How Martin Lawrence Opting Out Of ‘New Jack City’ Made Chris Rock A Star

Life Writer
03.08.16 5 Comments


Today marks the 25th anniversary of when Gee Money asked Nino Brown if he was his brother’s keeper before getting his head blown off. That’s not a spoiler, is it? By now, everyone has seen the classic film New Jack City. And as watchers, you know Chris Rock portrayed Pookie. But there’s an alternate universe where Martin Lawrence plays the role of your favorite neighborhood crackhead.

A new interview with the film’s writer reveals how both Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence auditioned for the role of Pookie and how Chris ultimately ended up getting the job despite bombing his audition.

Screenwriter Barry Michael Cooper says Lawrence “destroyed” his audition and brought the New Jack City script to life. “Martin Lawrence, he came in and killed that audition. The person taping had to shut the camera off; everybody was on the floor [laughing].”

Chris Rock, however? Apparently, his audition was so terrible that Cooper says the actor had several “let me try this again” moments. “You could see the look on his face of ‘Man, I screwed this up.'” Even so, Rock “won” the role after Lawrence’s mentor, Robin Harris, of Bebe’s Kids and House Party fame, suffered a heart attack and died in his sleep in 1990. “Martin, he didn’t take it well,” Cooper recalls. “So he opted out of the movie. He stepped out of the movie, and that’s when they gave the role to Chris Rock.”

Judging from the SNL alum’s incredible performance, it’s hard to imagine how horrible his audition was. It was also surprising to Cooper, who says Rock came in on the first day of filming and completely nailed it so well that his “It keep callin’ me” performance left the cast and crew wrought with emotions.

“That guy became iconic. Once we got to the scene where him and Ice-T’s [character “Scotty Appleton”] is on the staircase, when he’s trying to take the turkey back from the crackhead girl, he’s looking up to the sky. He says, ‘You know what? It keep callin’ me, it keep callin’ me, it keep callin’ me! I want to get away from it!’… Mario Van Peebles, we used to [review the] dailies at Magno Screening Room. I remember when the lights went up, people were cryin’, man. They were cryin‘ and applauding his performance. So what he became…he doubled down, man. He took it somewhere else.”

Knowing that Lawrence was this close to playing Pookie makes that iconic New Jack City scene from Martin even that much more awesome.

Also an interesting tidbit is the alternate universe that has Martin Lawrence playing Pookie has Vivica A. Fox playing Keisha. Cooper revealed that Fox slam dunked her audition but just didn’t get the role. “Vivica Fox, man, actually…she auditioned for both Celina and Keisha. She killed it! It was just that she was on her soap opera at the time, called Generations. She wasn’t really that known. I told [New Jack City producer] George Jackson, ‘This woman is incredible!’ She had the New York accent and everything; she just didn’t get [the parts].”

Hopefully, the audition tapes make their way online.

(Via Ambrosia For Heads)

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