When comedian Wanda Sykes first heard Hollywood wanted her to star in a new movie featuring 177 different types of animals including lions, tigers and elephants, she thought it was a joke. She laughed and quickly told her agent no thanks.
But somehow between that fast rejection and Sykes’ reading of the ‘Evan Almighty’ script her mind changed. You’ll be glad Sykes signed onto the comedic telling of the legendary Bible story, Noah and the Ark, because quite frankly she steals the movie.
“They left some doors and windows unlocked and that’s all I’m gonna say,” said Sykes. “They’re not pressing charges are they? Let me know so I can get outta here” she laughs.
No worries Wanda Sykes, you’re not following in Paris Hilton’s footsteps and going to the LA County Jail, but strap yourself down because your career is certainly skyrocketing from this moment forward.
Her latest and 14th film, ‘Evan Almighty’ is the sequel to ‘Bruce Almighty’ - the half-billion dollar hit box office hit which made a household name out of its star comedian Jim Carrey. Carrey opted out of the new film and 40-year-old Virgin star Steve Carrell steps right in.
Carrell plays Evan Baxter a newly elected Congressman. As soon as he arrives on Capitol Hill, Evan’s life is turned upside down when God (Morgan Freeman) appears and mysteriously tells him to build an ark. Like manna from heaven, building supplies start arriving at Evan’s home and he starts dressing and looking like Noah. Sykes plays Evan’s Capitol Hill assistant, Rita who speaks her mind and clearly confronts her boss about his bizarre transformation from congressman to Holy man.
“Wanda is beyond funny. She has that biting, sarcastic type of humor that literally messed me up when we were filming. Ninety percent of her lines were ad libs, so when she would spout out her lines, I would burst out laughing,” Carrell admits.
The film is the most expensive comedy ever made in Hollywood. It cost more than $175-million. But that’s not why Sykes signed on. Originally, she felt like her character wasn’t really developed. “You could take her out of the movie and you wouldn’t miss her,” said Sykes.
But then, she met with the film’s director, Tom Shadyac (‘Bruce Almighty,’ ‘The Nutty Professor’ and ‘Ace Ventura: Pet Detective’). He reportedly told Sykes to “bring everything you can to this role, play around and have a good time on set.”
Say no more to the woman who Entertainment Weekly magazine calls one of the 25 Funniest People in America. Sykes grabbed that mandate and ran with it.
“I just gave him options,” said the Portsmouth, Virginia native who provided punch line after punch line take after take and at one point delivering 30 different jokes for one scene. “He (the director) was like great, what else you got, what else you got and I was like damn when is the whistle gonna blow?”
It was working with the 177 different species of animals that Sykes pulled off some of her best material. At one point, a llama spits out some horrible looking bile during a sequence and Sykes responds, “If that what comes out your front, I don’t wanna know what comes out the other end.”
The film is set in Washington DC - an old stomping ground for Sykes who once worked for the government as a procurement officer for the National Security Agency.
“I kept saying to myself, they’re gonna have an ark full of animals flying through DC - especially Southeast DC, hell no, I can’t go out like that, these people are crazy,” said Sykes joking about the premise of the movie. “Seriously, though. It’s pretty cool how that made this all look so real.”
Sykes began her standup career in 1987 when she entered a Washington DC area talent competition. She actually lost the competition, but decided comedy was her passion.
At the time, she was working as at NSA and she continued to hone her skills until she got a gig opening for Chris Rock at Caroline’s famous comedy club in New York. The two soon started working together. She spent 5 years writing the critically acclaimed “Chris Rock Show” for HBO. In 1999, Sykes won an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for that show.
Known for tart tongue and saying almost anything, Sykes penned a hilarious collection of essays touching on life, family and current events in a book entitled, “Yeah I Said It” and that’s pretty much has been the basis of her humor: saying what others think and are afraid to say. Sykes just adds her own flavor to the mix.
Recently, when asked about Paris Hilton, Sykes cut loose in memorable fashion. “She’s rich and she’s screwing up just being rich. That’s pretty sad, when you F’ up rich. You’ve got to be the biggest idiot in the world if you just can’t sit your ass down for a minute and just be rich.”
Rich is something Sykes says she can handle. If she keeps bringing the funny, she and Paris Hilton may have a lot in common: nice fat bank accounts.
Wanda Sykes, Morgan Freeman and Steve Carrell star in ‘Evan Almighty’ opening in theatres this weekend. The film is rated PG.