With buddy comedy Ride Along seeing huge numbers at the box office and a slew of other film and television projects on his plate, Kevin Hart has become the go-to comedian in Hollywood.
In Screen Gems' remake of '80s rom-com About Last Night, he plays opposite Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant as Bernie, a loud-mouthed womanizer who has to decide whether to commit to feisty would-be girlfriend Joan (Regina Hall). During the recent press junket for the film, Hart spoke about his experience making the movie and where his career is headed.
You've got a lot going on these days. How are you keeping your focus, and what kind of lessons are you picking up?
I've watched my peers, people that were in my position before that made certain decisions. Some decisions have worked and some haven’t. I’ve been doing this for 17 plus years and right now my just due is coming. So from everything that I've seen before this moment, it's now time for me to make the smart decisions. Okay Kevin, you're here. They're saying you're the guy. What do you do? Do you relax or do you stay grounded and take advantage of your position by building and getting relationships, by creating for you and your brand?
As a producer, as a CEO of Hartbeat Productions, I am making deals to put my company in place to win, to put my staff to work so that while all this stuff is going on, they’re in the kitchen cooking. So it's understanding the longevity of the entertainment business; you get out of it what you put into it. You put in everything you've got, you're going to get a great result. The timetable of that could be a year or ten years. But eventually it will pay off and come full circle. I'm living proof of that.
17 years is a long time, and you've been open about projects that haven't worked out along the way. How do you deal with rejection?
That's the fucked up thing about acting: you need thick skin. I've got stories. I've done auditions where the casting director is taking the paper out of my hand in the middle of reading. My show The Big House was picked up, they flew me to New York. I'm about to step on stage to announce Kevin Hart's The Big House. And a hand grabs my shoulder, "Kevin no, they just decided to cancel it." It's a serious smack-in-the-face business, and either you can take it or you can't. I remember this guy named Lucian at The Comic Strip told me that he felt that I just wasn't that funny. He didn't like my approach to standup comedy, and this was the guy who judged you to get on stage. And I was like, "Alright." I just went to another comedy club. I didn't get affected by it. You have to have a thick skin. Some people are blessed with it, some people aren't.
About Last Night looked like a lot of fun to make. How was to riff and improv with Regina Hall?
I thank God I had Regina to work off of because the chemistry in this movie is through the roof. She's pound for pound, one of the funniest women on the planet. I'm an improv warrior. That's what I do, it's second nature and I can go all day, but Regina did not miss a beat.You can count on one hand the women that can feed off of that type of comedic energy and Regina Hall should definitely be in that conversation.
The film is not only comedy, but it also tries to show the emotional side of your relationship with her character.
It's a different look for me. I've switched it up a bit. I think women are going to appreciate it and I think that men are going to relate to it, because I'm playing a character that I made a point of making as real as possible. This guy does exist. I've been this guy. You see me get emotional, you see me get angry, and then at the same time you see me show a charming side. I've got levels.
How did you prepare for those levels, or the more serious parts of the film outside of just being funny?
I would love to give you a background thespian story of how I didn't sleep for three days and went to the gym every morning and every night, and after that I read relationship books, but I'm not that guy. It was just about me pulling from past experiences in my life and making sure that no matter what I did, it was believable. That was the biggest task. So it was me talking to [director] Steve Pink going, "Hey, make sure I'm never too much. Make sure that I'm always in a realistic playing field." And he did a great job of monitoring that.
What's different about this film vs. the original 1986 movie?
The original was a great movie. We can't do what that movie did because that movie's already on a pedestal. We just wanted to take that mold and modernize it, and I think we did a great job of making it fit for today's society and today's relationship do's and don'ts.
People are calling this a renaissance in black film. Where do you think black film is headed?
I think the whole stigma of "black movies" is slowly being lost. When you look at movies like 12 Years A Slave, to The Butler, to The Best Man, to Ride Along, to even Think Like A Man from last year - these movies are just good movies. They're movies that everybody's going to see, and I think that because of the box office results you can't deny a film being a good film. Granted it takes time, but I love the fact that people are going to associate this as being a good movie regardless of the color of the cast.
Now I have done some black movies, yeah. I did a movie I hope nobody knows about called Something Like A Business. I'll be the first to say there's some films that should be called "black movies." But this and some other movies I've done are just good films.
Any advice you'd give entertainers who want to follow in your path?
Surround yourself with motivated people, because you have no choice but to become what you're seeing on a day-to-day basis. The Puffs, the Jay-Zs, the Russell Simmons, the Tyler Perrys, the studio heads. I’m now surrounded by people who make decisions, people who take meetings and position other people to best benefit them and their needs. I'm surrounded by people who are businessmen, that started off as entertainers. Judd Apatow, a guy that started off doing standup comedy, and after that went to writing, and after that went to pitching and producing, and eventually went to making major deals with studios to a point where he’s now the face of what comedy is.
I don't see how people are comfortable with seeing other people be great. You can be happy for anybody, but what is your excuse to not want to be great? These people are great because they just say, "I'ma do that," and they do it. That's it. There's no scientifical process. I'm just a guy that's like, "Yo, I want to do this," and I'm doing it. The worst thing that can happen is you don't do it right. And then after that you learn from what you didn't do right, and how to do it right the next time. I just want to be great. There's no reason why I can't be a mogul. When I step into a room and I'm there to have a conversation, if it pertains to business, I want to be respected as a guy who knows what he's talking about. And that to me holds more weight than anything else. When you sit down with company heads, you could sit down just as talent and they'll talk to you as talent. Or you can sit down as talent with business acumen and it's a different ball game.
Now that you're gaining in popularity and reaching that level of respect, what kind of legacy do you hope to leave?
I think I'm showing comedians of our generation that it's not just about being funny. There's so much more to success; it's about branding yourself. The perception that you're putting out there could eventually become your reality. How do you want to be perceived? I think a lot of young guys don't understand that it's not just about going out there to make people laugh for two seconds; it's about, what is your plan?
And as you get closer to that plan any relationship that you incur will eventually come back, I guarantee you. That's one thing that I've learned. Any hand that I've shaken, any person that I met when I was Joe Blow, now that I'm this guy Kevin Hart, has come back. That's why I treat everybody with respect. I'm always a nice pleasant guy to meet because when they come back to you, they remember. They say, "Let's talk about ways for us to do something together." Now it becomes a partnership conversation. It's a respect thing.
About Last Night opens in theaters tomorrow, Valentine's Day, February 14. Find the interview with the rest of the cast HERE.