Leslie Mann may have starred in some major comedies over the last decade, including The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, The Other Woman, and How To Be Single, but she doesn’t actually consider herself all that funny.
“I never approach anything as a comedy. I always think of myself as this dramatic actress, and then I think there’s just something weird about me that makes it come across as funny,” Mann says. “Because I’m taking myself very seriously.”
Fortunately for the actress, 44, she gets to mix drama with comedy in The Comedian. The new film, out Dec. 2 in New York and Los Angeles for an awards qualifying run, stars Mann as a Harmony, a listless woman who finds a kind of fortitude within herself after forming a relationship with famed comic Jackie Burke, played by Robert De Niro.
“We rehearsed a lot,” Mann says of her work with De Niro, whose gruff comedian spends the film trying to come to terms with the changing landscape of culture while remaining true to himself. “We spent a lot of time going through the script and discussing the characters and the relationship between [Harmony and Jackie]. For me, it made sense, because my character has been abandoned by her mother and has this larger-than-life father [played by Harvey Keitel], who is completely overbearing. Then she finds someone who is also a larger-than-life character, who is very similar to her dad. And through that relationship with Jackie, she kind of learns to stand up to her father. That’s why it made sense to me.”
For De Niro fans, The Comedian is stuffed with a wealth of callbacks to his prior films: The actor and Keitel share a number of scenes, Charles Grodin pops up for a Midnight Run reunion, and Billy Crystal even cameos as himself. Mann says the work ethic of the veteran actors left a lasting impression on her after filming wrapped in April.
“They’re old school, and they’re passionate, and they really care, and they really give a sh—, and they really want to make something great. They’re willing to fight each other over it. I thought that was really fun to see,” she says. “Going into the movie, I thought, ‘This is going to be great. They’re a little bit older, they’re going to have short work days. I’ll have eight-hour days, we’ll be out by 5.’ And it was the exact opposite. They work 17-hour days and then they want to get together after work and rehearse more and hash it out some more.”
The Comedian is out in wide release next year.