Dane Cook warms to secondary role in film

It feels like just a fortnight since comic Dane Cook made the leap from MySpace hero (he's got 2 million friends!) into the role of ubiquitous romantic comedy lead - one notable exception being his wannabe killer in last spring's Mr. Brooks. Now he's on some kind of a roll with what seems like a film release every few months. His latest is Dan in Real Life, starring Steve Carell as a widowed advice columnist who falls in love during a three-day family getaway. Cook plays Dan's fun-loving brother.

For Cook, being second fiddle to Carell was sort of against type. In fact, Cook said that when director Peter Hedges was considering him for the role, Hedges stood in line outside Cook's Madison Square Garden gig and polled female fans on whether they'd buy Cook as a less-than-cuddly character.


"Using the script as a template, he quizzed my fans and found they were as excited about that possibility as I was," Cook recalled, just days after wrapping his next romantic comedy, Bachelor No. 2, and before he set out on his next stand-up tour.

In Dan in Real Life, opening today, Cook plays Mitch, a fitness trainer and semi-reformed womanizer who believes he's met his dream girl. The youngest of a large family, Mitch is the anti-intellectual skirt-chaser to Carell's wordsmith family man. And he's unaccustomed to rejection, which he faces from the woman.


"I think Mitch is a little more trusting than I am," he said. "In my real family, there always seems to be something happening, some inner turmoil, but Mitch believes that something like this could never happen, and he's rocked when it happens to him. His very poignant and simple scenes have been a wonderful challenge for me as an actor."

The movie is set on the leafy Rhode Island coast in a rambling beach house where Dan's large and quirky family has gathered to close the house for the season. For Cook, Hedges' rehearsal process was a learning experience. The director had the cast write letters to each other in character and hold daily sing-alongs to build camaraderie. He even had them live in the house together for two weeks.

It was good therapy, Cook said, because at the time he was grieving his mother's death to cancer. So as he reached out to Carell for support, that intimacy informed their performances.

"Going through what I had been going through with my mother, I thought we could have a real connection and maybe share as brothers in the film, bring some authenticity emotionally."

Gina Piccalo writes for the Los Angeles Times.