January 18, 2010

Kajol took my breath away: Duncan

While shooting for My Name Is Khan, Christopher B. Duncan was told that Forest Whitaker was the first choice to play President Barack Obama. The actor talks to CT about what it takes to play the President in satires and serious films.

How did you first come up with the idea of wanting to parody Barack Obama, Will Smith and others?
I’ve always had this fascination with human behavior. Mannerisms, vocal inflections and movement, speak volumes about any given individual. I believe the body never lies. The Barack Obama parody came about as a reaction to Hillary Clinton’s repeated assertion that Senator Barack Obama was only good at making speeches. I was quite offended by that kind of dismissive rhetoric, so I went about writing a skit that was, in essence, a playful yet biting response to her constant attacks on Barack. The game of politics is brutal, but her attitude toward Barack seemed very personal to me. That’s how that particular writing in the skit came about. The other parts of the skit (Donald Duck, Louis Farrakhan etc), were incorporated into the writing because I was being considered for Saturday Night Live at the time and they wanted to see the Barack impersonation, along with some other impersonations and general comedy as well.

Parodying the President is not an easy job. What’s the pitfall of this kind of freedom of expression that you actors enjoy in the States?
The biggest pitfall is the unfortunate assumption that just because you’re making a parody, then that must mean you don’t like that individual. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I voted for President Obama, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. I don’t agree with all of his decisions but I do believe that we have a thoughtful, incredibly bright leader who transcends race and politics. The ability to reach people irrespective of their race, gender or religious beliefs, is extraordinary! In terms of the parodies, I do think it’s important to take one’s work seriously, but not one’s self. We definitely take ourselves way too seriously!

Despite several competitors vying to be a faux-Obama, Vice President Joe Biden has supposedly described your Obama act as ‘outstanding’ when he came for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. What’s the most difficult part of parodying Obama?
n The most difficult part is to find something inherently funny about him. He’s dignified, charming and powerful. He doesn’t mangle the English language like George Bush, or walk in such a funny way, like Bush. There’s definitely comedy in his ears though... as well as in his rather eccentric speaking cadence, along with all of the uhhhs and aaaaaaaaaaands.

Has Hollywood tried to typecast you?
Fortunately, I haven’t been typecast at all. The biggest thing that I’m known for in my work as an actor is my range. I’ve done comedy, drama, name it! I’ve been able to go from The Jamie Foxx Show (comedy), to Soul Food (drama), The District (drama), Veronica Mars (drama) and Aliens In America (comedy)...and many others. I’ve played doctors, lawyers and detectives, as well as hardcore gangsters (Original Gangstas). My work as an actor was long established before I started doing any of the parodies. Consequently, producers and casting directors haven’t limited my opportunities.

How did you bag the role of MNIK?
Apparently, Karan (Johar) was familiar with my work on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, as well as some of my dramatic work in film and television. On the sets, I had heard that Forest Whitaker had expressed a desire to do this role. But the schedule of another film where he was playing the lead had spilled over and that’s when Karan went back to casting me. I auditioned for the role and fortunately, was cast two months later.

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Thanks to reelillusionist on Khitpit for this.


Pardesi said...

Thanks for posting. I believe the parts that have "Obama" are shot in Sacramento at the Capitol building. Maybe there are more pieces. The guy presents a perspective on profiling from the black man's point of view that is hard to ignore.

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