Kali Hawk says the makers of “Fifty Shades of Black” weren’t ready for the level of nerdishness she brought to set. In the parody — of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” of course — she plays Hannah, the analog for the book and movie’s Ana: a submissive lit student who finds herself involved in an S&M relationship with a creepy billionaire (Marlon Wayans, who also co-wrote). The version played by Hawk, 29 — of “Black Jesus,” “New Girl” and “Couples Retreat” — is even brainier, just as the movie, she says, shows up the romance as powerfully creepy and disturbing.
So you wound up adding more to Hannah than had been written?
I don’t think anyone could write it. I think they had an idea of a girl and she’s smart and she’s studying literature — and that’s where it stops. Unless you’re a really nerdy girl, you don’t know how deep that rabbit hole can go. Every day on set I would show them how deep down the rabbit hole I can go. They liked it. It’s exactly who the character is. It was even more colorful than they could have imagined. I felt more encouraged to be myself in that role than I ever have. They wanted to see what other weird stuff was going to pop out of my head.
You’re also adding a female voice to a very male-dominated film.
Even Amy Schumer has a toughness to her comedy [to help her] stand out in a male-dominated industry. Even if your focus isn’t on how male-dominated it is, you’re coming up against obstacles and facing different expectations. It does cause you to change certain elements of your humor. With me, I’m basically an introvert, so almost all my contributions tend to be intellectual. No one was expecting Hannah to be like Larry David in the body of a young Raquel Welch. That’s what made it even funnier, that he falls in love with a girl like that.
“Fifty Shades of Grey” gets a lot of bad press, but some of it is good. Dakota Johnson is subtly funny in it.
I love Dakota Johnson in the movie. I wanted to make sure my portrayal of this character wasn’t taking anything from her, but that I was doing a more extreme version. Marlon and I were improvising and I told him I was going to take him to the Stephen Hawking exhibit and f— him till there was a tear in the time-space continuum. This is someone who thinks about science and literature, bringing those into conversation with the creepy billionaire who wants to abuse you, essentially.
Speaking of which, in the book and movie, Ana’s relationship with Christian Grey isn’t healthy and it especially isn't romantic.
It’s disturbing! It’s a relationship that’s based on abuse and very predatory manipulation. She says, “I don’t want to see you,” and he shows up at her house anyway. He uses sex as a weapon. I felt that as a woman this movie was great for me to do, because I wanted to present the humor in the idea of a person like Christian doing this crap and being seen as romantic. The idea of some f—ing asshole coming along and forcing his way into your life and your pajamas being seen as some great romantic archetype — that was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard, and dangerous as well. We had the opportunity to show how ridiculous that is.
So is the movie is a commentary on that?
It definitely is. This movie will speak to the people who found fault with many of the ideas being presented as romantic in the original book and the movie. [Christian’s] completely lacking in empathy. If you Google “ways to know you’re dating a sociopath,” at least six of them describe Christian Grey. That’s kind of funny, when you think about it. What would happen if you got to toy around with that character but in the safe environment of comedy? What would it be like if the two wound up on more equal footing? Then we’ll see if he’s as romantic and interesting.
This is one of the few opportunities you've had to do physical comedy. There’s a gag in the trailer where an elevator closes on your face.
That’s me! That’s my face! There is no movie magic that is that good. That’s why it’s funny. They tried to very gentle about it, and it wasn’t funny until — I won’t say it was an accident — somehow in the making of it I got knocked around. I knew that was going to be the take they used, because it was real. I still have ringing in my ears. I’m definitely more of a Dennis Miller than a Chris Farley. I’ll take “painless comedy” for a thousand, please, Alex.