In "Roscoe Jenkins", A Most Entertaining Cedric-Martin Rivalry

By Omar P.L. Moore/The Popcorn Reel

February 2, 2008

Cedric The Entertainer as Clyde in Malcolm D. Lee's new film "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins", which opens on Friday, February 8 in North America and is released by Universal Pictures.  (Photo: David Lee/Universal Pictures)


A familiar, friendly professorial voice answers the phone.

"What's going on?"

It's Cedric The Entertainer.  He has just asked his interviewer about whether it is still cold in Park City, which is where one part of the telephone conversation is taking place.  (For the record, Cedric is in the warmer confines of Los Angeles.)

Late last month the actor-comedian spoke about his role in Malcolm D. Lee's new comedy "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins", which opens in the U.S. and Canada on February 8, and is released by Universal Pictures.  The film stars a potpourri of actors who would make an ideal family reunion list -- Martin Lawrence, Joy Bryant, Michael Clarke Duncan, Mo'Nique, Mike Epps, Margaret Avery and James Earl Jones.  The film's premiere was held in Los Angeles on Monday (January 28), three days after Cedric gave a few minutes of his time to talk about the film, about Roscoe Jenkins, a self-help guru (Mr. Lawrence) who returns to the South to visit the family he'd rather forget.

"I play Clyde, who is RJ's first cousin, but raised like a brother," Cedric said.  "I'm successful, I have a couple of Cadillac dealerships in Atlanta, doing well for myself, and you know, he kind of comes home with a trophy girlfriend (played by Joy Bryant), and I basically show up with the girl that he's always loved since he was a kid.  And so I'm still sticking it in his face that I'm better than him, that I do things better than he does."

Ah, nothing like a sibling rivalry.

Cedric has played a series of characters that are memorable for all the right or wrong reasons, and with each performance leaves an indelible mark.  Whether playing a most socially inappropriate figure in "Barbershop" or just being his onstage self in "The Original Kings of Comedy", the man also known as Cedric Antonio Kyles keeps it going.  Whether with his giving back to the Missouri community into which he was born in 1964 and communities beyond with his CTE Foundation, run by his sister Sharita Kyles Wilson, with whom he founded the charity organization in 1996, or his own unique brand of stand-up comedy, which he has performed for about two decades, Cedric continues to be a staple in both comedy and on the big screen.

But how does the man whose website is called Ceddy Bear parry and joust on the big screen with fellow comedic actor Martin Lawrence, who plays the film's title character?

"It's one of those things where we both respect each other, and work both comedically and as actors, so you take that and you try to put it into play what it is you want to accomplish," Cedric said.  "And because comedians kind of naturally compete against each other anyway, if somebody says something funny on the set, and another comedian's trying to figure out how to say something to get a big laugh as well -- and so you kind of start with that competition and just build up on it.  That's really what Martin and I did.  We just tried to one-up each other on camera in a fun and entertaining way, with competition being a big part of this movie."

Indeed, both actors' characters jockey for position in a big way as Roscoe returns to the South and discovers that there's nothing like family.  Certainly nothing like the family Jenkins.   Cedric agreed that the assessment that the dynamic between he and Mr. Lawrence in Mr. Lee's film is like playing the dozens without playing the dozens, except "it's not like I'm doing 'you're mama' jokes," Cedric observed.

Speaking of mamas, for audiences it is more than likely that they will recognize a family member of their own in the Jenkins family.  After all, as they say in the trade, there's always one.

Many social commentators and critics will point to some characters in recent comedic films featuring black actors as cartoons or lampooning stereotypes, the kind that the 2000 film "Bamboozled" rails against.  For example, director Tim Story received criticism from the NAACP for example for "Barbershop" about the character Cedric played and what he says about Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King in the film.  (Incidentally, on at least one occasion Cedric has hosted the NAACP Image Awards, typically held in March.)  While it is safe to say that Cedric himself doesn't agree with what his character said in "Barbershop", he noted that like all actors he tries to find the humanity and reality in the roles he plays, whether likable or not.  "I think that's very important.  I like to try and find that in my characters, something that you know, that's very real about them that people can say, 'yes, I believe that can happen, I can see that happening,'" said the comedian.

