Maclean’s Interview: Russell Peters

Comedian Russell Peters talks to Kenneth Whyte about ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and some of the more curious Oscar performances

Maclean’s Interview: Russell Peters

Q: We’re going to talk about Oscar and the movies, so let’s start with Slumdog Millionaire. Did you see it? Did you like it?

A: I sure did. All of the above. I liked the fact that that movie could have been set anywhere and still been a fantastic film.

Q: Do you think the movie will do anything for perceptions of the subcontinent and for Indian people?

A: I mean, after such a huge sweep like that I think it will only give it some good attention that we’ve been lacking for many, many years. So I think it’s a good thing. It’s probably a double-edged sword, though. Now every product that comes out with any kind of Indian twang to it will always be compared to that.

Q: Hollywood can’t leave good enough alone so there’s bound to be sequels and knock-offs . . .

A: There’ll be Slumdog Deal or No Deal. There’ll be a Canadian version, Slumdog Definition.

Q: Now that Indians have conquered the Oscars, what’s next?

A: I think next year the Oscar’s going to be wrapped in a sari, a little turban on the Oscar guy. They’ll put a little red dot in the centre of Oscar’s forehead. Next for us is we’ll just fade back into the background. Or go backwards. Maybe we’ll get the Emmys next year, or some of the lesser awards, you know?

Q: What about Benjamin Button? Did you see that one?

A: I didn’t see it because I don’t want to see any movie where Brad Pitt just gets better looking throughout the film.

Q: Do you think Sean Penn deserved to win over Mickey Rourke for Best Supporting Actor?

A: I never saw Milk but I think Mickey really, really nailed his character in The Wrestler, and I think it was almost a bit of a snub on the part of the Academy. It feels like their decision wasn’t based on calibre of performance. I mean, I’m sure Sean Penn really murdered his role, but it’s one of those things where with all the Proposition 8 stuff happening in California, and the political climate, this is the way they thought it should go. I guess they’re not wrong in giving it to Sean Penn but I think Mickey Rourke would have been a more deserving victor.

Q: You saw him, obviously, at the Oscars. He looked like he was still in character.

A: No, he’s just slow and alcoholic-looking, that’s all. It’s Mickey—the hands are all dirty and puffy and slow. I mean, those look like little Vienna sausages on his hands . . .

Q: You saw he was wearing that little medallion of his dog around his neck.

A: His dog just died the other day, right?

Q: Yeah. Are you a dog person? Are you sympathetic?

A: I’m an animal lover so I feel his pain. I mean, it would suck. But now he’s got at least something to blame, you know, “If my dog was alive maybe I would have won,” kind of thing. Or maybe if his dog was Jewish. I don’t know, I’m just saying.

Q: Jennifer Aniston and Jack Black were two of the least funny presenters of the evening, and I’ve seen two theories about why they bombed. One was that Jennifer was off because Brad and Angelina were sitting 15 feet away, and the other was that Jack was off because his Kung Fu Panda movie didn’t win. Are either of those explanations convincing to you?

A: It could be either, or it could just be that the writing sucked for the Oscars this year.

Q: You think it sucked for the whole show?

A: Oh, man, how awful was Hugh Jackman? It felt like I was watching the Tony Awards. And you know what? I don’t watch the Tony Awards! I think that’s the end of actors hosting, because he was awful. It wasn’t bearable. You know, there was an underlying gay theme in the Oscars this year.

Q: Did Jackman hurt his standing as the sexiest man alive?

A: I don’t think he can hurt that right now. The only people that didn’t like him were straight men like me, so I don’t think it makes a difference whether I like him or not. But then once he turns into Wolverine again everybody’s back on his side. He’s got a good balance going there for him.

Q: You’re hosting the Junos pretty soon. Are you feeling pressure to put some song and dance into your routine?

A: Not on your life, buddy! No, it’s not gonna happen, unless I’m mocking it.

Q: I didn’t hear all the acceptance speeches but Sean Penn was the only guy I noticed who didn’t thank his wife.

