New York: Billy Crystal returns to the director’s chair after 20 years for “Here Today”, in which he also plays a well-known comedy writer who unexpectedly becomes friends with a street jazz singer.
Tiffany Haddish portrays performer Emma who wins a lunch with the veteran writer Charlie Burnz, despite not knowing who he is.
Despite some initial setbacks, a friendship develops and she soon takes on an important role as Burnz deals with the onset of dementia.
In a joint interview with Reuters, Crystal and Haddish spoke about the comedy-drama, released in the United States on Friday.
Below are excerpts edited for length and clarity.
Q: You have said you only choose projects that make you feel things, what did this script make you feel?
Haddish: “First of all Billy was telling me about it and I was like, ‘I’m in, it’s you, you ain’t got to sell me on this’. And then I read it and I was all the way in because my grandmother is going through that now.”
Q: How did you find the safe line in making a film about dementia funny?
Crystal: “Having dealt with a relative who was stricken with the same kind of onset that Charlie has in a movie, I just wanted to be respectful of that and respectful about those who come in contact with him. It’s a delicate line and I think to find humour in it and make it entertaining as well as emotional was the journey.”
Q: What was it like to direct again after 20 years?
Crystal: “You come to the set as a director, you have to answer every question that everybody has. So I was super prepared and super ready for anything and relished the chance to tell a story.”
Q: In one scene Emma’s ex-boyfriend meets Charlie after a performance. Did Billy allow you to improvise lots?
Haddish: “To be outside in the Meatpacking District (in New York City) and singing in front of a bunch of people and not being like goofy and silly about it was so exhilarating and fun and a little bit, I don’t want to say nervous, I was excited.
And just like ‘oh, don’t mess it up, but if you mess up, just have fun with it anyway’. And Billy let me loose and that was so great.”