In “Let’s Be Cops” Chicago native Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. dress up as police officers for a costume party, and inadvertently discover they become popular and big sensations on the Los Angeles nightlife scene — when people mistake them for real cops. That leads to all kinds of complications when they run into a vicious mob of gangsters and less-than-“clean” detectives.
Johnson, who also stars with Wayans on the Fox sitcom “New Girl,” was in Chicago recently to chat about the new movie (opening Wednesday).
Q: Did it make it any easier making this film, since you and Damon — plus co-star Rob Riggle — all knew each other so well?
A: I think it’s kind of a must. When we’re doing something like this where we’re improvising so much — which was encouraged by [the director] Luke Greenfield — it was a big help. If you didn’t know each other going in, you’d be kind of starting from scratch. So this was much easier. What was nice about this, knowing that Damon I and were going to play the two leads, we already joked around knowing some of the things we were going to do — even before we got to the set. Having Rob [Riggle] come in, made it even better. We’ve all done projects together. We’ve all hung out together socially. So knowing each other just made going to work a lot more fun.
Q: I understand that this is actually another example of “art imitating life.” True?
A: Luke, the director and his co-writer of the movie — Nick Thomas — both dressed up as cops for a costume party, and they were actually arrested for impersonating police officers — because their costumes were so convincing! They were best friends and so they did this movie, loosely based on what they had done together as buddies in real life.
Q: Can you really buy a cop car on eBay as is depicted in the movie? Or is that purely fictional?
A: Supposedly you can. Supposedly all that stuff you can actually do, but don’t do it! You’ll see a disclaimer at the bottom of the film’s credits from the studio for that reason!
Q: In real life, who would be the better cop? You or Damon?
A: Actually, it would be Rob [Riggle]. He was a U.S. Marine for God’s sake! Plus he can shoot a gun better than either Damon or me.
Q: Now, you portray a guy who was a star quarterback in college, but life has not lived up to those expectations. Was your athletic abilities shown in the movie flashbacks based on your real life?
A: Absolutely …. NOT! [Laughs]
Q: What was what likely will be an unforgettable scene for moviegoers — is the one that happens in an Ace Hardware store. Besides that, any other unforgettable scenes for you?
A: The fight with the two women. That was quite a bit of choreography, to say the least. I also liked the scenes where we were infiltrating the villian’s hideout.
Q: I know there’s movie magic, but there were some pretty hairy driving scenes. Did you do a lot of that?
A: I actually did. Of course, there were stunt people, but I did as much as they’d let me do. We wanted to make a big summer movie, with big action and big laughs. Plus it’s a hard-“R” [rating]. It’s fun to be in a movie where we really go for it. This is NOT for little kids — I do want to stress that.
We don’t cheat that “R” at all.
Q: As a local Chicago guy, will you have time to do much while you’re in town.
A: Absolutely! We went to Harry Caray’s, and now we’re going to a Cubs game. It’s going to be great.
Q: When you put that police officer uniform on — did it psychologically given a sense of power? Make it easier to get into the role?
A: It certainly does give you a sense of authority. But not so comfortable. Working in Atlanta [where they shot the film] it was hot, and those uniforms were hot!!!. They said those costumes were specially designed out of lighter weight fabric than real cops’ uniforms. Don’t believe it! Those were so uncomfortable. I now can really feel for the real cops who have to work in the middle of the summer wearing those uniforms.
Apart from having one of the most dangerous jobs imaginable — they have to wear uniforms which are so hot to wear in the summer. My respect level for those guys — already very high — got even higher after making this movie, and portraying a cop in a very teeny way.