Patricia Sheridan's Breakfast With ... Albert Brooks
Albert Brooks -- "My sense of humor is pretty much who I am and the way I like to make people laugh is organically."
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Lost in America" and "Finding Nemo" are just a few of the films that have showcased the talents of comedian, actor, director and writer Albert Brooks. He recently added New York Times best-selling author to his resume with his first book, "2030, The Real Story of What Happens to America." Married with two children, the 65-year-old was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of a villain in "Drive." Born Albert Lawrence Einstein, he changed his name to avoid confusion. He does the voice of Marlin, the father of Nemo in "Finding Nemo," which is being re-released in theaters in 3-D Friday. The DVD comes out Dec. 4.
It seems clear that you are naturally funny, but did you ever feel compelled to be funny at a social event?
Only one or two times in my life, and it was an uncomfortable feeling. My sense of humor is pretty much who I am and the way I like to make people laugh is organically. I don't like to be "on" or feel that I need to. Maybe one or two times in my life I felt it was forced.
Is it easier for you to create a character or a funny situation?
Normally, if I am writing my own movies, I think the story is what comes first. So I don't even think of myself in terms of the character I'm going to play as the initial thought. I think of what the story is. I am thinking of movies that I've written, you know, "Lost in America." What made me want to make that movie are people who drop out and have made a huge mistake. So you know what follows are the characters. I think what always comes first is the story. It is what's going to carry the characters. The story is the car.
Did growing up as Albert Einstein factor into honing your sense of humor?
[Laughing] I don't know how it couldn't have. I actually dropped Albert in school. I used the name Al because I thought people wouldn't figure it out. They did figure it out. You better be funny with that name or you better be really, really good at physics, and that's pretty much your only choice. So at least I had funny. I am sure it colored it.
Were there a lot of expectations put on you growing up?
No, actually, there weren't. You know my father died when I was young. I was 111/2. He was a well-known radio comedian. He'd been sick for many years. We all just wanted him to be healthy. Nobody was really sitting around going, "What are you going to be?" We were more worried about him, quite frankly.
My mother, who was also an actress, met my father in a movie and sort of got out of show business when she had her children. She didn't like show business in general because she thought it was as difficult as it is. I mean, you know, it's a tough business. So she kept saying, "You should be in business. You should be a businessman."
I think if I took her advice she would have been right. [Laughing] I mean that's what I say to friends of mine who say, "Would you encourage show business?" I say, "You don't encourage it. You try to discourage it, and if a kid will be discouraged they shouldn't be in it." [laughing]
Have either of your children shown signs of having your sense of humor?
My son is hysterical. My daughter's brilliant. She writes songs. But my son makes me laugh. He's 131/2.He's really funny. He's one of the few people I laugh hard [at]. He knows my weak spots. He can just do the greatest blank face. I don't know if he's kidding or not. He's a funny kid.
Speaking of using expression to get a reaction, is it more difficult to do voice-over work like you have done on "The Simpsons" and "Finding Nemo"?
No, but I'll tell you why it works. They do the voice first, but they actually film you anyway. They have a camera and you act with your face, and you act even a little bit exaggerated, maybe. The animators use that to help the fish look a certain way. You don't feel lacking.
It's a different kind of art form, like an elevated kind of acting -- especially when you are doing Marlin, who is always worried and who is constantly fretting. You know, these recording sessions are five hours of being worried. I like them because I lose 10 pounds. It's exhausting. But they use your face. Your face is important to them.
It's different the same way theater acting is different than movie acting. Animation acting is different than either of them. The emotions are real, but you do a little extra with your voice that you don't get to do with your body.
Speaking of doing things differently, you have said it was wonderful to write your book "2030" because you didn't have to worry about a producer saying, "You can't put that in." Now that it's out there, has there been interest in making it a movie?
Yes, but I have shot it down because I'm not interested. I am already on to something else. I think because I spent three years writing it, I don't want to spend four years making it. I would rather make something new.
Now if somebody came along that I completely trusted, I might say, well you try it. It never works that way. People always think you can hand off your baby, but you really can't. If you don't stay involved, it doesn't work out well. I didn't have the passion.
I sort of felt I put the idea correctly on those pages and at least right now, I don't have the desire to make that into a movie. And by the way, in three years when it's a sitcom, I'll have to eat these words. [laughing]
You really demonstrated your acting ability in "Drive." What was it like for you to play such a bad guy?
You know that's what my training was. When I started to make my own movies, I got away from acting because the movies all took three years each. What it really is, is just dedicating yourself to a character. I've wanted to play a character like that for a long time, and nothing came up that was great. A couple of things that came up in the past that I wanted to do, the directors, who were American, were "Oh well, you're known as this so people won't buy it." Luckily for me this was a Danish director and he didn't have all those preconceived notions.
If you can act and you can convince people, being a bad guy or a good guy, that's the least of it. The truth is in real life these weird bad guys are generally the most congenial. You look at these documentaries on these serial killers and everybody says, "But they were so nice." Of course they're nice. Nobody would get in the car with an overt monster. [laughing]. So it's just dedicating yourself to playing a believable person, and when that person's actions are evil -- you're evil!
Before Twitter, were you constantly writing down good one-liners that would come to you?
Yes, and throwing them out the window. [laughing] No, no, the answer is no. I don't even like Twitter because it's sort of the black hole of creativity. What I like it for is commenting on Paul Ryan or something. It's a very good device to make a comment about a story of the moment. That's sort of what I like it for, but every time I tweet I'm not doing the thing I should be doing to make a living. So it's a little scary, that Twitter. It's a little addictive, and I'm not quite sure it's a good addiction.
Last question: Because you are tapped into the future after writing "2030," do you predict a woman or a Jewish person will become president of the United States first?
I can promise you, Patricia, a woman will be a president before a Jewish person. You mark my words and if you want to take it one step further, I think an ape will be a president before a Jewish person. In my book, the gentleman was half Jewish and that was 2030, and it still might be the most unbelievable one point of my book.
First Published September 10, 2012 12:00 am