kung Fu and
ping-pong – is the latest parody by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon.
They are the creators of the popular Comedy
Central series Reno 911! and the films Night at the Museum and
Herbie Fully Loaded.
The film is a satire of the classic Bruce Lee martial arts film Enter the
Dragon. Dan Fogler plays Randy Daytona,
a childhood ping-pong prodigy (apologies for the alliteration, no other way
of saying it…) who as a twelve-year old, chokes in his big chance,
leading indirectly to his father's death. Almost
twenty years later he has become a drunken, out of shape stunt-table-tennis
player for a
seedy Vegas casino.
Things change, though, when an FBI agent (Lopez) tells the has-been
athlete that he
needs to get into shape to infiltrate a sudden-death tournament held by
international super-villain Feng (Christopher Walken). They go down to
Chinatown, where Daytona is taught the ways of the game by a blind
ping-pong master (James Hong) and his super-hot niece (Maggie Q.) Come to
think of it, maybe this press day should have been at a Chinese restaurant
rather than an Irish Pub.
Of course, the plotline is not all that important, it is just a skeleton
upon which to toss as many wild physical and verbal gags as possible. The
cast lives up to the task showing some terrific comic chops. Lopez, who has
just ended a six-year run on his own self-titled sitcom continues his segue
from the small screen to big. Walken has a fun time goofing on his
persona. Aging Asian actor (damn, more alliteration!) Hong (who will always
be a part of comedy history as the maitre d' in the Chinese restaurant episode of
Seinfeld) steals every scene he is in as the blind master.
The studio turned to a relative unknown for the main role. Fogler was a
recent Tony Award winner for The 25th
Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and makes the leap to the big screen
Two days before the film was to open, Lopez and Fogler sat with us upstairs
at Hurley’s to talk about the film and their careers.
So how familiar were
Enter the Dragon before doing this?
Oh man, I love Enter the Dragon. It was one of my favorites. What
was that line, where he says (imitating) “Look at my finger!”
(laughs) A finger? Yeah, I love that one. The whole tournament to the
death concept is brilliant, with anything. Karate. Or boxing.
Did you like the
script as soon as you read it?
You know what? I
did. I liked the title, obviously. How could you not love Balls of
Fury? Then when I read it, I closed the script and I was like, oh, God,
I’ve got to be in this thing, because if I’m not, I’m not gonna be able to
watch it. It’s one of those where I [wouldn’t] want to see it because I
don’t want to see who got the part. It was fun doing it. Those guys were
really great. You’ve got to buy Christopher Walken as kind of a gay geisha
assassin. Maybe not gay, but very New Jersey with the assassin-geisha-ing,
Did you learn a lot
about Chinese culture? Or at least Chinatown LA culture?
They love duck. I know that. But that part of it makes it feel like those
old Bruce Lee movies, and Chinatown, The Man with the Black Glove.
Because it is Enter the Dragon, but with ping-pong. I think the fact
that it is ping-pong and its played straight is what kind of makes it
Had you worked with
any of these people before?
No. Just in my dreams.
Between this and
Heaven, how is it different working in films from TV?
Let’s see, well in
Tortilla Heaven the nuclear waste from Los Alamos lab in New Mexico
destroyed the original ending of the movie, which I think was – you got the
image of Christ on a tortilla and nuclear waste destroys your ending there
might be a higher power connected to that movie.
This one was great because of I think the pedigree of Tom and Ben from
Reno 911! and Christopher Walken and with Dan Fogler – who I think is
an… obviously an untapped, undiscovered guy who I expect to have really big
things happen to him. For me, it’s a nice… You know I did it a year ago, so
I was still completing my show. But at the end of the summer, it’s a great
movie. It’s fun and I feel pretty lucky to be in it. When you see the end
credits and you think David Koechner and Terry Crews and Walken and Maggie Q
from [Live Free or] Die Hard… There are a lot of really powerful
people in this movie. And it’s just a movie about ping-pong.
was it like working with Walken?
Walken… he was
nice. I think a lot of people were intimidated by his presence, because
he’s so eccentric and he’d spend a lot of time in the trailer in back and
forth to the set. But Dan and I actually kind of broke him down.
Especially Dan. Dan had a lot of scenes with him. It added quite a
relationship with them. We were talking one day and he was telling us about
Studio 54 and the bathhouses of New York and how people would perform and
sing in the bathhouses. Bette Midler and stuff. To hear Christopher Walken
say this 25-minute monologue about Studio 54 and how (imitates) “Back
then if you got in trouble, you only had to avoid three people. Now, it’s
the world.” He did this whole thing with camera phones and how back then if
you got drunk and made a fool out of yourself, you just had to avoid the
people you were with. (laughs)
It was huge. It was a dream come true. As a young actor, suddenly you’re
face to face with someone that you have bits about in your comedy – in your
standup act. Everyone’s got an impression of this guy from the toddlers on
up to their grandmothers.
