If his widely perceived reputation is deserved, you never know what “30 Rock” star and former “Saturday Night Live” funnyman Tracy Morgan might say or do next. For instance, who would have guessed that his next film role would be in the ensemble cast of “Death at a Funeral,” a remake of Frank Oz’s 2007 British comedy, here helmed by “In the Company of Men” auteur Neil LaBute? (To be fair, who predicted LaBute would also have remade “The Wicker Man”?)
Morgan co-stars alongside Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Danny Glover, Luke Wilson, Zoe Saldana and Peter Dinklage as the buffoonish Norman, whose grinning antics fit right in as a dysfunctional family reunites to mourn the loss of their patriarch. Speaking to Morgan by phone, that unpredictability he’s known for seemed to make more sense after his cheery introduction quickly soured, and I got the suspicious feeling he couldn’t wait to be done talking with me.
I’m of two minds about funerals. Do you find them to be more celebratory remembrances, or simply real downers?
Of course, it’s a downer. It’s a funeral! People’s lives are shattered, you know? It’s not fun and games! It’s not like they have funerals at comedy clubs. The comedy in the movie is just a layer, one of the layers on top of the funeral. The movie’s really about family. It’s about acceptance and things like that.
Understood. But even if death is depressing, funerals themselves are about gathering to respect a person’s life, no?
Yeah, that’s what we’re doing. That’s what the movie’s about. That’s the moral of the whole story.
Besides working with Chris Rock again, what made you want to take part in a remake of a movie that only came out three years ago?
First of all, Chris is a dear friend of mine. Martin Lawrence is a hero, Chris is a hero. The list of people that I heard were working on the movie inspired me, and I was like, “I wanna be a part of this.”
Did you see the original film?
Yes, two days before we started shooting. I was inspired. I was like, “This is a funny movie.”
For those who haven’t yet seen your version, what would you say is different about the two films besides the cast?
I think we were able to sit back and see the mistakes that they made in the version and correct it. We tweaked a few things here and there. All the same, it’s funny.
What kinds of mistakes?
I can’t pinpoint one mistake out, you know? Because they did it already, we were able to see the things that they should have did in the first one, and we were able to complement the first movie. You know, British humor is different than American humor. This is not just a black movie, it’s American. It’s just different. We’re a little bit over the top at times.
If I’m not mistaken, you’re playing a role that originated with Ewan Bremner. It’s funny to think you’d be considered the American equivalent of Spud from “Trainspotting.”
Did you ever see him in that film?
Absolu… No, I haven’t.
Do you have anyone in your family who is hard to deal with, like Danny Glover’s character Uncle Russell?
Yes, and I think everyone has that. That comes with age. Most older people, as they get older, their bones hurt and things slow down, you know? You just become a little bit more grumpy.
Being aware of this, do you still see yourself becoming a cranky old man?
Oh, I couldn’t tell you. I’m a long way from that point in my life, man.
What could you tell me about working with Danny Glover that people might be surprised to hear?
I thought it was a treat. He’s an icon, a legend, as far as acting is concerned. To be able to share space and do a scene like that with Danny Glover is awesome, man. My street cred went through the roof.