The filmmakers of “Bringing Down the House” assembled an extraordinary ensemble of supporting actors to convey the story beginning with Eugene Levy as Peter’s eccentric law firm colleague, Howie. Levy, who has in recent years become an audience favorite after his performances in such films as “American Pie,” was delighted to play Howie. Unlike his best buddy Peter, Howie has an immediate animal attraction for Charlene. “Howie likes gals who are a little unorthodox and like to have fun, and Charlene fit that description,” Levy says.
Levy was also excited about working with Steve Martin again. “We’d worked together briefly on ‘Father of the Bride II,’ but ‘Bringing Down the House’ was great because we got a chance to play with the scenes and kick around some ideas,” enthuses Levy.
“Eugene and Steve would often discuss different lines and the mechanics of a scene before we shot it,” notes Shankman.
Queen Latifah became a sort of Henry Higgins-inreverse to her co-stars. “She taught us the street language,” says Levy, “like, ‘You got me straight trippin’, Boo’ – which I still don’t have a clue about what it means.”
At first, Steve Martin may also have not understood the translation of English into the street lingo that Queen Latifah was teaching him or what he was actually saying in the film sometimes. “But like me, my character, Peter, was also just copying what he’d heard somewhere. However, I got interested in finding out, for my own information, what it meant. And when it was explained to me, I thought, ‘Oh yeah, that makes a lot of sense.’ It was a kind of cool slang,” says Martin.
Queen Latifah was happy being the student to these two comic veterans. “These guys are flawless. They’re the best. I’m the young one around here; I’m the junior. I’m learning so much from them.
“I was also impressed with Steve’s versatility; doing a scene differently with each take,” she relates.
Interestingly, Martin credits actress Diane Keaton, his co-star in the two “Father of the Bride” hits, as his inspiration. “Diane was the best person I ever saw make a scene fresh and new with each take. And remembering that, I think I was a little more spontaneous on this film,” he says.
Joan Plowright was cast as Mrs. Arness, the wealthy dowager client that Peter is trying to land. Plowright liked the diversity of her character. “She’s a 70-year-old, rigidly conservative battle axe who becomes a little more carefree by the end of the film,” describes Plowright.
The veteran actress gave high marks to her director, Shankman. “Adam creates a very relaxed atmosphere on the set. He likes a lot of input, and allows you to have a go at an idea even if it turns out to be rubbish. But he’s also very careful to pull you back if it isn’t what he has in mind,” she says.
The stunning Missi Pyle plays Ashley, Peter’s ex-sister-in-law. “Ashley is materialistic, self-centered and smart. Actually she’s a geriatric gold digger,” Pyle confesses. “But I also think she’s a little misunderstood. She’s going after these rich old men to protect herself... when her beauty fades, she might need some insurance.”