Do you have an
impression of Walken?
“Yeah. I didn’t want to hear about it.”
He’s aware that everybody has an impersonation of him. There was a guy who
played one of the courtesans. He would do Schwarzenegger. And Dan does a
little of it in the movie. Christopher Walken was smitten by the fact that
this guy would just break into Arnold Schwarzenegger. As an actor, hearing
probably the most impersonated actor have an actor impersonate Arnold
Schwarzenegger, it would bring a smile to his face. There are a couple of
those smiles in the movie. It entertained him.
yeah, yeah. I had a good Schwarzenegger and another guy had a good
Schwarzenegger on set. Walken doesn’t like… I don’t think it’s a good idea
to do an impersonation of somebody for the person. 99% of the time it’s
completely insulting to them. So, he made it clear (imitating again)
“It’s fine if I’m not around.” So we would go off into the dark corners and
all these Walken impressions were going on with all the young actors on
set. Then we’d feel him coming and be like (imitates) “Cheese it,
fellas…” and everyone would run. (laughs and then imitates again)
“Hey, where’s everyone… ohh…”
I have to say, I was
sort of surprised, James Hong was one of the funniest things in the movie.
Were you surprised by what he brought to the film?
Yeah. The dude really can’t hear very well. And he’s old, man… He’s in
like, his late seventies?
Oh, he’s really good. You know, that’s another one. You realize, oh my
God, this guy was in
He’s a legend. There are days when he is very grouchy.
You know, he’s an older man. Then there are days when he is just
hysterical. Everyone has their good days and their bad days.
know, I never thought of him playing a character like that. I
always think of him like, “Seinfeld, party of four…”
Yeah. Then he pulls his part off perfect. It’s a perfectly written role.
The blind ping-pong master. They looked well together. We kind of go
together. But when you see this guy, seeing him do it… it was more powerful
on screen than it was when you were standing there watching. Because I
think you had to do it so many times that when you see the end result it’s a
tighter version of what you saw standing there.
Most of the
time on the set, he would be the one pushing the envelopes, you know? He
would be the one so out of hand that we’d have to calm him down.
(laughs) You just weren’t expecting that. And then you watch. He
doesn’t have to do anything. The best parts of his performance are the
close-ups. They get so close in on his face. Just slurping soup with his
chopsticks. You see him do one little slurp and you are peeing your pants.
Then he has this incredible monologue about how ping-pong is like a cheap
prostitute. That’s hysterical. He’s a legend. He can do whatever he
about Maggie? Was one of the reasons you took the film just so that you
could kiss her?
(laughs) Yes. Yeah, man, she’s hot. And hysterical. And I
would be crazy if I didn’t say I enjoyed every second of my kissing scenes
with her. And she does some incredible Kung Fu in this movie.
Was it a coincidence or was it an inside joke that Jason Scott Lee – who
played Bruce Lee on film – was in this movie, too?
I know. I think Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon will tell you that they
basically wrote characters – prototypes – and were not expecting to get the
exact person for the part. They got Walken. They got James Hong. They got
Maggie Q. And he was one of those things. They got “Bruce Lee,” the guy
who played the Bruce Lee character. They got him and that was
unbelievable. He does this great comedic thing in the movie where he
actually looks like he’s talking as if he’s dubbed in the movie. It’s
hysterical. He does this Kung Fu voice. You don’t expect him to be funny.
You expect him to kick ass, but you don’t expect him to be funny. He was
In this movie, you do
a lot of funny things, but to a large extent, you are the straight man.
I was, yeah.
that weird after all of those years as the center of attention?
George Lopez: You know what? I liked that part of it. I liked that I
didn’t have to perform that way and I still get some laughs in. Especially
for Latino actors – we’re usually like shirtless or either in groups… You
know what you see? In another comedy, you see guys running across the
border with a whistle blowing and everybody boogie playing. If that would
have been the part, I wouldn’t have done it. FBI guy? You know, Latino
guy. Straight guy. Wear the suit the whole time.
Dan, did you have to learn ping-pong?
Yeah. I mean I was fine at it. Then I started training once we started the
movie with Wei Wong and Diego. Diego is like Cher. He only goes by Diego.
They trained us for seven grueling hours altogether. And I became a
That was all you trained?