Martin Lawrence as Roscoe Jenkins and Cedric The Entertainer as Clyde, RJ's cousin, sibling rivals in "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins", directed by Malcolm D. Lee.  (Photo: David Lee/Universal Pictures)

The actor has become so adept at cultivating lively and authentic characters over the years, that a filmgoer could be guilty of taking Cedric for granted in every film.  He had an action role of sorts last year in the comedy film "The Cleaner", where he played a school janitor moonlighting as a James Bond-spy-type alongside Lucy Liu and Nicollette Sheridan.  He also featured as the deep Barry White baritone-voiced radio disk jockey The Nighthawk in Kasi Lemmons' "Talk To Me", with Don Cheadle, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Taraji P. Henson.

Despite the entertainment factor of The Entertainer, acting and being ready to rock and roll at a moment's notice is something that the comedian and humanitarian doesn't take for granted, and the acting process is not an auto-pilot exercise.  Cedric's approach to building a character is not a profile in rote by any means.  His strategy is clear and defined.  "When you first get the script you try to analyze the character that they want you to play.  You look at the character to see who he is, what's his significance in the film, and you know, a lot of times does he live or die or make it to the end, and then from there you know, it's like trying to take that and make it human, so basically it has something that's written on a piece of paper and then you have to at least allocate, who is this human being, who is this person, and do I have something in me that can pull it out and turn him into something where people can identify with him? . . , the humanity in him, so that's one of the key things that I try to look at in the roles that I choose," commented Cedric.

Having played a diverse string of characters has any of them taught the man who plays them anything?  Have any of them taught Cedric The Entertainer to be a better person when he isn't busy entertaining audiences the world over? 

Referring to the senior member of the "Barbershop" crowd, Cedric said: "I think that . . . playing the old man . . . who basically took the attitude of because he was older he was free enough to say what he meant and meant what he said, and I think while playing a character like that you get to be so free with what it is that you're thinking that . . . you're so unapologetic and you believe in something and you believe it's real and you're true to it, that he's unapologetic about saying it.  He's unapologetic about, you know, having a stance, taking a stance.  And I think that . . . I've become stronger in this direction in my whole life since playing that character, but of course you've got to be really aware of not being disrespectful to anybody in particular, but if you're very strongly convicted about something and you believe it, then stand on it.  Say it.  And don't back down.  And I think that that's important, so that would be one of the characters that I got a chance to play that would be able to represent that."

Cedric also pointed to the music producer character he played in the film "Be Cool".  "It was something about that character that says like 'we have all of these many kind of personalities inside of us, and it's about being a little bit of everything that we are that makes us really whole, not suppressing so many aspects of our personality just so we can be socially acceptable.  So I thought that that was kind of interesting," Cedric revealed.

Next up on the big screen for Cedric is "Cadillac Records", about Chess Records.  He added that the film is about a legendary record label that had signed rock and roll legends and pioneers such as Chuck Berry, Ike and Tina Turner and blues singers like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf.

"I play a real-life character a person who existed named Willie Dixon, who was one of the great songwriters of many of those songs for Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley and Howlin' Wolf, and who was one of the first guys who was able to keep and hold his own publishing so that he ended up being a very smart guy at the end of his life, being able to have a lot of control over some of the music that he had done, so that made him a bright guy.  I look forward to playing that (role)," Cedric mentioned.

Also coming up is a film Cedric has already completed called "The Nightwatchman"*, which stars Keanu Reeves and Forest Whitaker.  That film will be opening later in the spring, said The Entertainer, who keeps on moving, and like McFadden and Whitehead once sang, there ain't no stopping him now.

"Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins" opens on February 8 in the U.S. and Canada.  The film is released in North America by Universal Pictures.  The film stars Martin Lawrence, Cedric The Entertainer, Joy Bryant, Mo'Nique, Michael Clarke Duncan, Mike Epps, Margaret Avery and James Earl Jones.  

*Note: The Nightwatchman has now been given a new title: "Street Kings".

Related: Welcome Home, Margaret Avery

Related: The Joy and Sunshine of Bianca

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