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Sitcom Star Plays Living Legend

"How do I play Jerry Lewis? How do I attempt to play Jerry Lewis? I did all the research I could," says Sean Hayes in an interview on The Early Show.

The Emmy Award winner teams up with Screen Actor's Guild Award winner Jeremy Northam to let viewers in on the tumultuous relationship between entertainers Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.

So besides reading all the books, watching the films and all the shows from the Colgate Comedy Hour, Hayes got help from Lewis himself.

"Jerry was kind enough to offer some archive footage that no one had seen. (He) sent it to the production house while we were shooting, that was fun to watch," he says.

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Wanting to approach the role objectively, Hayes says he did not speak with Lewis before he started production, since Martin is no longer here to speak with.

"So I wrote Jerry a letter and he received it after we started shooting. And I got a phone call and I couldn't believe it. I called him and I said, 'I can't believe I'm talking to you, I can't believe I'm hearing your voice,'" Hayes recalls.

Lewis was very encouraging.

"He said, 'I read the script, and when they said that they were casting you, I said, 'Of course, that's perfect.' And to hear that from the living legend he is, it was kind of incredible," says Hayes.

"And then to top it off I got a phone call from him, saying that he saw the film. And I was holding my breath. And he said that he loved it. And he said it was exactly right. He cried, he said it touched him. Everything he said was more than I could ever want. Just perfect," Hayes adds.

From 1945 on, Martin and Lewis began appearing on the same bill, beginning a long and sometimes stormy relationship.

"Dean allowed Jerry to be Jerry, and Dean loved Jerry making him laugh more than Jerry making the audience laugh. Dean was Jerry's best audience and allowed him to be that," says Hayes.

But after a decade of working together, the odd couple had to call it quits.

"Jerry said that it was wonderful for nine to nine and a half years, and then, in the last five to six months ,they wouldn't talk to each other at all because of the growing strain," explains Hayes.

Martin had embraced his celebrity life from the get go, but the self-doubting Lewis ended up resenting Martin's ability to captivate an audience.

"Dean couldn't handle it anymore and Jerry now realizes that the outrageousness of Jerry and the drive that he had and the acceptance that Jerry was looking for from Dean is the thing that drove Dean away," Hayes says.

Before working on the film, Hayes admits he did not really know how big Martin and Lewis once were.

"I was one of the people who were unaware how huge they were. When they broke up, this is how big they were, they got tons and tons of hate mail from fans in America saying how angry they were that they because they broke up, because people looked to them for relief, for escape because of the war and all. They were furious. They said, 'How dare you do this to us.' And that is so fascinating to me," says Hayes.

The opportunity to portray Jerry Lewis was more than a big break, Hayes says.

"It was a wonderful experience. I needed it for myself and timing is everything. It was the perfect part for me."

"Martin & Lewis" airs Sunday, Nov. 24, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

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