Brad Garrett On Starring In The New Coming-Of-Age Film Cha Cha Real Smooth - Exclusive Interview

"Cha Cha Real Smooth" is a heartfelt coming-of-age movie about 22-year-old Andrew, played by the film's writer and director Cooper Raiff. After graduating college, he has no plan for his future and ends up living back at home with his mom (played by Leslie Mann), younger brother, and stepdad. Andrew eventually discovers what he wants by forming a friendship with another local mom, Domino (played by Dakota Johnson), and her daughter, Lola. But, one of the most interesting relationships throughout the film is that between Andrew and his stepdad Greg, played by Brad Garrett.

Garrett is known for his role as Robert Barone in "Everybody Loves Raymond" as well as many voice acting roles, including in "Tangled," "Ratatouille," and "Christopher Robin." During an exclusive interview with The List, the actor shared his experience on "Cha Cha Real Smooth" and how he connected to the story, as well as discussing what it was like working with such a young director and acting alongside Leslie Mann.

Why he wanted to work with Cooper Raiff

What made you want to be part of this project?

What project? I'm just kidding.

Oh, you scared me.

I'm trying to break the ice ... It came down to Cooper [Raiff's] passion and also reading the script. It was so wonderfully written and a testament to the human condition on many levels.

Your character Greg and Cooper's character Andrew have a very interesting kind of contentious dynamic throughout the movie. What was that like for you to play?

Well, that's what really attracted me to it. I always say, when you hear about a coming-of-age movie, we think of like 17- or 18-years-old or ... we come of age many times in our life. I'm going through it right now at 62. We're hopefully always evolving.

The dynamic that [Andrew] and Greg had, it seemed like they were both looking to find their footing, not only in life but in the relationship as a stepson and stepfather, which is something I'm very familiar with because I had a great stepdad growing up, but also a stepdad that had trouble navigating his emotions, whether it was with my mom or with me or my brothers. So expressing himself emotionally was always a task, which I feel it is for Cooper's character as well in the film.

The need for more coming-of-age stories later in life

This movie also has a great balance of drama with comedy throughout it. Do you like doing projects like that, where it brings in both elements seamlessly?

I do. Just as in life, there's a lot of comedy and drama. I've used humor my whole life as a defense, as a relief, as a tool. And if it's really accurate to the human condition, it's going to have comedy, often dark comedy, and it's going to have drama. It felt very balanced here.

Cooper's an amazing director and writer. And it felt like the humor came out of character as opposed to just being jokes or jokey. It seemed to come out of what each character was going through, which always makes it more authentic.

You mentioned that this is a coming-of-age story that takes place after college. Do you want to see more coming-of-age stories at different points in life as opposed to the classic, graduating high school type of thing?

I do. Because, like I said, we're always going through things at different phases in our life. I have two children, 22 and 23, and they think they need to have all the answers now. We're in a society that's always pressuring them. We're in a fast serve or a fast food type of society. We have to know everything now, thanks to social media. And that raises children in an unrealistic environment, to where they don't always have to know. You can graduate college and still wonder what you're doing.

The key, I hope that they discover, is to know where you are emotionally. That's more important than career or relationships; if you know where you are, and you're comfortable in your own skin (which took me 40-some years to get, [I'm] still battling that), then that's helpful in knowing where you are in your life.

Acting with Leslie Mann was a 'great' experience

Your character, Greg, the dynamic he has with all the other characters is very funny, but he's usually pretty straight-faced throughout every scene. Was it ever difficult for you not to break and laugh while you were filming?

Really, no. I found a lot of it amusing. We had a lot of fun. [Cooper is] a very collaborative director because he's such a good actor and writer. It was a very homogenous set. It felt great with the producers and the writers. And it's really cool when you start out with someone that's relatively new to the industry because they're still incredibly passionate and very, very excited. ... You had some wonderful people involved in this film, so it really made for a very fun set. But I try not to break when I'm in character. Once in a while you do. But at this point in my life, I'm just trying to remember my lines. You know?

What was it like working with Leslie Mann on this project?

I've always been a fan of Leslie's, and that was another reason why [I took the project]. Being able to work with her was a great reason to jump on board. Of course, with Dakota too. Though, I didn't have any scenes with her. However, I kept asking if I could. And they kept saying, "No, no, just be happy you're here."

But it was great with Leslie. She is a very astute actor, and she comes from comedy, but all of her stuff is so grounded. And she did such a great job as Cooper's mom. So it was really fun. I really believe that, at least for me in my tastes, that the smaller indie films are the gold nuggets of a lot of filmmaking because there's a freedom and a risk that comes with a lot of these projects. When they're not gigantic studio films, they really let the creators do their thing and keep it genuine. So I'm very grateful I had anything to do with this.

What his character Greg brings to the table in the film

A few different characters throughout the movie say that your character Greg is good for Andrew's mom. Do you feel like he brings something to the family that it takes a while for Andrew to see? 

[He brings] stability for Andrew's mom, but the bottom line is there will always be a dynamic between a stepson and a stepfather, especially early on. Especially at these ages of the kids in the film, where there's going to be a competition.

Here's this guy coming into his life. He's running the show, though Greg is really just flying by the seat of his pants. He's learning every day, like Cooper is. That's what they have in common. They're really not sure what they're doing, but their hearts are in the right place, but they're very different individuals. And so [Greg] represents, I'm sure, a threat to Andrew in the beginning, though [he doesn't] mean to be. Though it's important to show that [he has] everything under control. And I'm sure [he's] a little too controlling for Andrew, but that's what's happened to Greg in his life.

He's had to live a certain way. He's had to work a certain way. And Andrew is taking a very different type of path so that may be a threat. I guess maybe deep down, [Greg is] a little envious of that. Greg wishes he had a second chance at life and to maybe fly a little under the radar and try things differently, like Andrew's able to.

The real message of 'Cha Cha Real Smooth'

Were there any parts of this project that were more challenging?

Not really. I really enjoyed it. I'm very grateful to be included in it. I wouldn't say challenging, I would say it felt great. It felt like even in a small way, I was part of something that was really special. When I saw Cooper's first film "S**thouse," I was really impressed at his ability for someone so young. And he has a fearless way of directing. And I say "fearless" because he's open. He's open to ideas, open to thoughts from other actors. The [movie] had a wonderful cinematographer. The producers were very ... They're all young. You know?

I'm at the point in my life that I walk on a set and they're like, "Somebody get him a chair." So it's great to see a bunch of young people kicking ass and making something that was special.

It was great to see that audiences were so taken by it at Sundance and really liked it. It's a feel-good movie that doesn't try to preach, that doesn't try to fix problems. It's like, "Hey, this is it, this is our life. This is where we are. And we're still dancing as fast as we can to figure it out."

Well, my last question was going to be, what do you hope people take from this movie? But you kind of already summed it up.

I hope I have. I hope that [audiences] take away that it's okay not to know everything. At a young age, at an old age, do the best you can. Stay true to yourself. Life's hard. We're all searching. 

"Cha Cha Real Smooth" will be released in select theaters and premiere globally on Apple TV+ on June 17, 2022.

This interview was edited for clarity.