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Filling The Pews
With over a dozen meaty roles to cast, the makers of Death at Funeral brought together a collection of top comedic talents and skilled dramatic actors to play the extended clan at the center of the story. Finding a way to make those disparate talents work together was the director's job. ”It's a challenge to make any cast work,” says LaBute. "You rarely have a lot of rehearsal time. Some of the actors came for the first time on the same day they started shooting. In this film, many of the characters are related, so you want to make it feel like they're a family, even though they've just met.”

The work ethic required to make it all come together began at the top of the food chain with producer and star Chris Rock. "Chris understands comedy,” LaBute says. "He knew how to get a funny cast together, and he trusted me enough to say I want you to do this.”

Although the director and his star had previously done a movie together, the dynamic had changed significantly for them. When LaBute and Rock first worked together ten years ago, the comedian was just starting to transition into film acting. "It was a movie that was out of Chris' sweet spot,” says LaBute. "Nurse Betty is a weird mix of comedy and extreme violence. Chris got a great primer in acting from his co-star, Morgan Freeman, who is impeccable as an actor. He's more confident now than he was then.”

Aaron, played by Rock, anchors the film. The son of the recently deceased Edward, Aaron has been given the responsibility of planning the service and writing a eulogy for his father. "It's the day of his dad's funeral and everything that can go wrong does go wrong,” says Rock. "He wakes up and it's supposed to be the worst day of his life, but it turns out to really be the worst day. In a lot of great comedies, that's a through line.”

As the eldest of two brothers, Aaron has spent his life trying to please his parents and watching his younger sibling Ryan win easy praise for his breezy charm. "I'm the quintessential oldest kid, so I share that with Aaron,” says Rock. "Younger siblings are more likely to do whatever they want to do, but the older sibling really cares about what mom and dad think. That's something that they didn't emphasize in the first film.

"We thought it would be a little more interesting if the younger brother was more successful,” he adds. "It's kind of uneasy, and Aaron's dealing with the fact that his younger brother is a very successful writer, something that Aaron has always aspired to be.”

Even though Rock's character plays straight man to the rest of the family, it was impossible for the comedian not to bring his particular brand of humor to the set. "It was great to have somebody who has a really fresh comic mind,” says LaBute. "Ask Chris to do a scene and he's going to come up with lines that aren't on the page or throw out a bit of business that surprises you. And if it makes you laugh, you have a good sense it's going to make 10 people or a thousand people laugh.”

The audience can be assured they will get the fresh and funny Chris Rock they expect, but doing something a little different. "He's really stretching himself in this role,” the director says. "It's the same for Martin Lawrence.” Lawrence, the bad-boy comic known for Bad Boys and the hit sit-com "Martin,” plays Ryan, the younger brother—successful, spoiled and totally self-absorbed. After boasting to the family that he bought two first-class tickets for the trip from New York so he would not be bothered by his legions of fans, he confides in Aaron that he's broke and can't help pay for the funeral.

"The two brothers are both writers,” says LaBute. "Aaron is more of a would-be writer. He's been working on a novel for a number of years, but hasn't been able to finish and doesn't let anybody read it. And then his brother went off and became a successful writer of potboilers with titles like Black Hurt. A

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