Puck Daddy - NHL

Actor Romany Malco grew up a hockey fan in Brooklyn, but grew away from the sport during its violent, lawless years in the 1970s and 1980s. He's become infatuated with it again after lacing up the skates as Darren Roanoke, the Toronto Maple Leafs star in need of Guru Pitka's (Mike Myers) guidance to help win the girl and the Stanley Cup in "The Love Guru." From Malco's perspective, the NHL needs to rethink its entire approach in attempting to reach a broader audience and win new fans.

"I don't know if I'm going to get myself in trouble here, but I'm going to throw it out there anyway. I think hockey needs a new campaign, and ... this is going to sound so gay ... but when people see me in my hockey gear, they go, 'Oh, man, I ain't gonna mess with him.' But that's because they automatically associate hockey with violence," he said, "and there's a lot more sportsmanship and a lot more skill involved than people, especially in this country, think there is.

"And there are a lot of, like, hunks."

Come again?

"If women knew the physiques that were in that locker room. The flexibility of these guys is amazing," he said. "There are a lot of good-looking men. Real, rugged, model-looking type guys. There's a whole bunch of Brad Pitts on the ice. We need a whole campaign of that [stuff], that shows a more human side to hockey. If people got to know the personalities on these hockey teams, not only could you make a couple of reality shows around them, but the people would really take a liking to them."

Malco, 39, is perhaps best known for his roles in "The 40 Year Old Virgin," where he stole every scene that didn't involve body waxing, and on the Showtime comedy "Weeds." With "The Love Guru," which opens Friday, he becomes the first actor in history to have both portrayed M.C. Hammer and a prohibitive Conn Smythe Trophy winner. In researching the role, for which he had to finally learn how to skate, Malco said in our interview this week that he made another interesting discovery about the marketing problems facing the NHL.

"I followed a lot of Gary Bettman interviews. I think on television, hockey's being boxed in. I feel like UFC is outgrowing hockey on television."

Because it's on a channel you can find?

"EXACTLY!" he said. "Don't tell Gary Bettman that I hate his guts or anything like that. But I just feel like he could be a bit more empathetic."

Malco spoke with us on Wednesday about why "The Love Guru" looks rather unfunny in commercials and trailers, why hockey makes him horny, and how NHL players get women by the dozen at the club.

GAME ON

Romany Malco said he chose "The Love Guru" because he's an actor attracted to "telling good stories" in his films. "But bro, I'm not going to sit here and lie: I did want to play hockey," he said. While many of the more complicated stunts were done by a dazzling stand-in named Leo Thomas, Malco did much of his own skating. The film's hockey coordinator, Mark Ellis, said Malco's work ethic in learning how to skate from scratch was impressive. "When Romany first got the job, he couldn't even step on the ice. It took us eight weeks of training him to get him to do anything where he could be tied to the action," he said. "There are many days I'm sure he left the ice and ran to an ice tub."

Q. You managed to stay off of skates through the entire making of "Blades of Glory," and yet you chose to do this movie?

MALCO: Dude, it pissed me off. I wanted to be on skates so bad but they wouldn't let me. The insurance, you know? "Love Guru?" I put those skates on and I trained six hours a day. I didn't have to. They told me to train an hour-and-a-half a day, three days a week. I trained for six hours a day, six days a week, and on the seventh day I'd play in pick-up games. By Day Four, I was doing crossovers both ways. By Day Eight, I was doing one-timers in motion.

My goal was to be believable. I didn't want anyone in hockey to see this thing and be put off because I didn't take the time to learn the sport.

Q. I was also kind of happy they didn't go for the obvious jokes about a black guy playing hockey. I sort of expected that going in.

It's probably the main reason I took the job. If it were written with all of these specific black stereotypes, I wouldn't have done it. ["The 40 Year Old Virgin" director] Judd Apatow has given me license to never have to do that again in my career.

Q. Did you have any memorable interaction with any of the ex-pros on the movie, like Bob Probert?

Probert's hilarious. But some of my fondest memories were when me and the guys would go out. I'd take them out to a steakhouse, we'd leave the steakhouse and go to a club. I remember Sienna Miller was throwing a party, and these guys left with, like, 14 women. We'd go to a club, I'd get us a table, and they'd walk around the club and pull all the women they could find out of the club and bring them to our table. And then they'd cull: "OK, you can go. You sit where she's sitting. You can go ..." These dudes partied until 7 o'clock in the morning and then showed up the next day like it was nothing.

Q. So you saw the puck bunny phenomenon up close and personal.

Aw, man, it was so dope. The only celebrity there is in Canada is the hockey player. That's the bottom line. They're like royalty, but they're down to earth real cats. I think they stay humble because there's always an ass-whipping around the corner.

Q. In the LA Times story about a month ago, you shared the legendary information that hockey make you horny. Do you still get your jones on with the hockey action, sir?

[Laughs] Man, my libido with this hockey is crazy, dude. You remember how they say that when you do squats, how it increases your testosterone and stuff like that? Well, after squats, what? It's hockey. It's all legs. I feel like after that workout, I get so riled up that the only way to break it down is to break it down.

MARKETING 'GURU'

We had a chance to see the film this week, and while it's no classic (our review publishes on Friday), it's much funnier than any of the laugh-free commercials that ran during the Stanley Cup playoffs would indicate. We asked Malco about selling, and creating, the comedy in the film.  

Q. As an actor, are you cognizant of the way a movie is marketed? About the commercials and the trailers?

I do, and it's very rare to me that a movie is represented well by the trailers and the marketing. A lot of times, you'll see the trailers, and then the movie, and they're two completely different things.

Q. A lot of our readers aren't really hyped for this movie. But the movie is a riot compared to the ads.

You've got a limited amount of time to sell the movie. A lot of those jokes that play, they play because the scene plays out. You can only show one scene in a trailer. Is it worth it to gamble on one joke?

Q. That might be changing. There's a "Love Guru" ad on MTV where they used the "you can't face" scene. (Ed. Note: The Guru Pitka has a rather strong accent, so "you can't face" sounds very much like a female anatomical put-down in the film. It's rather amusing.)

[Laughs]. I totally agree. You know, one of the toughest things about making the movie is the straight face. That scene, I was dyin'. I [messed] that thing up so many times, and then everyone else was laughing because they knew I would start laughing and [messed] it up.

Q. What are the basic differences between working with Judd and working with Mike on a comedy?

A lot more improvisation on my end with Judd. And all these other guys Improving and sharing these crazy ideas. With Mike, we were there to serve Mike. We wanted to figure out what was the best way to set up Mike's next joke. It was truthfully a relief to finally be the straight guy.

ROMANY MALCO: FAN FREE AGENT

As we mentioned earlier, Malco rediscovered his love of hockey by climbing inside the sport and appreciating its passion and personalities. But he's a hockey fan from back in the day, too.

Q. Did you get any quality time with the Stanley Cup?

Oh yeah. I don't know what it was, but every time I looked at that damn Cup, all I could think about was Mark Messier coming to the Rangers. His story, his legacy, his coming to that team and how much he had to endure in the process ... I remember when he played for the Edmonton Oilers, and how supportive he was, and it never crossed your mind that this was a superstar in the making.

I honestly haven't selected my [NHL] team yet.

Q. You're a free agent, huh?

Yeah, a free agent.

Q. So for all the fans out there, how can they get Romany Malco to start rooting for their team?

You gotta let me skate with you, man! You gotta let me come out to a practice or something. Let me strap'em on, come out there, do some one-timers. That's how.

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