Jerry Lewis, once the master of physical comedy, is wheeled slowly into a hotel ballroom, smiling beneath a tousled head of still-boyish hair, now a deep gray.
His manager pulls the legendary performer from his wheelchair into a seat as Lewis makes clear that his pratfall days from impossibly rubber legs are behind him.
“You saw how I arrived,” Lewis says matter of factly. “You’re looking at the end result of taking falls.”
It’s not just the falls, it’s the mileage. At 90, Lewis has lived a long and celebrated life with well-chronicled difficulties — surviving two heart attacks and prostate cancer, among other major health ailments.
But Lewis stepped in front of the movie camera for the first time in 18 years for his major role in Max Rose (in theaters Friday in New York, expands nationally through Sept. 16), a poignant drama for the beloved comic star and director.
Lewis makes clear with a yawn (30 seconds in) and a not-subtle look at his watch (10 minutes in) that he doesn’t relish interviews. It’s partly fatigue during four straight days of promotion and partly wariness — the outspoken Lewis often makes the wrong kind of headlines, as in December when he said Syrian refugees “should stay where the hell they are.”
“Interviews are vital, but you cannot allow an interviewer to take your life and disturb it,” says Lewis. “There are people who do that.”
But Lewis grits through, even managing some laughs, as he discusses Max Rose, a passion project that started when writer/director Daniel Noah tracked down Lewis’ Las Vegas business office and mailed his unsolicited screenplay. Lewis was moved by the story of a jazz musician dealing with the death of his wife of 65 years (Claire Bloom), whom he discovers was unfaithful.
“I got the script on a Monday. I called Daniel that afternoon and told him, ‘Let’s go for it.’ He had never received as quick a response,” says Lewis. “I knew it was going to be good.”
See More- Source USA Today