FAST APPROACHING 40 but not yet a household name, Denis Leary has had a fuckin' busy year. This abrasive comedian first made his mark with in-your-face spots on MTV and comedy specials on HBO. Yet a Leary of a different wit recently came to town to promote his upcoming film with Christopher Walken, The Suicide Kings, an unusual exposé of Mafia-man psychosis in which Leary plays the Walken character's right-hand thug.
Combine this with Leary's roles in last year's Wag the Dog and The Matchmaker (with Janeane Garofalo), his CD recording of the HBO special Lock and Load, and his newly formed production company--whose first film, Snitch, was a recent hit at Sundance--and you'd assume that the guy is geared for an egobloat to rival Fiona Apple's.
And you'd be wrong. When we caught up with Leary last week, we found an actor who seemed humbled by the opportunities thrown his way.
CITY PAGES: Was it the Usual Suspects-style plot twists that attracted you to Suicide Kings?
DENIS LEARY: The real reason was that I wanted to work with Chris [Walken]. Fortunately, there was a lot of improv in Wag the Dog, because it was really hard to memorize the fuckin' rhythms [in Suicide Kings] and which speeches I had to do next. "Is that the speech about the guy and the girl and the daughter?" "No, no, no, that's the toaster scene."
CP: The "toaster scene" is when your character, Lono Vecchio, rescues a waitress from an abusive old creep.
DL: I had never hit anybody with a toaster before. It feels kind of awkward to hold, but ultimately it's a funny thing to hit someone with. It was actually pretty hard to wield the toaster and throw punches with it. That actor played a pretty good scumbag.
CP: As far as the women characters, there's a prostitute, a waitress who gets beat up, and a beautiful blond woman who's to blame for everything. How do you feel about that?
DL: These are probably the kind of women that Chris's character and my character would be dealing with. They're guys' guys. It's the same with Snitch, which is based on my old neighborhood. One of the female characters is a working-class Irish girl who's based on a couple of my old girlfriends. We got a great review of Snitch in Variety, but the guy criticized us for portraying her as a drunk and a cokehead. You know what? That's what she was. Perhaps the reviewer just happened to see too many movies in a row with female characters of that ilk. That's not my responsibility. If I knew the critic, I would've said, "Yeah, she was a cokehead but my character was a loser cokehead."
CP: That method of capturing real people certainly came through in Lock and Load, especially with Janeane Garofalo's "eating disorder" parody of Fiona Apple's speech on MTV.
DL: I think we were shocked by how true that sketch was. Janeane thought Fiona might have had an eating disorder, but she didn't think Fiona was going through it now. But then Fiona basically admitted that she still had an eating disorder. I'm not proud that I made Fiona Apple cry, but I'm glad that we did it, because I know 14-year-old girls who are in love with Fiona Apple, and if they get the idea that they're supposed to look this way...I mean, that can be fucked up.
The Suicide Kings starts Friday, April 17 at area theaters.
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