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Why the drama? Dane Cook’s a changeup comedian

By Anthony Savvides
Globe Correspondent / December 4, 2011
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Arlington native Dane Cook’s latest movie, “Answers to Nothing,’’ opened on Friday, marking the latest dramatic turn for the comic-turned-actor. He’s had other serious roles (see 2007’s “Mr. Brooks’’) but in the new ensemble film directed by Matthew Leutwyler, Cook carries leading-man responsibilities within a collection of Los Angeles-based stories that intersect along the lines of “Crash.’’ In “Answers to Nothing,’’ Cook plays a cheating husband and therapist whose wife is involved in a missing child case. We spoke with him last week by phone.

Q. Why the transition from comedy to drama?

A. I think that it’s been a culmination of things. At the forefront, really wanting to challenge myself and to explore several components of my creativity. I’ve done that successfully with stand-up comedy for many years - it felt right to start building something new or breaking off and going in a new direction with that same energy, and it certainly invigorates me to create something new. . . . Part of that was seeing Sandra Bullock [at] an awards ceremony, and she talked about not feeling content with some of the roles that she’d chosen. And this was before “The Blind Side.’’ And having seen her in things like “Crash’’ and “Blind Side,’’ it resonated with me. I’d like to follow that instinct.

Q. What drew you to your first dramatic role in “Mr. Brooks,’’ and to the character of Ryan in “Answers to Nothing’’?

A. When “Brooks’’ came along, I felt like I’d done theater, I’d done stand-up, I’d done music, varying kinds of performances, and yet I felt that I was not yet exploring the darker side in stories that were more intricate. Comedy is very intricate . . . there’s a way you have to approach it and craft it and handle it with care and you have to make it look easy and effortless. A lot of things in comedy are [thrown away, but] it takes a lot of work to throw something away in a very controlled circumstance. So I was already itching to do that on a different level. I’d heard about [“Mr. Brooks’’] and I knew Kevin Costner was a fan of mine - he’d come to the comedy show a few times to see me. One thing that I remember [about “Mr. Brooks’’] was being in one of the scenes where Kevin and myself were going to murder somebody for the first time. He’d been amping me up on this murder, and I remember we were in the car - my wannabe serial killer and his psycho sociopath killer - and I remember before the take Kevin looked at me and said, let’s just do some improv, let’s build it into the scene. And I thought, at that very moment, this is exactly what I want to do; I want to be able to play comedic beats in life and yet I want to be able to play heartfelt and dark. There we were, volleying improv, but not for comedy purposes. And it was fascinating, and I was hooked, truly hooked, that I could have a career that allowed me to dance on both sides of the street, so to speak. . . . [“Answers to Nothing’’] was a stripped down, unglamorous opportunity to tell a really fascinating story that I believe my fans will appreciate. And I hope new fans will stumble in, too.

Q. Tell me about the difference between Dane Cook onstage and in your private life.

A. There are comedians that live kind of on. The character that they share with people is like a heightened version of the person they carry around day to day. That was not me. I was always escaping into the stand-up world. I look at it as a performance, a vessel for me to share all these fascinating, imaginative, observational, albeit sometimes twisted or a little darker [stories].

Q. I know you’re working on a pilot for NBC.

A. Yep. We’re in the writing stages trying to come up with a great story line for the pilot. We have what I think is a strong concept. . . . [NBC programming chief] Bob Greenblat and company came to me and said, we’re a network that needs to rebuild its identity; we’ve had some great critical acclaim but we need to bring some heart as well as big laughs to our comedy night. I never really cracked that medium [television].

Q. How do you feel about Boston now that you haven’t lived here in a while?

A. Boston is the ex-girlfriend that you’ll always wonder, why aren’t I with her? [laughs] You know, where did that go wrong? When you see her again, [you] pick up where you left off. I would love to come back to Boston, whether it’s with my family that I have in the future, or bringing more work back to Boston and the New England area. I vacation there. I have family there. . . . Boston helped put me on the map. And when I see movies like “The Town,’’ when I see what Ben Affleck’s done, or when I see the “Good Will Huntings’’ . . . I mean, this is my roots.

Interview has been edited and condensed. Anthony Savvides can be reached at asavvides@globe.com.

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