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by Jay S. Jacobs

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 oldchokes 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 with ease. 

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 you with Enter the Dragon before doing this? 

Dan Fogler: 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? 

George Lopez: 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, you know? 

Did you learn a lot about Chinese culture?  Or at least Chinatown LA culture? 

George Lopez: 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 funny. 

Had you worked with any of these people before? 

Dan Fogler: No.  Just in my dreams. 

Between this and Tortilla Heaven, how is it different working in films from TV? 

George Lopez: 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. 

What was it like working with Walken? 

George Lopez: 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) 

Dan Fogler: 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? 

Dan Fogler: (imitating) “Yeah.  I didn’t want to hear about it.” 

George Lopez: 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. 

Dan Fogler: Oh, 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? 

George Lopez: Yeah.  The dude really can’t hear very well.  And he’s old, man…  He’s in like, his late seventies? 

Dan Fogler: Oh, he’s really good.  You know, that’s another one.  You realize, oh my God, this guy was in Chinatown.  He’s a legend.  There are days when he is very grouchy.  (laughs)  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. 

I know, I never thought of him playing a character like that. I always think of him like, “Seinfeld, party of four…” 

George Lopez: 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.  

Dan Fogler: 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 wants. 

What about Maggie?  Was one of the reasons you took the film just so that you could kiss her? 

Dan Fogler: (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? 

Dan Fogler: 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 very funny. 

In this movie, you do a lot of funny things, but to a large extent, you are the straight man. 

George Lopez: I was, yeah. 

Was 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? 

Dan Fogler: 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 master. 

That was all you trained? 

Dan Fogler: Yeah, it was like two hours, two hours, two hours and one. 

You were born to play ping-pong… 

Dan Fogler: Yeah, it was a lot of balls. 

Maybe you could learn languages in a day or read the bible or something. 

Dan Fogler: Anything cerebral like that would take me years.  Many, many years. 

George, my brother-in-law works for the FBI.  Did you talk with any agents to get in the mindset of the role? 

George Lopez: 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? 

George Lopez: (laughs) It might have been, yeah.  I’m sure he’s still hiding his identity. 

Now, wouldn’t you think that bad guys in movies would know enough not to build an evil lair?  They always get blown up… 

Dan Fogler: 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 something… 

Dan Fogler: There’s a place called Fat Cat on Christopher… 

How about the scene on the rope bridge?  Were you really hanging from there?

Dan Fogler: 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 worked. 

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. 

Dan Fogler: 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 achieve. 

You 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? 

George Lopez: 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 Superbad are getting so much attention now? 

Dan Fogler: 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. 

Did you know Ben and Tom before? 

George Lopez: 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 together. 

How did they find you? 

Dan Fogler: 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 about timing. 

Would you be interested in trying theater at any time? 

George Lopez: 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 together? 

George Lopez: 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… 

George Lopez: No, not at all.  Which is what I do in standup, you know? 

Do you still work out of comedy clubs? 

George Lopez: 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. 

Dan, you used to work in comedy clubs, too.  Which ones did you do? 

Dan Fogler: 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? 

George Lopez: 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? 

Dan Fogler: 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. 

George Lopez: You 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 dramatic work? 

Dan Fogler: 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. 

George Lopez: 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 Mexico? 

George Lopez: I might be.  (laughs)  Am I a hero in America? 

Do you ever go to Mexico to visit? 

George Lopez: 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? 

Dan Fogler: 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… 

Dan Fogler: I may be a savant.  Not an idiot savant.

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Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: August 29, 2007.

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Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: August 29, 2007.