Screen Gems' recent remake of the 1986 romantic comedy About Last Night (itself based on a 1974 David Mamet play), looks to put a modern spin on the story of two couples looking for longterm commitment from a one-night stand. Directed by Steve Pink (Hot Tub Time Machine), written by Leslye Headland (Bachelorette) and produced by Will Packer, the movie reunites three of Packer's Think Like A Man co-stars - Michael Ealy, Kevin Hart and Regina Hall, along with Joy Bryant.
Ealy and Bryant star as mild-mannered Danny and Debbie, the roles popularized by Rob Lowe and Demi Moore in the original film, opposite Hart and Hall as feisty couple Bernie and Joan, originally played by Jim Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins.
The movie world premiered at Pan African Film Festival on February 11 and with a premiere in theaters this Friday, February 14, the cast and filmmakers gathered to talk about their experience working together. A separate interview with Kevin Hart, discussing the movie and his career, will follow.
On remaking the film with a black cast
WILL PACKER: The "black film" label is something that has been used for quite a while, but I just want to make good films. I want to make films that have universal themes that can appeal to a diverse group of people. I'm very proud of the fact that this film has four African-American leads, and I'm also proud that there's nothing that's culturally or ethnically specific that feels exclusionary to any demo.
About the casting process
WP: When the script came to me there was no cast, and I immediately thought Kevin Hart would be great for it. The way Bernie is written, he is so engaging and funny and such a wildcard, and because I've worked with Kevin multiple times I knew that would be right down the center of his skill set. From that point it was about figuring out the rest of the cast to bring the other voices.
JOY BRYANT: It was my first time working with Will and it was kind of a no-brainer when I got the offer. Clint Culpepper, the head of Screen Gems, called when I was on the set of Parenthood. That doesn't usually happen and it's wonderful when it does. Auditioning is so hard, it’s still hard. So I got lucky that he and Will thought of me and called.
REGINA HALL: When we were doing the press for Think Like A Man, our segment ended early and the guys were doing their segment. I kind of went in and flirted with all the guys. Well, Clint saw it and for whatever reason he was like, "I think she should play Joan." So he called me and said, "I have a script I want you to look at."
WP: I've worked with Michael. I've worked with Regina, and we knew she could keep up with Kevin. I love the dynamic of those two juxtaposed against the dynamic of Michael and Joy. I hadn't worked with Joy before, but she fit right in. So putting them in the hands of Steve with this material, I knew that combination would win.
On relating to their characters in the film
MICHAEL EALY: Danny's 28 in the film, and at 28, hands-down, that's who I was and that made it real for me. When I played Tea Cake in Their Eyes Were Watching God, one of the things I remember reading about the book was that Tea Cake was smooth and he always said the right thing. What I love about Danny was that sometimes he says the wrong thing. Really wrong. Leslye wrote it in a way that was truthful and I love that.
JB: Debbie's a bit different. She is someone who kind of gave up on the idea of love and relationships because well, if it's not going to work, why bother? I'm definitely not like that. I was always [panting], "I love you, do you love me?" But relationships are hard work. You have to be committed, and even if you are committed and you think you're doing everything right, it can still fail. I don't relate to her in terms of relationships, but I get it. It's hard to be vulnerable but you have to be vulnerable in order to have a chance at something.
RH: [Joan's] so not me in my real life. Joan is just a woman who lives through her emotions, whatever they are, and I thought it would be fun to be able to do that. The script was actually not written for an African-American cast, so it came with a great opportunity to show a woman of color completely free and apologetic, smart, and empowered.
How this film compares to the 1986 movie
ME: This is more of a contemporary adaptation of the play than it is a remake of the movie. The movie, I think, has its share of melodrama and it was more about one couple. This one is really about two couples and I think it’s edgier and funnier.
I didn't watch the movie before we started filming, because I liked the script and I wanted to approach it from a fresh perspective as opposed to trying to look at what Rob Lowe did and please those people who saw the '86 film. I still haven't watched it. What am I going to gain from it? I think what Edward Zwick and Rob Lowe and Demi Moore did was for their generation. They did it according to what was contemporary in '86, but the world has changed drastically. The internet has just changed everything, and so to me this About Last Night is based on what's happening right now in 2014.
On making it funny
ME: Kevin and I took our chemistry in this movie to another level. And I think where that stems from is, you’ve got two guys who know their lane. If I try to compete with Kev on the funny, it would be glaringly obvious. What I find works with a comedian of his caliber - and I kind of learned this on Barbershop with Cedric the Entertainer - is you've got to set them up. If you start improvising or riffing, it's all about setting up someone like that to succeed. I generally just kind of throw the ball and he dunks it. Every now and again if we go back-and-forth, I might say something that makes him laugh, but nine times out of ten he's going to be the one to crack me up.
JB: If you're playing the straight guy that's a skill in itself, keeping a straight face and keeping engaged in the scene. With Kevin and also with Regina, because Regina is no joke. Totally underrated. So the two of them together, it was very hard because I wanted to crack up the entire time.
RH: We didn't know that we were going to have that kind of chemistry. The first day we shot all the love scenes, so all of that stuff was just done on the spot. Kevin's reaction to the hits [in the trailer], it was all improv. What's great about working with someone like Kevin is that he’s so amazingly talented and he wants you to shine too. He's not someone that feels the need to be the only one. And because we know each other, the great thing is, I was comfortable.
JB: I haven't done many comedies, but when I did Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins it was that same kind of thing because there was Mo'Nique and Martin [Lawrence] and Cedric [the Entertainer] and Mike Epps. So keeping straight-faced in the face of that I think, kind of prepared me for the Kevin and Regina show.