Billy Crystal and Tiffany Haddish Reveal Cringey True Stories That Inspired 'Here Today' (Exclusive)
By John Boone
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Billy Crystal's new dramedy, Here Today, begins with a scene so outlandish and so unbelievable that it could only be true. Crystal's character, veteran comedy writer Charlie Burnz, sits down at a restaurant with Emma (Tiffany Haddish), who won their lunch in a charity auction. He promptly discovers her winning bid was $22. And then she has a severe allergic reaction. Turns out, it was, indeed, a true story.
"My great friend and my co-writer, Alan Zweibel, who's an original SNL writer and a writer of really funny books and short stories and plays and on and on and on, was on The David Letterman Show as a guest, and he talked about this charity auction lunch where somebody pays money and you have this uncomfortable lunch," Crystal tells ET's Kevin Frazier. "But it could be interesting."
Like in the movie, Zweibel shared that the woman had only paid $22 for their lunch, ordered a seafood salad and had to be rushed to the emergency room. What began as an uncomfortable encounter became even more so when he had to call an ambulance for a total stranger and ended up footing thousands of dollars for her hospital bill.
"So, he's telling the story and he was embellishing it a bit like only Alan can, and I'm watching it in support as a friend," Crystal recalls. But he also thought there was something more. He wrote to Zweibel and said, "'This is the beginning of a great relationship. Let's see what this is. Call me in the morning.' And he did and we started talking about who they could be."
Crystal, who co-wrote and also directed Here Today, became Charlie, but it was only when he saw Haddish hosting Saturday Night Live that he realized he needed her to play his onscreen other half, an aspiring New York singer. "The movie needed her," Crystal says.
"When I saw her -- the charm, how funny she was, how fearless she was, her natural personality -- the movie was not set up then, and I said, 'We have to get this to her. This is for her,'" he recalls. "And then when I read about her past, about performing at bat mitzvahs and bar mitzvahs and stuff-- We had written a scene where her character, Emma, sings a Janis Joplin song at a bar mitzvah, so to me, this was destiny. It was meant to be."
Crystal sent the script to Haddish, who was in Africa at the time. "First of all, I love Billy Crystal," she reveals of her reaction to him reaching out. "Like this is--" she pantomimes her mind being blown. She read the screenplay and told her people to tell his people to get a meeting on the schedule as soon as possible.
"I get back and I take braids out, right? And they're like, 'Oh, he wants to meet on this day.' I'm like, 'What am I doing with my hair?! Oh my goodness. Do I press it? Do I put a wig on it?" Haddish remembers. "I was just like, 'You know what? I'm walking in with an afro. No makeup. He's gonna just see me the way that I am. If he likes me, great. Fantastic. And if he don't, I got to meet Billy Crystal!"
As Crystal remembers it, "The charming, beautiful host that I had seen was so funny was even more interesting and charming and challenging in person. And I went, 'This is the character. She has got to do this.' And I even said to her, 'It's important that you do this,'" he shares. "And I wasn't selling. I felt like I wanted to say that to her. 'This is a special movie for you.'"