'Cool Runnings': Serious comedy for Doug E. Doug

October 06, 1993|By Michael H. Price | Michael H. Price,Fort Worth Star-Telegram

"I knew the minute I saw the script that this movie was gonna make me big -- gigantic," Doug E. Doug said of his role in "Cool Runnings," a new comedy based on Jamaica's 1988 Olympic bobsledding team.

Visiting Dallas recently with fellow player Rawle D. Lewis, Mr. Doug cited "Cool Runnings" as "the first film I've had that's treated me as any kind of priority. I've hung onto this project for three years -- that's how important it's been to me."

Mr. Doug, who started out at age 17 in the 1980s as a touring comedian and opening act for such musical heavyweights as Miles Davis and the Isley Bros., is hardly a stranger to the big screen. He worked in the supporting cast of Spike Lee's "Mo' Better Blues" and followed through with a leading dramatic role in Joe Vasquez's urban road movie "Hangin' with the Homeboys."

The contrast between his portrayals in "Hangin' " and "Cool Runnings" should establish Mr. Doug as a versatile contender. His rebellious Brooklyn teen in the former is worlds apart from his role in the latter, an easygoing loser named Sanka Coffie. Sanka, in the words of one character, is "goin' nowhere -- and thrilled to death about it."

Without Mr. Doug's clowning, "Cool Runnings" would have a significantly more medicinal feel about it, being essentially the tale of a group of dreamers who connect with a talented cynic in hopes of becoming contenders at the Olympic Games.

John Candy portrays a has-been bobsledding ace. The actor known only as Leon plays a track star who, when disqualified, develops the outlandish plan of resurfacing as a bobsledder -- despite the lack of snow in the West Indies. Rawle Lewis plays a partner whose commitment to the unfamiliar sport provokes a family crisis. Singer Malik Yoba plays a team member whose intent is to get out of Jamaica.

"With all these serious characters and all the sentimental business, my job was to insinuate some comedy -- laugh things up for 'em," Mr. Doug said. "Not to detract from the meaning of the picture, which is to believe in yourself and you'll overcome, but to funny it up.

"I found 'Cool Runnings' three years ago, when my agent had it on his desk. I knew about the actual event it's based on, the Jamaican bobsled team that went to the '88 Olympics, and even though it's based pretty loosely I thought it made a great yarn.

"Later, when I read [for formal casting], I got the offer to play Sanka, the guy I'd wanted to play from the very beginning," Mr. Doug said.

Both Mr. Doug and Mr. Lewis have West Indian origins. Mr. Doug's father is from Jamaica, and Mr. Lewis was born in Trinidad.

"I came in to this film at first to coach the players in the authentic accents," Mr. Lewis said, "but then I was asked to do a screen test -- so here I am."

Recently, Mr. Doug was seen in the television sitcom, "Where I Live," based on his household life in Brooklyn. He is also at work on a solo stage show called "There's a Lotta Stuff Goin' On Under My Hair." Mr. Lewis, of Los Angeles, has been in the films "Tourist" and "The Attitude."

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