The day I messed it up with the Zohan
Rob Schneider's film roles may not be quite as far removed from his real character as cinemagoers might think, writes Evan Fanning
IT'S only when Rob Schneider gets slightly angry that you begin to see some of the recognisable traits of the comedic actor who is best known for appearing in the films of his best-friend, Adam Sandler.
Until he got irritated, the articulate, engaging, humorous and extremely intelligent Schneider is as is far removed from the idiotic characters he tends to play as it is possible to get.
Now that I seemed to have got him slighty miffed there are elements of the characters he plays on display, namely the biting insults.
The reason for his ire is that I've just brought up the full-page ad Schneider took out in Variety magazine in July 2006 after Mel Gibson's arrest for drink-driving and anti-Semitic remarks made to the arresting police officers.
"Did you read the whole thing?" Schneider asks, referring to the ad which was an open letter to the Hollywood community where Schneider pledged, as "1/2 a Jew" never to work with Gibson "even if Mr Gibson offered me a lead role in Passion of the Christ 2".
I reply that I never saw the actual ad, but have read its contents in various articles. "You know, you're the third journalist to ask me about it today -- and no one's read it," he laments. "It's only one page, and it's in large print.
"It made me realise that journalists are f**king lazy. They don't do their work. I'm sorry to say you're one of them because you didn't read it. They didn't realise that there was some humour in it and some satire in attacking him and show business at the same time.
"It was a comedic, satirical view of how I saw the situation with Mel Gibson, and also the hypocrisy of show business when they're all standing in line to say what a bad person he is when they're all a bunch of hypocritical assholes.
"We had a moment where the southern hemisphere was focusing on food and free-trade agreements that starve their economies, while the northern hemisphere was focusing on Mel Gibson for being a drunken ant-Semite.
"So it was interesting that this was a time to see something comedically and also to say something. So as an artist I did. Unfortunately, no journalist read it."
Even while he's having his rant, it's hard to tell whether Schneider is angry. I'm pretty sure he's not. He's unfailingly accommodating (at the end of the interview he apologies for talking too much) and is honest to a point where it may not actually be of benefit to him. The overriding impression, however, is of someone who has had so much shit thrown at them that they no longer care about what impression they're making. Certainly, the 44-year-old Schneider has taken more than his fare share of flak, and a large amount of it nasty. Much of the seemingly brain-dead comedy he peddles leaves himself open for abuse, but he is far, far from the biggest criminal in cinema.
Among critics his name has become a byword for terrible. The legendary film critic, Roger Ebert, entitled his 2007 collection of movie reviews Your Movie Sucks, in reference to his review of Schneider in Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo. This feud had begun when Schneider responded to a review of the movie in the Los Angeles Times with yet another ad. The review had said that Schneider was overlooked for an Academy Award because "nobody had the foresight to invent a category for Best Running Penis Joke Delivered by a Third-Rate Comic". Schneider's ad said that the journalist in question had never won a Pulitzer Prize because "they haven't invented a category for Best Third-Rate, Unfunny, Pompous Reporter who has Never Been Acknowledged by his Peers."
Ebert then got involved saying that -- as a Pulitzer Prize winner himself -- he was entitled to comment and, speaking in his professional capacity, said, "your movie sucks". The two made up when Ebert was in hospital and received flowers from "your least favourite actor, Rob Schneider". Of his penchant for taking out ads, Schneider says somewhat tongue-in-cheek, "I don't have a newspaper. I don't have a television station. All I have is the ability to spend my show business millions of dollars to buy expensive space in newspapers and periodicals.
"I look at it almost as a form of entertainment in the sense that you have to be a multi-media artist. If I feel attacked well why can't I attack back? Why do I just have to sit and take it?
"I think it's a mistake -- but you have to be fearless. I certainly don't care what critics think of me, but there are times where I think it's necessary to respond. I don't recommend it to other actors, but I don't give a crap." Schneider may well escape the critics' wrath this time as the film he is starring in, You Don't Mess with the Zohan, is arguably his and Sandler's best outing. Schneider plays a Palestinian taxi-driver called Salim, a sort-of Jihadist Travis Bickle, who wishes to take-out former top Israeli agent Zohan (Sandler) who is working as a hairdresser in New York. In their own, inimitable style the film takes on the Israel-Palestine conflict.
"We're equal opportunity offenders," says Schneider. "But it's potentially a touchy subject. A cartoon in Denmark got people killed, so you have to be aware that there are some sensitivities." Schneider feels that his character, who attempts to be a telephone salesman while driving his taxi, has some resemblance to him.
"Whether it's cosmic or not, whatever is happening in my life seems to be the next role I get. There are certain career frustrations I've had, and then I get a role playing a taxi driver who's frustrated with his job. I've felt my career's been in the toilet the last couple of years. It's a struggle to get anything made. I've just made my funniest film (Big Stan, his directorial debut) and it's going straight to DVD here. I wanted to hang myself.
"If they can destroy Orson Welles, then certainly they can crush Rob Schneider. I'm just fortunate enough that my best-friend is the biggest movie star in the world."
In some senses, Schneider looks quite easy to piece together. A comedic actor who has repeatedly had his work torn to shreds in often vicious and nasty ways, turns to Buddhism in an effort to try and let the criticism wash over him. In reality, it's probably nowhere near as straightforward as that.
"As a Buddhist you have to find different ways of interpreting events in your life," says Schneider. "For everything that happens you have to find a healthier way that's progressive. You think, 'What am I supposed to learn? What it really gave me is that I have no need to please the critics. I'm free. I can just do what pleases me and what pleases the audience. So in its essence they [the critics] have given me a great gift. They have let me go."
Alongside Sandler, Schneider made his name on Saturday Night Live. The workload, and the lifestyle took its toll and he left before it killed him, he says.
"I couldn't do it any more. It just took too much out of me." They graduated to movies and Sandler became, in Schneider's words "the highest-paid actor in the world" with his friend as his faithful sidekick. In his personal life he is currently "between divorces" he claims.
"In eight months I haven't talked to my ex-wife. We were dating for two years after we were divorced. I didn't want to get a divorce. I was happily married, she just wasn't happy. It was f**king crushing. The one time in my life I was ready to be in a stable relationship I was with somebody unstable. It's just karma."
He does have a 19-year-old daughter; a singer who will soon be starting university.
"It's revenge," he jokes. "My God she's difficult. It's the best thing to ever happen to me; I love her to death, but she's a woman and it's like 'My God'.
"At the moment she's being rewarded for going to university and not following her father's footsteps. She's in Hawaii with her friend. I don't want to know about anything that's happening. I'm going to stay in lovely denial."
One thing that Schneider can't seem to remain in denial about is the criticism he receives. It's the abiding theme of a most pleasant time spent in his company. "In any art form there is going to a pack mentality," he says, "and the pack mentality is 'Rob Schneider is no good'.
"Comedy is a particularly arrogant art form. You are saying, "I'm going to make you laugh." If you ask anyone if they have a good sense of humour then of course they're going to say Yes.
"So if you don't laugh at something, it's a reflection of you. If you don't find it funny and other people do, then you have to attack it to defend yourself. So in that sense, I forgive the critics." Unfortunately, being possibly the nicest man in the movie industry isn't enough to save Rob Schneider from the critics.
'You Don't Mess with the Zohan' is showing nationwide