MIKE EPPS ON “THE HONEYMOONERS”

Mike Epps, who plays Ed Norton in Paramount Pictures’ updating of Jackie Gleason’s famous television series “The Honeymooners,” said in a recent Dallas interview that he came to the project without much knowledge of the original.

“I had vaguely seen it in the house when I was a kid,” he said. “I can remember seeing it on, like ‘I Love Lucy’ and all those back-and-white television shows. When I found out I got the role, I went out and bought a hundred copies of it–that little family pack they’ve got of ‘The Lost Episodes of the Honeymooners.’ I went and bought all those and watched them, day in and day out. And I realized how good a show I missed.”

Epps watched Art Carney, the first Ed Norton, most closely, and admitted that he was somewhat intimidated by the idea of risking comparison with him. “His style can’t be duplicated,” he said. “What I did was use some of his antics,” like imitating the famous prolonged hesitation before starting anything in a pool-room scene. “I made sure I did all that stuff, so that the die-hard fans could see that and say, ‘Okay, he gave us some of Norton.’ But we had to realize that we live in 2005, and there are kids who don’t know nothing about no ‘Honey’-nothing! They’re just going to go see the movie because me and Cedric [the Entertainer, who plays Ralph Kramden] are in it. They know us from other movies. So at the same time trying to stick to the ‘Honeymooners’ Bible–they wanted to keep everything [from the] original ( all but the color of Ralph and Norton, they dipped it in chocolate, the whole movie), they wanted to keep everything the same–I still had to give off who I am too, I still had to give off my comedy for those who didn’t know what ‘The Honeymooners’ is.”

Despite the difficult balancing act, Epps appreciated the opportunity. “I had a chance to become another character that I hadn’t played in other movies,” he said. “My character in the ‘Friday’ movies or ‘All About the Benjamins’ is usually all over the place–broad. In this movie, John Schultz, the director, he wouldn’t really let us go outside of the frame because the importance of this movie to him was to have a story-line, to show the relationships between the four [leads], to make us stick to the story-line. And in doing that I couldn’t just go off the page.”

The movie was also a change for Epps in that it was the first time he’d filmed abroad–in Ireland, of all places. “One of the producers was from Ireland, so he had a tax break,” he explained. “He could save a couple million dollars on the movie. We got over there to Ireland and started shooting and–you know what?–nothing looked like New York over there! So we had to reshoot [in New York City] and spend the two million that he saved. It was an experience, shooting in Ireland! I was happy to go to work, because there was nothing else to do–shooting the movie was the highlight of the day. I lost a little weight ‘cause there was no good food over there!”

Epps may face an even bigger professional challenge soon. On the very day of the interview, it was announced that he was scheduled to take on a new role in an upcoming film: “I’m playing Richard Pryor,” he said, sharing an article from Daily Variety. “[The project] was brought to me by his wife. His wife had heard about me and invited me up to the house, and I’ve been sitting around with Richard for six months, talking to him and watching old films. He’s not really talking right now, but I can look into his eyes and see how he feels about me. He talked with his eyes, through his soul. They’re writing the script right now. Once they put the script together, I’m going into my training mode.”

Epps noted a certain proximity between himself and Pryor. “Richard is from Peoria, Illinois, and I’m from Indianapolis, Indiana, so we’re like an hour from one another,” he said. “And I’ve had life experiences that were similar to his. So this is a little bit closer to me than Art Carney.”

And looking at one of his interviewers–tall and Caucasian–he joked, “You would have played the hell out of Art Carney.”