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Interview with Kevin James, Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb, stars, producer Todd Garner, and director Frank Coraci of ZOOKEEPER

Columbia Pictures releases Zookeeper nationwide on July 8th, 2011

NYC MOVIE GURU: What appealed to you about starring in the film, Kevin?

Kevin James: Todd Garner came to me with the idea and I was immediately not into doing an animal movie. It just felt kind of goofy to me to do it, and then as I started thinking about it more. If we got a great story that you didnít need animals and these animals are just like buddies that you put in later and add to the film. I started getting more and more interested in it. I wanted them to be like just your buddies butt they just happened to be bears and lions and like that. So I went a little too far. I wanted flies on them. I wanted them all really dirty looking and mangy, but they steered me away from that. That was basically it, thatís what we wanted to do. We wanted it to be a funny, funny movie for everybody, honestly, where you can feel comfortable bringing your kids. Iíve gone to movies with my kids and Iím just bored out of my skull sometimes because thereís just no comedy or anything for adults, so I wanted something where it just had comedy for everybody. There are parts of this movie where there are no animals, obviously, where we go out and weíre in the real world and itís moving fast, and thatís when I started getting really excited about it. And the silk dancing thing was another idea of Toddís. Weíve done a lot of physical stuff in our movies and are always looking for opportunity. We went to this wedding and were thinking what can we do that hasnít been done or feels unique?

NYC MOVIE GURU: What was it like to do all the physical comedy that your role required?

KJ: Iíve always loved physical comedy and putting something physical in all movies that I do. I love Jackie Gleeson---anybody who was kind of big and can move I like a lot. But these guys were great with the physical comedy as well, and I was surprised and a little pissed off, Iíve got to be honest. When you bring in such great actresses, you know youíre getting that, but when theyíre funnier than you that annoys you a little.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What was it like filming the sheet-dancing scene in particular?

KJ: We have dancing in there, but it was going to be originally me and my rival in a sock hop or something and I was like, ďWhat are you kidding me? Like the Fonz?Ē

Todd Garner: So we sat in the hotel room and just beat around ideas, and everything I pitched was just tackier and tackier. ďIt worked in ĎItís a Wonderful Life.í We could do something like that,Ē and heís just go, ďYouíre so tacky.Ē And then finally I had seen, itís going to sound terrible, but at a Paula Abdul concert like 20 years ago she did this.

KJ: Sure, it was 20 years ago.

TG: Alright it was four years ago.

KJ: Todd camps out outside her house.

TG: She did this thing with the aerial straps, and I was talking about it and then we went online.

KJ: We just started laughing. We saw them in Cirque du Soleil, and it would just be ridiculous if they were just hanging there. It was really romantic too, so it was a thing that starts off sweet. Any time I do that sweet stuff I always feel uncomfortable in the moment so I have to make it ridiculous afterwards. We then make it spin out of control and get a little nutty with it. But it was a fun, unique way to show us connecting, show Leslie noticing that you know what, maybe I donít need her at this moment and Iím having fun without her. So it was pretty cool.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What was that scene like for you, Rosario?

Rosario Dawson: I was so glad to make it as ridiculous as possible, because Leslie and Joe were working on this dance and we would go to rehearsals and watch them do this dance, and it was just getting better and better and better. They were doing their rehearsal, all of a sudden it would just be thereís flying, there are all these incredibly structured moves, like really powerful stuff, and then we were like okay what are we doing? The better and better they got the more and more we were like well we could also do this thing where I could spin you around and you could fall over this way. It just made us go the exact opposite way. Thereís one thatís my favorite where youíre like, ďGet on my back!Ē and I try to throw up and itís just like hulky, and awkward, and just awful. It was just wonderful, and to have an opportunity to do that type of physical comedy in this and just be as ridiculous as possible in a great dress and high heels and just go forget it was just amazing. And I didnít cut you. I was very proud of that.

Leslie Bibb: Itís an important scene because I donít know if it was ever as obvious in the script of this moment where you see these two people, the right person for you, and you notice each other.

KJ: Yes, thatís the moment where you say, ďThey belong together.Ē

Franc Coraci: Itís the first moment you genuinely have fun together.

KJ: What was so great was how willing they were to just go for things. Both ladies were just incredible with the comedy, and you work your ass off with Joe on that dance, which it worked out great. It was amazing how hard they worked. They worked for a long time on it.

TG: And we would say to Leslie, ďThe double can do it.Ē

LB: But I said, ďNo.Ē

TG: The double stood there on the sidelines.

KJ: On the other side with us getting physical we were just pushing those silks all around. Remember the one where you did a double flip and came back through? Itís in the movie.

