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ZOOKEEPER

Casting The Film
At the center of Zookeeper is Kevin James. "As we were writing the screenplay, we started working with how funny the animals could be, and that was exciting. But it also felt like it was a really rich story – of course, there's a lot with the animals, but because of the Cyrano story, there's also a story outside of the animals that blends in very nicely. All together, I thought these elements added a different feel to the movie.”

In the film, Griffin's best friend ends up being Bernie, the gorilla who has been isolated and sidelined due to the mistaken perception that he is dangerous. "This is my first buddy comedy in which my buddy outweighs me, so that makes me feel very happy,” he says. "I can throw them all the same stuff I've been receiving over the years: ‘I wouldn't be hitting craft services now if I were you.' It's nice to turn the tables.”

It can be a challenge, acting opposite an animatronic gorilla, James says. "At times, he can't see and he runs square into a wall,” he laughs. "It's all part of the game.”

"Every day on this movie was the best day,” says James. "I got to work with a great cast – everyone was so funny and really raised my game. And even after we were done shooting, it's great to go into the editing room and see things come together, see the animals actually start to talk, and develop those relationships.”

Rosario Dawson plays the role of Kate, "a guest veterinarian. She's coming to the zoo to put up an eagle enclosure and along the way she's befriended Griffin. That friendship ends up becoming an alliance in trying to help him get the girl of his dreams.”

"I really loved working with Sydney the eagle; she's such a beautiful creature,” says Dawson. "She's a wedge-tailed eagle – she's very in love with her trainer, Tony. She's okay with other females around her, but she hates it when any other male is around her. Working with her, I could imagine why Kate loves what she does so much, and why Griffin and Kate would bond – they're clearly such animal lovers. The key ingredient to their chemistry is how much they love their jobs.”

Dawson has taken a series of smaller, independent, and dramatic roles recently – meaning that Zookeeper marks a bit of a change-up. "I've been acting for 15 years and I've never done a lot of comedy. I like that you can be doing something for 15 years and still be learning and growing,” she says. "On a comedy like this one, you never just have your lines – you have your second take jokes, third take jokes, fourth take jokes, all to give the director more options in the editing room. I've never been a part of that before, and it turns out there's a whole rhythm to it. You've got to keep up or you can be caught off-guard. I was really grateful to Kevin – he was game for helping me along the way. It was a great change of pace to do a silly, loose comedy. Frank was a great guide, too – any time I went too deep with my character, he'd say, ‘Remember, it's funny.'”

"Rosario was just amazing,” comments Coraci. "She's just so loveable and intelligent and she comes across great. She and Kevin together were really fun – they have great chemistry together. Most of her recent roles haven't shown off her comedy skills, but she's great – she's very, very funny. She's an amazing dramatic actress who brings so much of the heart to the movie, but she's also hilarious.”

Leslie Bibb says of her character, "Stephanie works at Saks, she's all about fashion and status. So she's trying to make Griffin into something other than what he is – she thinks it'll make her feel better and she can live out the fantasy she has of what she wants with her life.”

Bibb trained for two months to learn the Paso Doble for a scene. "That's really me – I didn't use my dance double,” she laughs. "My feet will never look the same ever again from learning how to dance. I don't know how those people go on ‘Dancing with the Stars.' Learning that dance was incredibly, incredibly hard but it was really fun to learn it.”

Though Bibb only has a few scenes with the animals, she couldn't resist a visit to the on-set menagerie. "It was like Noah's Ark opening up,” she says. "They come out and you can pet them and you can feed them bananas. Rosie, the elephant, is a really sweet girl – so beautiful, so big, and so smart. I think Crystal, the monkey, is going to steal the whole movie. She's incredible. She'll smack you on the head. She'll sit on your shoulder. But the bears are amazing, too. And all the people, the trainers are really lovely, incredible people.”

Bibb also relished the chance to work alongside Kevin James. "We'd be rehearsing and he'd offer little suggestions – I'd be taking notes, thinking, ‘Remember this, remember this, remember this. I'm going to steal everything you're doing right now,'” she kids. "Kevin has this great everyman quality about him. I know I sound like a cornball, but I really do think there's something really magical about Kevin James. He's so funny and he's so likeable you just root for his characters.”

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