This, of course, explains why O’Connell had such a blast making his new comedy with Anthony Anderson (“Barbershop,” “Me, Myself and Irene”), Christopher Walken (“Catch Me If You Can”), and Estella Warren (“Planet of the Apes”).
“Kangaroo Jack,” which recently debuted at No. 1 at the box office, is the story of best friends (Anderson and O’Connell) forced by a mobster (Walken) to deliver $50,000 to an associate in the Australian Outback.
Although visiting the land Down Under was a dream come true for O’Connell, the self-proclaimed city boy did face some difficulties when it came to dealing with his non-human co-stars, especially kangaroos (“they kick like Jet Li”), camels (“you would think their diet consisted strictly of Taco Bell”), and really big, hairy spiders (“those things have got to be deadly poisonous”).
“I am from Manhattan, here in New York, so my experience with animals prior to this film were pretty much what I learned in the two trips I took to the Bronx Zoo in grammar school and maybe a few rodents in my apartment,” O’Connell, an NYU Film School graduate, said recently. “So, when Anthony and I got off our planes in Sydney and we were immediately sent to Kangaroo Temperament School and Camel Jockey School, it was a bit of a cultural change for us. Being thrown into a pen with four kangaroos, that was scary, and having to deal with the smell of camels . . . “
The noxious odor the camels emitted and the noise that accompanied it did, however, provide a constant source of humor and was even incorporated into the film.
“We have a scene that rivals the ‘Blazing Saddles’ [gas-passing] scene,” O’Connell said proudly. “We’d be in the middle of a dramatic scene and I’d be like, ‘Anthony, we have to get the kangaroo with the money’ and then you’d hear a tooting noise and it’s like: ‘Wow. Wow! You have to stay off the Taco Bell.’ “
Although those seeking sophisticated comedy might want to cruise past this one at the multiplex, O’Connell insists the film offers something for everyone.
“While this is a kids movie and it is a lot of fun for them and they enjoy it, I truly believe it’s very tolerable for adults as well,” he said. “I think that
this is going to be one of those good films where, much along the lines of ‘Toy Story,’ people are going to take their kids, the kids are going to be entertained, but the parents will also say it was a good time. We’re ‘The Simpsons’ of the movie world.”
O’Connell is quick to say that working with Anthony Anderson was the highlight of making “Kangaroo Jack.”
“The guy is just very funny,” he said. “He taught me a new style of film acting, sort of off-the-cuff and riffing it, stuff you see in ‘Exit Wounds.’ A lot of stuff you see in this movie is ad-libbed. I was used to reading a script, memorizing those lines, doing them the best I can, but there is a whole new facet of acting and that is bringing your personality onto the screen. Not only did I enjoy my time with Anthony, but I learned a whole lot.”
O’Connell said he an Anderson spent considerable time teasing thir colleagues — even Walken and, perhaps more bravely, the film’s writer/producer, Stephen Bing. Bing recently made headlines when he disputed model/actress Elizabeth Hurley’s claims he fathered her 9-month-old son, Damian, soon after her split with longtime beau, the actor Hugh Grant.
“Stephen Bing is the richest man in the world who can’t afford a condom,” said, laughing and prompting a publicist in the room to clear her throat in warning. But O’Connell was on a roll. “Every time Anthony and I see him now, we’re like, ‘The kid is not my son,’ ” he said, singing the line from Michael Jackson’s ode to paternity denials, “Billie Jean.” Although Hurley and Bing reportedly are not on speaking terms, DNA tests have proved the billionaire real-estate tycoon is indeed the infant’s father.
“You’ve got to tease people,” O’Connell said.
The jokers also made sport of Walken, an offbeat actor known for his distinctive, halting manner of speech and a talent for playing deranged, violent characters.
After Anderson noted how the “Deer Hunter” star would pass gas into a micro-cassette recorder, then play it back during his and O’Connell’s scenes, O’Connell states Walken is a “freaky individual.”
“It took Chris a couple of days to get to know us; it took him about a week to get comfortable around Anthony and I,” O’Connell said. “I’m sure you [reporters] are much more polite around Christopher Walken: like, ‘Hello, Mr. Walken. How are you?’ and he butters up a little bit. Anthony and I were just like, ‘Yo, man.’ Anthony would walk in a room and say: ‘Christopher Walken! You are one freaky cat. Damn, you are scary! You give me the chills just looking at you.’ But toward the end, he started having fun.”
We can tease him because I know for a fact, he’s telling people (O’Connell assumes a pitch-perfect Walken imitation, ‘Those two guys on that movie, they were funny. I had a good time with them. They cracked me up. I felt very comfortable around them.’ Because we don’t give a crap who you are.”
Perhaps best known for his portrayal of chubby pre-teen Vern in Rob Reiner’s coming-of-age classic, “Stand By Me,” and his four-year stint as Quinn on the hit sci-fi series “Sliders,” the boyishly handsome O’Connell has most recently starred in a series of over-the-top comedies such as “The New Guy,” “Tomcats” and “Body Shots,” and the horror flick “Scream 2.” He can currently be seen on the popular NBC drama “Crossing Jordan.”