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Mistaken Identity Serves as Basis for New Action Comedy <i>The Man</i>

A case of mistaken identity makes unlikely partners of dramatic star Samuel L. Jackson and comic actor Eugene Levy in a new action-comedy film. Alan Silverman has a look at The Man.

Samuel L. Jackson is Derrick Vann, a brash and streetwise undercover agent on the trail of a notorious arms dealer in urban Chicago. Andy Fiddler, played by Eugene Levy, is a mild mannered salesman visiting the Midwest American city for a dental equipment convention. Their paths cross when the gun-runner mistakes Andy for his illicit client.

"These two guys are the movie. Their relationship is the movie," explains Levy, a veteran of the landmark Canadian television show SCTV. Levy is known for his droll humor in ensemble film comedies like Best In Show and the American Pie series. He says for The Man he had to fit comfortably in the 'buddy comedy' genre.

"It's a comedy, but you want this to be a textured relationship. You don't want it to be a series of one-liners," he says. "It's not that kind of thing where two guys are in a scene, throwing out these clever lines back and forth. This is a relationship that had to start, build and get to a point where you care about these characters at the end of the movie and have some kind of emotional involvement."

Getting laughs is second nature to Levy, but the car chases and action scenes were new experiences that occasionally left him a bit bruised.

"Oh yes, I had a few," he admits. "I don't do a lot of stunts [and] I honestly don't do a lot of physical comedy. There are people who great physical comedy. They are just funny when they are physical, like Steve Martin. I'm not a funny physical person, but there are some scenes ... in the car scene, where I get hit by the car, I knew they had a shot with the camera inside of the windshield looking out. It would be nice if you can see it is actually me that bounces on the car. So I said 'okay,' but I'm not 20. To a stunt guy bouncing on a car hood is nothing, but [it left me] black and blue. There was some running and some dropping; it's not the stuff I love to do."

"You know, you have to start somewhere and Eugene had to start there," adds Samuel L. Jackson. "It's kind of like his 'Bruce Willis starter kit.' You get bruised up and battered, but maybe next time he'll come out on top."

Jackson knows his way around action scenes thanks to such high-energy hits as Pulp Fiction and Star Wars episodes one, two and three. For The Man he says both he and Levy wanted the comedy to come from more-or-less believable situations.

"You don't go in trying to figure out how to make this funny. You go in trying to figure out what we can do to make this real and honest," he says, "especially because we are in that car a lot, driving around and talking. We're expressing how we feel about each other and about the world. He's explaining to me the family dynamic and how it all works and what my problems are. It's the kind of evolution of two people and how they profoundly affect each other because they are thrown into this situation more than in an 'action-let's-be-funny' kind of movie. His honest approach to all that stuff allows me to be as real and as cynical as any character that I've ever been."

Levy says he had fun playing against ... and into ... the tough guy stereotype, including a scene in which he slaps Jackson's character, not once, but several times.

"The slapping may have come up in a rehearsal. I may have actually just slapped him in rehearsal," he says. "It seemed like the thing to do and yet I actually froze when I did it, thinking 'I'm actually slapping Sam Jackson in the face.' As it turns out, I think I'm the only guy in the history of Sam Jackson movies who has ever done that. I don't think he's ever taken a slap before."

The Man is directed by Les Mayfield and was shot on location in and around Chicago.