When Dane Cook was 3, he was attacked — and almost killed, he says — by a German shepherd. Beneath his hair is a zigzagging scar that became etched into his cranium after receiving nearly 80 stitches. Following the disclosure of this “fun fact,” as he coyly calls it, the actor-comedian uses the opportunity to tell a joke.
“Hopefully, someday, I’ll play a James Bond villain,” he says. “I’ll shave my head, so you can see all the ravines.”
Such a role would probably have more bite than Cook’s previous efforts on the big screen. Like as Dennis Rodman’s wisecracking sidekick in the forgettable 1999 action flick “Simon Sez.” Or as a slacker stockboy who falls for a big-eared cashier played by Jessica Simpson in the zany 2006 romantic comedy “Employee of the Month.” And even as Jessica Alba’s cursed love interest in the 2007 sex romp “Good Luck Chuck.”
These days, instead of a German shepherd, it’s film critics who chomp at Cook. The 36-year-old supercomedian most famous — or infamous, depending on who you ask — for gurgling cultural insights and sexually charged material in front of sold-out crowds has consistently been dubbed unfunny by movie critics, despite his continued success as standup comedian.
Other than a serious turn as a wannabe serial killer in the 2007 thriller “Mr. Brooks” starring Kevin Costner, Cook’s attempts to sidestep from the stage to screen have been poorly received. Cook is aware of such shortcomings, referring to his filmography as a “highlight reel.”
“I don’t believe I watch any of my previous comedies and say, as a complete story, I’m interested in watching this from beginning, middle to end,” Cook says during an interview at the Four Seasons Hotel.
That may change with his latest effort, the R-rated romantic comedy “My Best Friend’s Girl,” which opens Sept. 19.
“This is the one where I look at it and think there’s a character and a real evolution with this guy,” he says.
Mixing standup with a fun storyCook hopes this movie will be the one to conclusively bring the cream of his comedy routine to the big screen. That doesn’t mean Cook is in search of critical acclaim. He’s still more interested in the opinions of his 2 million MySpace friends and counting than from the thrashing jaws of film critics.
“With ‘(Good Luck) Chuck’ or ‘Employee of the Month,’ I was playing the levelheaded middle, carrying the film at the center with a lot of craziness going on around me,” says Cook, looking casual in jeans and a white T-shirt. “I finally wanted an opportunity to take some of the elements of my standup and mix it together with a fun story.”
In the film, Cook plays Tank Turner, an air purifier call-center supervisor by day, anti-Cupid by night. He’s a suave emotional terrorist for hire by freshly dumped guys. For a fee, Tank will subject their ex-girlfriends to the worst date of their lives in hopes they go running back to their respective boyfriends. They usually do.
While this badboy role most closely resembles Cook’s on-stage antics, he’s quick to point out that the goofball who gleefully recounts one-night-stands in comedy clubs isn’t really him. And neither is Tank. Cook says he based much of the character on his best friend, comedian Robert Kelly, as well as Johnny Cash and Brain from “Pinky and the Brain.”
“I’m much more introverted and shy, contrary to popular belief,” he says. “Tank is fearless and always on the cusp, taking lewd and lascivious behavior to a whole other level, but he has a heart of gold because he’s ultimately doing this to give people a second chance.
Tank’s game changes when he meets — all together now — his best friend’s girl, who gnaws through Tank’s bravado after a drunken tryst. The best friend is played by Jason Biggs from the “American Pie” films. Kate Hudson from “Fool’s Gold” serves as the girl. Alec Baldwin also portrays Tank’s lecherous father in a handful of scenes.
“I definitely like an ensemble like this more,” says Cook. “I love that I got to work with Alec, Kate and Jason on this movie. These people bring a high caliber of talent to the table. I frequently get to live that writer-director-actor role as a comedian, so I crave different kinds of opportunities when I’m not doing standup.”
Coming in for the kissTo prepare for steamy kissing scenes with bombshell leading ladies such as Hudson, Alba and Simpson, Cook says he’s developed a tradition. Before production begins, he nonchalantly asks his co-stars what’s their favorite flavor of gum or mint. Hudson’s pick? Lifesavers Pep-o-Mint. Stormy breath aside, such scenes still make Cook giddy.
“You tend to go back to how you felt when you were in high school,” says Cook. “Even though you’re professional actors, you come to those scenes wondering things like: Are you going to be mad if I kiss you? Do I put my hands on the small of your back or can I go lower? Is that too low? Can you draw a map of where I can touch you?”
After enduring “are they or aren’t they?” rumors while working with Simpson, Cook is now keeping tightlipped about his love life. He won’t say whether he lives alone in his recently purchased first home. Following years of renting — and fighting eviction from his West Hollywood apartment complex in July — he bought a house in the Hollywood Hills.
“It’s got an energy,” Cook says of the four-bedroom enclave. “It’s got a certain feng shui. I was looking for a couple of years for the perfect spot, never thinking I would find one. I was looking for a place that I needed to live up to. I think it’s going to keep me comfortable. It’ll be my little Fortress of Solitude.”
Whether “My Best Friend’s Girl” lands on its feet or its head in movie theaters, the seemingly unstoppable Cook has no plans to completely fly away from his comedy roots. He’s currently working on his fourth comedy album — the last as part of his four-record deal with Comedy Central — as well as plotting an accompanying comedy TV special and tour.