Tiffany Haddish on Bombing ‘the Card Counter’ Rehearsals, Working With Nicolas Cage

  • Haddish admits she had to “suck” in rehearsals for “The Card Counter” to get the role right.
  • She recalled telling the director, “It’s rehearsals. That’s where I get to fuck up.'”
  • Haddish also admitted she was “shitty” on her first day working with Nicolas Cage on his next movie.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In recent years, no one in Hollywood has had a better rags to riches story than Tiffany Haddish.

After struggling to get by early in her life — ranging from living out of her car to even side-hustling as a pimp — Haddish has built a comedy career that has led to her earning a Grammy and an Emmy.

Haddish, 41, became a break-out star when she was cast as the outlandish Dina in 2017’s “Girls Trip.” That led to not just high praise from critics, but instant fame. She’s since been tapped to do everything from hosting “Saturday Night Live” (which earned her an Emmy), writing a best-selling memoir (“The Last Black Unicorn”), and winning a Grammy for a best comedy album (“Black Mitzvah”).

Now the actress is expanding her repertoire even farther by showing off her dramatic skills in “The Card Counter,” the latest work from Oscar-nominated filmmaker Paul Schrader (“First Reformed,” screenwriter of “Taxi Driver”).

Starring Oscar Isaac as a poker player with a troubled past, Haddish plays La Linda, who gets financial backing for players who need it. Though this marks the rare time in her career she goes full drama, Haddish pulls off an impressive performance despite admitting she didn’t have the character down during rehearsals.

“I remember after doing a scene and I nailed it, Paul was like, ‘Where was that in rehearsals?'” Haddish told Insider. “And I was like, ‘Paul, it’s rehearsals. That’s where I get to fuck up.'”

Insider spoke with Haddish over

Zoom
about her wide-ranging aspirations, which includes shadowing Quentin Tarantino one day, and why she admitted she was “shitty” on her first day working with Nicolas Cage on his next movie.

Haddish admits when rehearsing ‘The Card Counter,’ she wasn’t very good.

Oscar Isaac and Tiffany Haddish sitting at a table

Oscar Isaac and Tiffany Haddish in “The Card Counter.”

Focus Features.


Insider: I really enjoyed the movie and your performance —

Tiffany Haddish: Wait, you loved the performance? Do you think it’s like an award-worthy performance?

I mean, I may have to go out on Twitter after this and sing your praises.

Go for it Jason! I’m not big on getting awards, but I’m trying. I need someone to get that heat out there.

Listen, you’ve got a Grammy. You’ve got an Emmy. Let’s not act like you are not of that caliber. Many people out there doing it have this many: Zero.

But they make more money than me. I’m trying to get where I’m out-earning everyone, but that’s a mentality thing I have to work on because I guess I am there.

So let’s talk “The Card Counter.” You and director Paul Schrader are two rarities in Hollywood: people who will tell it like it is. Were you aware Paul perhaps gives fewer fucks than you?

Paul’s work I already knew. “Cat People” was my jam. I love that movie. So he called me and I talked to him and the more we talked the more I realized, “Is this my guy?” He was so straight-forward. He was like, “Tiffany, you probably don’t think you can do this but I know you can do it.” And I was like, “I can do anything!” He was like, “OK, if you say so.” Then we come to rehearsals. He was so blatantly honest. I loooovvveed it!

And to your point about honesty: This is what Paul told IndieWire about your first day of rehearsal: “On the first reading of the script we had, frankly, she wasn’t very good.” Truth?

That’s truth.

Was that a struggle to hear?

That was like, “OK, great. Then what do you need from me?” And he literally broke it down. What he needed and what would make it better. Because when I read the script in my mind, I thought La Linda was going to be the comic relief. She’s the funny. I was playing it that way. And he was like, “No, this is not good.” And I was like, “Cool, show me.” A lot of movies don’t have rehearsals anymore.

Tiffany Haddish in short hair and a white dress

Tiffany Haddish at the world premiere of “The Card Counter.”

Staphane Cardinale / Getty


You jump on the set and go.

You just go and run with whatever you think the character should be. So I felt with this, the rehearsals are where I get to suck. This is where I get to mess up and play with it and then I get exactly what the director wants and I can deliver that. That is what I loved.

I remember after doing a scene and I nailed it, Paul was like, “Where was that in rehearsals?” And I was like, “Paul, it’s rehearsals. That’s where I get to fuck up.”

Was it helpful seeing how reserved Oscar was in his performance; just as a guide to see that’s the energy level Paul wanted?

I didn’t realize he was going to play his character like that. Even in rehearsals he was playing it low. but not like it is in the movie. But I was watching Oscar like a kid sister looks at her big brother. That’s what I was doing. Oscar was so good at just being still and still telling everything that needed to be told. That is something I have to learn how to do.

La Linda is very much a pimp of poker players, staking them and then taking a cut of their winnings. Was Paul aware of your former dabbling as a pimp?

I don’t think so. I don’t think he was aware of it at all.

Did you bring any of that past experience into the role at all?

I made a few suggestions and he goes, “No no no, this is how I want you to play this.” And I’m like she has to smile a little bit. She has to give a little something. She has to be a little flirty. She knows he’s alone and he’s lonely. Let me show a little, you know? And he was like OK. We went back and forth on that. I always bring a little Tiffany Haddish to whatever role I play.

Tiffany Haddish in a green dress

Tiffany Haddish.

Alessandra Benedetti / Getty


Going forward Haddish wants to produce more and shadow Quentin Tarantino.

Since “Girl’s Trip” you have basically worked in every type of genre of movie and TV. What’s left?

Producing more; bigger films; giving more actors and comedians opportunities. Directing even.

Speaking of that: Now that you’ve worked with Paul, is there another legendary director on your radar that you want to work with next?

There’s a lot of legendary directors I want to work with…I would love to work with Tarantino, but maybe not be in his movie but shadow him and learn from him.

Interesting.

Or play a small role, but be his AD. I always wanted to be an assistant director. I just want to say, “Picture’s up! Quiet on the set!”

So the director thing is something you really want to do.

Yeah, I got some control issues.

I’ve seen the trailer for Nicolas Cage’s “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” which you star in. Was there anything you saw Cage do on set — his prep for a scene, how he carried himself — that really grabbed you and now you’ve implemented that into your work?

Yes. He knew everything about the movie; every single thing that was going on. Sometimes I do movies and I just want to know my character and then be surprised by everything else…I always felt in that surprise there may be some magic that comes from spontaneity. But after working with him, I realized I should know everything and then in my mind find room for surprises.

Did he give any good notes?

Well, I was pretty shitty the first day.

I’m seeing a trend here with you. First day for Tiffany Haddish is not a good day. [Laughs.]

It’s not my best day. And the role in this movie, I’m not funny at all. People should know this. There is no comedy coming from me. So I remember I was shitty that day and Nic comes up to me and says [in her best Nicolas Cage voice] “Tiffany, it’s going to be OK. You’re going to be alright. Just relax. You got this.”

And you may have heard that story I told about my connection with Nicolas Cage.

Oh, yes, you had your first orgasm in the theater watching “Face/Off.”

Right. So once I told him the story then I fell right into things and got comfortable. And later in the day, he was like, “In the future when you got something you want to tell somebody just tell them.” And I was like, “I didn’t know what type of crazy you were!”

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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