Yeah, it was like two hours, two hours, two hours and one.
were born to play ping-pong…
Yeah, it was a lot of balls.
Maybe you could learn
languages in a day or read the bible or something.
like that would take me years. Many, many years.
brother-in-law works for the FBI. Did you talk with any agents to get in
the mindset of the role?
Yes, I did. At my golf club there’s a guy. This guy named Bob Jones.
African American guy who became a FBI agent. [The producers] wanted me to
wear a holster. He said, “Dude, nobody wears that. If you do the movie and
they see with like a hanging holster, it’s over. Your credibility is
shot.” So I had the clip. He showed me how to point the gun. Where to
wear the badge. How to hold the badge. How they talk. I mean these were
FBI men; we don’t really get excited. Yeah, we’re FBI.
Bob Jones was really
his name? Are you sure it wasn’t a cover?
(laughs) It might have been, yeah. I’m sure he’s still hiding his
Now, wouldn’t you
think that bad guys in movies would know enough not to build an evil lair?
They always get blown up…
They always get blown up. I know. [And] they’re always the ones blowing
them up. It’s always some kind of self-destruct. Yeah, you’d think that
they’d, you know, (imitating Walken) “My last place just got blown
up, so we’re just going to do it in my den.”
Exactly, the YMCA or
There’s a place called Fat Cat on Christopher…
How about the scene on the rope bridge? Were you really hanging from there?
No, no, no. That was a harness. I don’t know, they wear harnesses in like
The Matrix, and those people weigh about 40 lbs. So then you have me
who is suspended by – basically, it just grips you at your pelvis – it’s
like designed to hold your entire weight by your pelvis. So imagine, I’m
basically hanging from a rope bridge from my pelvis. You know, I’m a big
guy. It was very painful. Thank God I had to look like I was in pain. It
What was it like going
from the theater to doing a lead role in a motion picture? I know you had
done a few small parts before, but this was all centered on you.
What was the transition like? Well, it was fairly simple. Or simpler than
I ever thought it was going to be. I thought it was going to be years and
years and years of doing peripheral parts. Begging to get roles until I was
pushing 40. That’s basically what they tell you. As a character actor,
you’re not going to work until you get some wrinkles on your face. So I was
prepared to just do that. The transition was before I won the Tony Award,
there was a nomination so there was a lot of television offers. Then once
the Tony was won, it was all film. I had William Morris Agency on my side.
They were able to direct me into the right direction. I skipped a lot of
steps that I had in my mind. The gauntlet that I had to run in order to
were on your show for six years, so coming on this film, it was a whole new
crowd, a whole new cast. What was that like?
I don’t know if it
was actually written for me, but pretty much… I was already a fan, meeting
Dan – we still get along great. I think the fact that they were like
kind of powerful comedians that we were going to be comfortable working with
each other. Not in competition.
You’re not the prototypical leading man. Why do you think
actors like you and Seth Rogen and the kids from
getting so much attention now?
Because as much as people love to escape in fantasy during these ridiculous
times we’re living in, I think they also like to – God forbid – see somebody
that has some flaws, somebody who is not perfect up there, because then the
audience can relate. They can say, “Hey man, that’s me up there.” “That’s
my buddy up there.” I think that’s very important. I think that’s happened
– it’s not just now. Like Albert Brooks. Seth Rogen reminds me of Albert
Brooks and what he was doing. It ebbs and flows. There is a huge demand
for, you know, chiseled jaws and perfect tushies. Then there’s a
need for some reality. A reality check as I like to call it.
you know Ben and Tom before?
I only knew their work. I didn’t know them personally. But
they are brilliant at what they do. Thanks to this movie I think they’ll
probably do more. If this one does well, we’ve got to do another one. It
was kind of a nice way to spend the summer. There was still a lot of
insanity at the premiere. After we were done, we all sat in a room and had
drinks. The day of the press junket we all sat in the room and had lunch
did they find you?
Rogue saw me in Spelling Bee. The Broadway show that I created with
my friends. I won the Tony Award. That made them watch my speech, watch my
performance. They said, oh, this is a great underdog. Let’s get this guy.
I think they wanted an unknown, relatively, for the part. So it was a lot
Would you be
interested in trying theater at any time?
You know what? That one – with all due respect to the theater profession –
I think that comedians who act should only act in these kind of movies and
leave that to the professionals. (laughs and points to Dan) Him and
me – completely different paths. He won a Tony Award. To me that’s more
impressive than an Academy Award. Academy Awards can be kind of the year –
publicized – you get somebody hot with hype. When you’re up there, man…
Well, since Dan has
done mostly theater, were you familiar with him at all before working
I was not. I was not until I found out that he was going to get the part.
