Shankman was very impressed with the actress on their first meeting. “Missi walked into the room and it was like ‘Twister’; everything blew up. She’s got such a presence, a lot of vavoom, and her comic timing is superb,” he says.
Seasoned actress Betty White’s comic timing wasn’t lost on Shankman either. In fact, he was so excited when she came in to meet with him for the role of Mrs. Klein, Peter’s racist next-door neighbor, that the director literally knelt at her feet. “I said, ‘Oh, Miss White, it would make me the happiest man on the planet if you’d act in our film.’ I just knew she would be great as this smiling, cookie-baking bigot,” he relates.
Steve Martin had similar adulation for White. “Betty has always been an idol for me because as a child, I used to watch her on ‘The Betty White Show.’ And then when I was about 20, when I was doing my act at the Troubadour nightclub in L.A., she and her husband Allen Ludden stopped me after the show and said ‘Hey, we think you’re funny.’ And I thought, ‘Wow, Betty White thinks I’m funny.’ And now that I’m working with her, it’s such a thrill; she’s just as happy and bawdy and present as anyone you could wish for,” he says.
White describes her character, Mrs. Klein, as “prissy and frank. She borders on rude really. And it never crosses her mind to think that what she’s saying might offend anyone,” she says. White also relates Mrs. Klein to a television icon. “My character is over the top in ‘Bringing Down the House,’ but it’s done with fun, and the audience will take it that way. After all, Archie Bunker from ‘All in the Family’was outrageous but we all had a good time with him.”
Versatile actress Jean Smart was cast as Peter’s long-suffering ex-wife, Kate. She was impressed by the chance to work with her co-stars. “Steve and I had met socially but never worked together before and I was thrilled. He was so kind to me and kept me laughing constantly! He’s also extremely intelligent. Queen Latifah really impressed me; she’s a terrific actress and gorgeous, too!”
“For Kate, it’s a case of ‘can’t live with him, can’t live without him,’” Smart says about her character. “So when she sees him start to loosen up, under Charlene’s influence, she sees the reason she fell in love in the first place.”
Smart also praises her director. “Adam’s great. He always knows exactly what the scene needs and he’s great at expressing it to you, and at the same time, he gives you the room to improvise. He is so much fun; we worked together once before so I was really looking forward to working with him again.” Other key roles in “Bringing Down the House” were filled by Kimberly J. Brown and Angus T. Jones as Peter’s kids, Michael Rosenbaum as Peter’s office thorn in his foot, and Steve Harris as Charlene’s ex-boyfriend.
As Shankman notes, “We have a collection of wonderful actors that make each and every character ring true.”