Among the familiar faces in Woody Allen's new film "Blue Jasmine" is one less familiar these days, someone who hasn't been seen on the big screen in 12 years: Andrew Dice Clay.
In the role of Sally Hawkins' blue collar ex-husband, the crass comedian's appearance might be a surprise to some, especially with his character's vanity-free gray hair.
"You know what? I'm not 20 years old anymore!" Clay said with a laugh. "I do color my hair, and they did enhance the gray, but I was like, 'Oh, man!' "
Allen rediscovered Clay along with the rest of America when the Diceman played a version of himself as a comic looking for a comeback in a five-episode arc on "Entourage." Coincidentally, it triggered his own comeback, which Clay prefers to call "a resurgence."
"It's an unbelievable thing to me," he said. "I've always had belief in myself, belief that I could come back, and I've always sort of marched to the beat of my own drum, but to get this movie and to work with all these people -- Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins -- some of the greats, I'm nothing but humbled by this experience."
These days, Clay knows from humble. Three years ago, "during the recession," he was down on his luck and in need of cash, so he headed to Las Vegas to try to his luck at blackjack. "It was a tough time," he said. "Desperate times call for desperate measures."
During his gambling spree, Clay earned a little over a million dollars, but it was easy come, easy go.
"After I took care of some bills and bought some cars, I lost most of it," he said. "I call it the summer of 'The Hangover,' because it was just a party."
By the end of that summer, Clay was broke again. (It's a scenario that proved helpful for his "Blue Jasmine" character, Augie, who won $200,000 in a lottery, only to lose it all in an ill-advised investment.)
Strangely enough, "that whole thing led to 'Entourage,' " Clay said. While lamenting his lack of funds with his son at a local Starbucks, the comedian ran into an old friend, who connected him with a mutual friend the very next day: "Entourage" creator Doug Ellin. And with the extended arc Ellin gave him, Clay was once again in demand.
"I was like, 'You know what? I'll just rebuild my standup career,' " Clay said.
A Showtime comedy special followed, along with a residency at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas. "And through all this, I get the call that Woody Allen wants to meet with me," he said. "I thought my manager was messing with me!"
Clay met with Allen on Park Avenue -- a location seen and cited in "Blue Jasmine" as the most desirable of New York addresses, one that means wealth, class and elegance to the titular and very status-conscious character Jasmine (played by Blanchett).
"We spoke about comedy, where we both started out, where we both grew up" in Brooklyn, Clay said of his meeting with the director. "And I couldn't believe it. He's one of the people in Hollywood I have a lot of respect for, because he's done movies that have made me laugh, 'Broadway Danny Rose' being one of my favorites."
Allen explained that he wanted the comedian/actor to do something meaty for him. Up until now, Clay had a spotty film career, the highlights being a cameo as Jon Cryer's friendly bouncer in 1986's "Pretty in Pink," a part as Lea Thompson's macho suitor in the 1988 raunchy comedy "Casual Sex?" and a starring role in 1990's "The Adventures of Ford Fairlane." Usually, his character was an extension of his on-stage persona, the Diceman (called the Vin Man in "Casual Sex?").
"I refer to that persona as a brick wall," Clay said. "Nothing bothers Dice. Nothing. If Dice breaks up with a girl at 8 p.m., another one will be coming over at 8:10."
That persona was popular in films for a bit: "Casual Sex?" reshot the ending to give him a happy ending with Thompson's character, Clay said, "because audiences wanted more of the Vin Man." But "Ford Fairlane" was a critical and commercial bomb, and Clay's movie career never quite recovered.
Allen didn't care. After watching him on "Entourage," he thought Clay would be perfect for the role of Augie (for which he originally considered Louis C.K., until he decided he was "too nice" and gave him a different role). At the beginning of "Blue Jasmine," we're told that Augie and Ginger (Hawkins' character) are divorced and that he used to hit her. But even in flashbacks of their marriage, he's not violent.
"Woody told me, 'Well, you know, he gets drunk; maybe he smacks his wife around a little,' " Clay said. "And then I read the lines, and the lines didn't really match up to that. He seemed like a regular guy who want to take care of his family, who wants the best for his family, and the guy is just crushed."
Clay wonders whether Allen told him that his character was a brute to get his mind "in a certain place" and if that was part of the director's method. "Whatever it was, it did the trick," he said.
With that direction, he was able to find hidden depths to Augie and do something he felt he'd "never approached before on film," which was play "a real human being, a full person," essentially, to act.
"It was kind of thrilling," the comic said.
To help his character's antagonism toward his sister-in-law, Jasmine, she of the ill advice that caused him to lose his money and his marriage, Clay drew upon his relationships with his former Beverly Hills neighbors. "Oh, they hated me in Beverly Hills," he chuckled. "Once you have a certain reputation, you have problems, and the Brooklyn in me would come out."
If he could do it again, Clay said, he'd work with Allen "any day." "All he needs to do is call and say, 'I need you on Broadway and 42nd Street tomorrow,' and I'm there," Clay said. "That's how great I think he is."
In the meantime, Clay hopes to recruit some actors himself. He's looking for someone to play him in the film adaptation of his upcoming memoir, "The Filthy Truth." Clay said James Franco met with him to discuss the part.