Then I started to research. Very impressive. A very impressive guy.
There’s no editing
when you’re on the stage…
No, not at all. Which is what I do in standup, you know?
Do you still work out
of comedy clubs?
Actually, believe it or not, I’ve retired from comedy clubs.
I don’t intend to work in comedy clubs. It’s opposite of Seinfeld,
because those guys still go to clubs. But I do – I sold out Radio City
Music Hall and I do so many shows already that are bigger. So to go to a
club and work it out doesn’t benefit me.
you used to work in comedy clubs, too. Which ones did you do?
I worked in everything from New York Comedy Club up to Caroline’s. I was
mostly doing New York…. I was basically strictly a New York comedian. The
New York audiences got me. If I strayed as far as Jersey, they looked at me
like I had eight fucking heads. It was crazy. That’s when there was a
transition out of comedy because I was like, wow, I can’t work anywhere
outside of New York. I didn’t have the confidence, I guess, as a comedian
at that point in my career to branch out. I’m very safe in New York. I
think Jay Leno once said something like, “You’re not a comedian until you’ve
been up to the mike 5,000 times. At that point I’d been up to the mike
maybe 122. (laughs) So it was like, oh my God. I am not a stand-up
comic. I need to go find some people to play with. So I went into improv.
Also, I had a manager at the time that was very much “We’re going to make
you into a sitcom.” That was the whole thing. That was a very Broadway
Danny Rose kind of situation.
About ten years ago or
so, there were lots of sitcoms with standups. Now with reality shows and
all they have pretty much gone away. How funny was it that you were able to
pull it off at this time when it is so much harder to do?
George Lopez: The time that I was in the beginning of it was really like a
sitcom heyday. Ray Romano was on. Kevin James was on. Bernie Mac was on.
Damon Wayans was on. John Ritter was back. And Will and Grace and
Two and a Half Men. Jim Belushi was there. There was a lot of
comedy. I think in the end I was the last comic that had a show
– Kevin and I kind of went out at the same time. Talk about a guy who never
thought about the show and ended up being the last of a generation of
comedians who got their own shows.
Do you think the
sitcom will make a comeback?
I think it will, because I think it goes in cycles. Like, when I first got
there, nobody could figure out how to make an hour drama. ER was
working. CSI was just starting. There wasn’t a Grey’s Anatomy.
There wasn’t Desperate Housewives. They were figuring out how to
remain in Hollywood. So I think sitcoms will come back, because they always
do. But I think my TV career in sitcoms is over. Only in syndication will
I ever be seen.
Is there something
that you would most like to try if you could live out your fantasy?
I want to do everything. Not only do I want to want to make my own stuff
and create my own stuff, I also… there is a huge list of people I want to
work with. Spielberg and Scorsese. I’d love to be in the next installment
of Star Wars.
know what, I don’t know. I did my own series, man. I’ve got one kidney
that’s not mine. I don’t know if I’m going to try and invest that much time
and try to find the dream project. If the project is good, that’s pretty
much a dream for any actor. Finding decent parts.
Would you like to try
Absolutely. I want to be in the next Godfather. Whatever the
audience will accept me in, I’m going to try like hell to exercise the
entire spectrum of my abilities and hope that people enjoy it.
Yeah. I just did one with Luke Wilson and Adriana Barraza, who got
nominated for an Academy Award in Babel. It’s called Henry Poole
is Here. I play priest. Very straight. Very non-comedic. All of my
scenes are with Luke and most of them are with Adriana. When you’re a
comedian and you’re used to being seen as a comedian, and you’re in a church
in Los Angeles and it’s just you and an Academy Award nominated actress,
that’s a heck of a way to start.
Are you a hero in
I might be. (laughs) Am I a hero in America?
Do you ever go to
Mexico to visit?
No. I live in LA. Why would I go to Mexico? It’s the same. But, I’m sure
that the Mexican people are very proud of what I’ve accomplished.
Do you think you’d be able to make it through Feng’s tournament?
Me, Dan Fogler? Oh wow, no. I probably would have slipped up halfway
through and got the blow dart to my neck. You know, I’m underestimating
myself. You know, if you came to me before the movie, I think I would have
been knocked out. But after the movie – now, if I entered the tournament –
I’d probably win. I’m a master. [I learned in] seven hours what takes
people millions of hours to learn.
You may be a savant…
I may be a savant. Not an idiot savant.
us Let us know what you
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