Sony Pictures Classics
From left: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin and Andrew Dice Clay in Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine"
Andrew Dice Clay knows a gag line when he hears one. So when the stand-up comic's manager called to tell him that director Woody Allen wanted meet with him in regards to a role in his new film "Blue Jasmine," Clay's instincts told him to laugh it off.
“I said, 'All right, I gotta pack – I'm coming home tomorrow,'” says Clay who had just wrapped a live tour and was still in New York. “He goes, 'No, really. Woody Allen wants to meet with you tomorrow.'”
Once the reality of the request was established, Clay found himself getting excited for the encounter, “because it's not like I've been banging out film after film lately,” he says. “So yeah, just to walk in and meet him and say hello would have been great. But the fact, and he's standing there and going, 'Would you read some pages for me?' And I'm like, 'Well, that's what I'm here for, right?'"
Allen, himself a former stand-up, clearly saw something in the 55-year-old comedian’s interpretation of Augie – the one-time brother-in-law of Jasmine, the New York socialite who loses everything, as does Augie, when her financier husband is exposed as a Madoff-style scam artist. Fellow comedian Louis C.K. is also featured in the film.
Clay – who rose to both fame and infamy in the 1990s with his profane and politically incorrect nursery rhymes and one-liners and a cocky, street-machismo-fueled persona – suddenly found himself among a cast of A-list acting luminaries including leading lady Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins and Peter Skarsgaard
Hollywood had already attempted to turn Clay into a movie star during his early ‘90s heyday with “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane.” The film, drawing heavily from his stand-up persona, earned critical barbs, middling financial success and a certain cult appeal. Following a backlash against his racially and sexually charged comedy that stalled his ascending career, Clay tried softening his image – even dropping the “Dice” from his name – and turned to TV acting in the poorly rated sitcom “Bless This House” (1995).
But when he re-embraced his Diceman side, he saw renewed success on the stand-up stage and demonstrated screen appeal playing both himself on NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice” (2009) and a variation thereof on HBO’s “Entourage” (2011).
In “Blue Jasmine,” Clay appreciated upending expectations of his character, much as he has in his public life. “I really loved Woody's writing because he sort of sets my character up as a really bad guy,” he says. “Like you hear a line come out like, 'I heard he used to hit his wife' – which I didn't even know because I didn't see the script other than my lines – and by the end of the movie you realize this is really a good guy that just got destroyed by [Jasmine] and her husband.
"So it was real interesting to play that. Even when I first met with Woody, because he just gives you a couple of little pages, I asked him, ‘Can you give me something to go on?' And he goes, 'Well, just look at it. He's a drunk. He hits his wife.' And that's not my character in the movie. But he sets it up through other characters, and then by the end you really feel for that guy because this was just a good guy in love with his wife, who was really the drunk and bouncing from guy to guy. It's just the way he sets up how to get the compassion for these different characters.”
Clay also took on the role of student among the stellar acting troupe as they constructed their roles with Allen. “It was interesting just to watch that process, even more than my own part,” he says, giving special props to Blanchett.
“She's just incredible to watch. When I do any stand-up, you're the writer, director, producer – you're alone. But when you're working with other people, now I see when they do have things like the Academy Awards that you hear other actors up there saying, 'This actor or actress was so giving.' Now I really understand what that means, because I never had that opportunity to do those things."
“I've had a few conversations with Cate and I said, 'Look, I'm a fan of what you do,'” he said. “And I told her after the New York premiere, ‘but you went to this level. You topped everything, because it is really difficult to play a complete crazy person that she turned into in this movie.' I mean, I could do it in reality, but to do it in front of a camera…?"
Clay’s performance has been critically praised as a welcome surprise in a film that’s been characterized as one of Allen’s best latter-day works. “It's really strange for me to hear any of that,” he admits with a shake of his head. “I've been saying the same thing over and over: how that this has been one of the greatest experiences of my career because acting is something I've always loved. And to get a chance to just work with these great actors and actresses and do scenes with them, it's really a dream come true.”