RD: I loved that. That was awesome.

KJ: That one worked well.

RD: My favorite thatís in there is just the fact that when I put it up over your arms and I pull it up over your shoulder, which every single time for people who have seen the clips in different shows they all laugh at that bit and I was like ďI did that.Ē I remember I discovered that because I had to spin you right afterwards and we were like ďOh, we could do it like this.Ē It was just very satisfying, that whole sequence.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What was it like being in a comedy for a change, Rosario?

RD: Itís so funny because there have been just a tiny few that Iíve done. Men in Black 2 obviously was a very, very long time ago, and Clerks 2 is obviously very genre specific, so to do something like this was just really exciting and challenging and scary and fun all the way through. I learned things like when you work on a set with a bunch of comedians that theyíre going to come in prepared with 25 jokes per line. Which I didnít know that first day going in, so Iím just saying my one joke over and over and over again trying to sell it really hard. By the end of it everyoneís just like eh. And then theyíve got another joke thatís making you, as Leslie said, pee your pants or like snot come out of your nose. So I remember having to think about that and going I donít know that Iím a funny person but I have to really try.

KJ: Then you jumped in. Remember you started jumping in?

RD: Yeah, man, I was testing out jokes, and then it was like that thick skin that you have to build up where people are like meh. And youíre like ďBut I thought that one was funny,Ē and theyíre like ďMeh.Ē Then you push something else and people will be busting. It was so fun. It was just such a different process than anything Iíve ever worked on before. Improv on a comedy means something completely different than improv anywhere else, and itís so amazing to be this many years into my career and feeling like it was a completely fresh and new experience. Itís just so exciting.

LB: I want to say something about improv too, is that I think sometimes I think itís a testament to you, Kevin, and Iím not blowing smoke up your tuchus, you really nurtured us to really be so funny. Sometimes girls in comedies donít get to be funny, and all three of these guys were like, ďNo, go, go, go for it.Ē Itís really nice and kind and shows in the movie. It was a really wonderful set.

KJ: The key to it is just making everyone feel comfortable. And by the way, if the camera guy comes up with the best joke itís in the movie, thatís the way we are. Everybody was pitching in and felt comfortable doing it.

TG: Itís hard to shoot a comedy because youíre there for 15 or 16 hours and it has to be funny, and around the 11th hour nothing is funny anymore. So you always try to keep the energy going and try to come up with new ways to make things funny, otherwise itís just a long day.

KJ: Itís not even like when I did the TV show where you get that immediate reaction, you know if something works or it doesnít work right away, you can change it. You donít know on a film set because they canít laugh. You just start doubting yourself.

RD: Oh my god, insecurity up the wazoo.

LB: Iím sorry no, I feel like if I was in a scene with you and you laughed and something I did I was like, ďYes!Ē If I can make you laugh or one of these guys walk up and they high five you. Thereís nothing worse when you walk off and nobody high fives you. Youíre like okay, weíre moving on. Itís nice. You do get a sense. Youíre my audience.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Why did you choose to shoot at the Franklin Park Zoo?

FC: We love shooting in Boston and it really had the essence of Boston and was a gorgeous zoo. And we actually were helping the zoo, we felt good, because it was nice that going there and money we spent there went towards the zoo, so it felt good. It was nice visiting. We spent a lot of time behind the scenes with real zookeepers and realizing how itís such a thankless job. They work really hard for not a lot of money and they just love the animals, so we actually visited them, saw that, and I thought whatever we can do to help these people out. It just felt very traditional Boston, the architecture that was already there. Obviously we built a lot of those enclosures. We had fun building the dream zoo in their zoo, and it felt right. And my name is Frank.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What does a zookeeper and the film itself teach us about love?

RD: Itís so beautiful that the different animals that we were working with we would talk about what their different behaviors were like, and like eagles would mate for life and always come back to the same nest. Youíd learn all these different things and so all the different animals would give you different advice based off of the type of personalities that they were and the types of animals that they were. I think there was a really interesting discovery of just going weíre just animals like them, because a lot of the advice that they would give us is in keeping with what we would do. But then on top of that itís just recognizing the animal that you are and going okay, I donít need to try to be an eagle or try to be any of these different things. Let me just be the person that I am, and I am going to be someone whoís going to stink like a zoo all day, I love working with animals, itís a pretty thankless job and I smell like animal all day long, so Iím going to be with this woman who also represents that and not have to change that about myself because itís actually what I love. Go and follow your heart--thatís what the message is. Itís beautiful, you have to discover that, and itís fun to discover it with all these crazy little weird animals.

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