A: He didn’t thank his wife, and he didn’t thank his dead brother Chris. I thought he would have done that, you know? He thanked his best friend, the Japanese guy. That was weird because, you know, it’s not like anybody knew who he was.

Q: See any dresses you liked on the red carpet?

A: I thought Anne Hathaway looked really good. I do have a little crush on Anne Hathaway, though.

Q: So that part where Hugh Jackman carried her up onto the stage . . .

A: I missed that part. I would have been very angry if I’d seen it.

Q: In a lot of ways these were probably the least American Oscars that I can remember.

A: That’s true. It had a very international feel with Man on a Wire and Slumdog Millionaire and then the Bollywood songs, and you had Liam Neeson and Penélope Cruz. You had a lot of things that suggested now the Academy Awards are starting to look a little bit more global, which is what they were intended to be initially, weren’t they? It’s like America’s starting to recognize that there’s a rest-of-the-world out there. It’s their way of apologizing for f–king the whole economy up for the entire world! They’re saying, “Sorry, guys. Here’s an award.”

Q: Ben Stiller came out and did his impression of Joaquin Phoenix, playing off Joaquin’s awful appearance on Letterman recently. Do you think Joaquin is really losing his mind, or is he just playing with us? And if he’s losing his mind should we be making fun of him?

A: If he is playing with us, that’s fine, and even if he is losing his mind we should definitely make fun of him. He’s too young to be really losing his mind, so yes, mockery shall be made. It’s not like Joaquin Phoenix is 80 years old and we’re mocking him. It’s not like he’s actually going senile, he just seems a little narcissistic right now. His rapping, and growing the beard, and looking like an asshole—it just doesn’t work. I’m not saying he needs to live up to our ideal of what we think he should be, but at the same time he shouldn’t expect us to buy the crap that he’s trying to sell us, you know?

Q: Did you get a good look at Sophia Loren?

A: Did she have a stroke, dude? Her mouth was crooked! And I think that she was like, the sexiest woman ever. I mean, I’m not saying I wouldn’t do her, I’m just saying I wouldn’t tell anybody anymore.

Q: Brad and Angelina sitting in the front row, did they look happy to you? Is that relationship working?

A: That looks more like an agreement than a relationship, doesn’t it? It looks more like, “Listen, I’m the hottest man in this business and you’re the hottest woman in this business. How great would it be if we were together? We’ll buy some kids together.” I wouldn’t be surprised if they have a sweatshop in the bottom of their mansion. All those kids. What’s the Cambodian kid’s name again?

Q: I can’t remember.

A: He’s getting old enough to become a shop foreman now.

Q: If you were to stage next year’s Oscars, if they were to hire you as producer, what would you change?

A: I would make it bearable. I would make it enjoyable. Let’s be honest, the MTV Awards are far more watchable. Even the Emmys are better.

Q: Who would you get as host?

A: Not Russell Peters, he’s terrible.

Q: A lot of people thought Tina Fey and Steve Martin did well in their part . . .

A: Steve Martin would be great. I mean, he’s hosted them before. Steve Martin’s proven, Billy Crystal’s proven, Whoopi Goldberg would be annoying because we would see her every day on The View and she would talk about it. I would give it to Steve Martin and Billy Crystal to hand off to each other, be a little tag team.

Q: And no musical numbers.

A: Or Katt Williams.

Q: What did you think of Jerry Lewis’s appearance?

A: That was good. It was like, “Hey, look at all the people who are going to be dead next year and won’t be at the next awards.” Sophia Loren, Jerry Lewis. Who else was decrepit? There were a lot of nearly-deads at the show. I thought Frank Langella [Frost/Nixon] should have won something. I mean, it doesn’t look like he’s going to be around much longer, either.

Q: What else are you working on now?

A: I’m getting ready to do a couple of films, and I’ve got my Canadian tour coming up in June, and I’m just getting my act together—literally—for that.

Q: “A couple of films”—that’s a bit ostentatious, isn’t it?

A: Yeah, I’m trying to brag a little bit, you know? I can’t announce what they are yet because the contracts aren’t signed, but they’re looming, buddy, they’re looming.

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