(US), August 17, 2000

But seriously, cast played comedy straight

Orlando Jones added several layers of muscle and meanness to play a football player in "The Replacements."

So it was with great disappointment he learned that, in his biggest scene, he would be singing an old disco song. In the movie, a comedy about scab football players, Jones' character leads his teammates in a chorus of "I Will Survive" while they cool in a jail cell after a brawl.

"Nobody wanted to do that scene," said Jones, on a PR swing through Philadelphia a few weeks ago, on a day when he was the only guest at the Four Seasons who was not a Republican.

"You spend so much time and energy trying to read as football players, the idea of being in jail and singing Gloria Gaynor seemed like a really bad idea," said Jones, a rising star and former "Mad TV" writer who appeared in Barry Levinson's "Liberty Heights," and has a half-dozen movies in the works.

Other actors felt the same way.

"The guys just didn't want to dance, and they didn't want to sing. You have to understand, we thought of this foremost as a football movie and we wanted it to seem realistic. Keanu [Reeves] had a football coach with him 24 hours a day, practicing his throws so people would believe him as a quarterback," Jones recalled.

In fact, though "The Replacements" is being positioned as a late-season, sleeper comedy, Jones says most of the cast didn't see it primarily as a funny picture.

"We certainly didn't know we were making a feel-good movie. We were all about football," said Jones, who added 35 pounds for his role as a wide receiver.

Test audiences, however, howl at the movie. In a good way. Warner Bros. has sponsored hundreds of advance screenings, hoping to drum up word of mouth.

Jones and Reeves attended one of them, and were stunned by what they saw.

"People were screaming and yelling and laughing, and I'm looking at Keanu saying, 'What just happened here?' " he said.

Actors often are not aware how the tone of a sequence may change with editing and voiceovers, which Reeves realized when he watched his love scene with co-star Brooke Langton. As they share their first kiss, for instance, the voice of John Madden provides play-by-play, turning a romantic moment into pure comedy.

Jones, who broke into the entertainment business as a comedian and gag writer, says he worked hard on the set of "The Replacements" not to be too funny.

"I know my role is comic relief, but I also know I'm in a movie with Gene Hackman, and I know I can't go too far. I can't be the clownin' black dude. That's something I damn sure didn't want to do," Jones said.

Jones grew up in Greenville, S.C., and was a scholarship student at the College of Charleston, where he studied acting. He got his first job as a writer on "A Different World," and also wrote for "Roc Live" and "The Sinbad Show" before moving on to "Mad TV."

He had a few small movie roles (he was cut out of the final version of "Magnolia") before getting his big break in "Liberty Heights." There, he had a sizable part as a small-time hood, and impressed director Levinson with his ability to improvise and improve his role.

With the esteemed director on board as an enthusiastic reference, Jones quickly found work - on "The Replacements," the upcoming "Bedazzled," "Chain of Fools" with Salma Hayek, "Say It Isn't So" with Heather Graham and "Double Take" with Eddie Griffin.

Jones hopes to be working soon in Philadelphia, the setting for a script he recently sold to Columbia called "The Reverend Pimp Daddy."

Yes, "The Reverend Pimp Daddy." It's about a pimp who fulfills the dying wish of his preacher brother to rebuild an inner-city church, by any means necessary.

Columbia hasn't decided on a location, and city film office director Sharon Pinkenson said that, as yet, there have been no discussions about filming the movie here.

She would have remembered the title.

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Replacements, The


Replacements, The

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