He’s taking us down to China Town again (and not for the food)…
Did you think back in 2000 when you first signed on to play ex-CIA agent Jack Byrnes in Meet The Parents that there would be two sequels?
Not really, but then I’m not surprised either. I think everyone can relate to the story and people, to the Focker and Byrnes families. You know, the dynamic between the two.
In the first two films Jack is at war with his son-in-law, Greg Focker (Ben Stiller). However, in Little Fockers Jack is a little nicer toward Greg.
Jack does come around a bit. They have their ups and downs.
That breaks down a little in the ‘Godfocker’ scene…
Yeah. Jack and Greg have been getting along and Jack wants to bestow upon him the role of Godfocker. But, then Jack gets disappointed when he sees Greg may be tempted by certain things. There’s a setback in the relationship.
You end up having a huge, physical fight in this film. Was that like winding the clock back to your Raging Bull days?
[Laughs] It was good. It made me feel alive.
Did you accidentally hit each other in the face with a punch?
Yeah, I hit him but he punched me in the face a couple of times.
Really? It does sound like Raging Bull.
People often talk about you doing comedy in the Focker movies but do most of your films have an element of humour in them?
I’d agree with that. Even Taxi Driver had some humour in it. I guess the first big comedy I did was Analyze This with Billy Crystal.
You have worked with Hollywood’s best directors – Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, the list goes on. What separates a good director from a not so good director?
I think any good director has to give everybody – not just the actors, but director of photography and other departments – freedom to try and explore and feel comfortable in making choices. The director will then guide those choices by saying ‘OK, let’s bring that in’. It’s important to make people feel like they are a part of a collaborative thing.
Is it true you will be teaming up with Scorsese again for a new film?
Yeah. We are going to do a movie called The Irishman. It’s based on a book called I Heard You Paint Houses. Marty will be directing and it will have me, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci.
You’ve also dabbled with directing. Does your approach to working on a movie differ whether you are acting or directing?
With directing you are always inundated with people coming and asking you questions. It’s almost becomes like a reflex. You have to say: ‘Do this’ or ‘Do that’. You have to think fast especially when you are shooting. That’s my experience. There’s all these moving parts.
You’re 67-years-old but in great shape. What’s your secret?
I work out. I try and stay in shape. I would never dare do anything like a facelift.