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How 'Think Like A Man Too' Sensation Kevin Hart Went from Struggling Comic to CEO of His Own Brand

Thompson on Hollywood By Joe Leydon | Thompson on Hollywood June 19, 2014 at 2:40PM

Kevin Hart is nothing if not a man with a plan. And so far, that plan appears to be working remarkably well. "You can't outdo me because I control what I want to do, and I spread it out. I'm a company. I'm a CEO. That's always good. We have a CEO mindset going into anything we do," he says.
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Kevin Hart in 'Think Like A Man Too'
Kevin Hart in 'Think Like A Man Too'

Kevin Hart is nothing if not a man with a plan. And so far, that plan appears to be working remarkably well.

After years of honing his talents as a stand-up comic -- and, yes, after a few false starts while branching out into movies and television -- the North Philadelphia-born phenom has broken out as a multimedia star. He routinely sells out live performances throughout the world, his faux reality series "Real Husbands of Hollywood" is one of the highest-rated shows on the BET cable network, and his films, well, let's put it like this: There have been few actors as ubiquitous on movie screens as Hart is right now since the 1960s and '70s heydays of Michael Caine and Gene Hackman.

Consider: During the past two-and-a-half years, Hart has loomed large in such diverse fare as "Think Like a Man," "Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain" (a follow-up to his 2011 breakout comedy concert film "Laugh at My Pain"), "Grudge Match," "Ride Along" and "About Last Night." (And mind you, that's not counting cameos in "This is the End," "The Five-Year Engagement" and the indie comedy "Exit Strategy.") 

"Think Like a Man Too" -- the much buzzed-about sequel in which he reprises his scene-stealing performance as the manic, motormouth Cedric -- opens Friday in theaters and drive-ins everywhere. Coming soon: "The Wedding Ringer" (which has Hart cast as an entrepreneur who provides best men for friendless grooms), "Get Hard" (a co-starring gig opposite Will Ferrell), "Captain Underpants" (Hart's first stint as vocal talent for an animated feature) and, of course, "Ride Along 2." 

Hart, who turns 35 next month, in spite of bad press for his latest, isn't about to slow down anytime soon. Despite his current success, he still sees himself as making up for lost time after a few early fumbles. "Really," he said during a recent promotional swing through Houston, "I don't understand how people work very hard to be successful, and then stop.  How they can put all that effort and time and energy in their life, and then think, 'I'm at a successful point.  They're paying me.  I'm going to stop.'  I don't understand that.  I can't fathom that."

On the other hand, Hart was willing to pause long enough to discuss the grand strategy he has devised for his career.  

I've seen this phenomenon before: An actor lays some groundwork over a period of time with a few standout performances, and then all of a sudden -- wham! -- everybody wants to make a movie with this guy. I remember talking about this years ago with Matt Damon, around the time of "Good Will Hunting," when he seemed to be everywhere all at once. Do you think you've reached the point where everybody wants to be in the Kevin Hart business?

Yes.  At the end of the day studios, studio execs, they follow box office revenue.  When you show that you sell tickets and that people respond to your product, people want to be in business with that.  At the end of the day, the key word is business.  As a talent, it's your job to control that business to the best of your ability.  All it takes is one or two things not to come out the way that you thought they would after investing so much -- and then you're responsible for it. 

What happens then?

You become flavor of the month. That's why I say you have to be careful -- because you can be a flavor of the month if you don't represent yourself correctly.  The difference between myself and other people, I think, is I'm a brand.  It's not just movies.  I think the great thing about me is I'm spread so far, and I do so much more that studios can't control.  Social media is powerful now.  You're looking at somebody that's got 35, 36 million people at the click of a button that studios can't control.

When they have these younger actors or actresses that have these followings -- that's what studios can't buy right now.  The success of my films and the success of anything I'm doing comes from the way that I promote myself.  Granted, I'm putting out great product, great content, but the studio goes, "This guy is a business as well."  That's where my longevity comes in.  You can't outdo me because I control what I want to do, and I spread it out.  I'm a company.  I'm a CEO.  That's always good.  We have a CEO mindset going into anything we do.

This whole notion of establishing yourself as a brand -- that really came across in your last stand-up comedy concert film, "Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain". It showed how much you'd established yourself as a live performer throughout the world -- even in places where the people are even whiter than I am. 

This article is related to: Kevin Hart, Interviews, Features


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.