A long time ago, when people outside of the comedy circuit sincerely asked, “Kevin Hart who?” I knew they would know that answer pronto because the very funny Hart has the type of liquid silver ambition that obliterates the competition.
On the set of Russ Parr’s first indie film, I watched Hart preparing for a dramatic turn wherein his character pretty much has a mental breakdown with a ventriloquist dummy perched on his lap—and even the wooden dummy looked terrified.
It was early in his career, and Hart was surrounded by quick-tongued haters who were scrapping to occupy the abandoned “Black comedy throne.” On that dusty L.A. set, I noted that he was deaf to the chorus of negative barbs being hurled toward him. Hart moved like a featherweight fighter, keeping his focus on a much bigger prize.
If you haven’t noticed, Hart is winning, and at the New York City press conference for the new Warner Bros. Pictures comedy “Grudge Match,” starring Oscar winner Robert De Niro (“Raging Bull,” “The Godfather 2”) and Oscar nominee Sylvester Stallone (the “Rocky” films, “The Expendables”), he was awash in praise.
Here is what Hart had to say about his career, working with “Rocky Balboa” and “Jake LaMotta” and perfecting the art of becoming a successful global brand!
AmNews: Tell me about [your character] Dante Slate Jr., the silver-tongued son of a legendary boxing promoter who, sadly, died, leaving his son financially destitute.
Hart: He inherited his father’s ability to persuade, definitely, and he’s desperate, which makes for good comedy right there!
In the comedy world, your stock is red-hot. Did you campaign for the role with director Peter Segal or was it a straight offer?
Accepting this role was a no-brainer: Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Alan Arkin and Kim Basinger. I’m being paid to watch Rocky fight “The Raging Bull.” What movie fan, what boxing fan, what actor is not going to want to see that or be part of it?
Plus, working with Peter [Segal] and legendary producer [Bill] Gerber, who produced “Gran Torino”—again, it was actually no thinking required; just nod and show up to do the work!
“Grudge Match” is a very unique comedy, and I think opening it Christmas Day will make it a great family outing. Better to watch others fight on the big screen than have a repeat of past holiday brawls. Your loved ones should be very proud of you, because you’re successfully playing in the big leagues on so many different playing fields.
Let me add that as a student of the game, working with this caliber of talent, I was a kid in a candy store; I learned something useful everyday.
Only about nine minutes of the film is about boxing. It’s really a comedic look at relationships and a person’s legacy. Do you want to weigh in about legacy? You have a new and thriving production company; is your stand-up and roles in films not enough?
In today’s climate, it’s about controlling your brand. That’s what is so important to me. I have a brand, and I like to be in charge of that brand, from production to creating—just development overall. I think people don’t realize just how important it is to be productive outside of the acting world, because if that world stops, you still need to go.
For me it’s just having a bunch of doors that I can open up by myself, without the help of others. From stand-up to producing, to writing, to directing, whatever it may be, you create those avenues so you never stop when the world stops. I enjoy every moment of my journey.
How different is stand-up comedy? How do you transition?
Stand-up comedy is a different world. That’s my world. I’m who I am; people pay to see me because they like me. I’m quick on my feet. That helps with working with other actors, I think.
In acting, I get to be who I want to be for that particular role. Creating characters is fun! It’s always fun taking on personalities that are different. Somewhat crazy too, because I think that’s where the crazy side of people comes in. But I still bring that stand-up realm to my acting side—like I said for this film, “Grudge Match,” I was like a hungry kid in a big, candy store! I loved every minute working with Stallone, Kim, Alan and Robert. It’s funny, and let’s face it, I do know something about comedy.
Hart is president of Hartbeat Productions and executive producer, co-creator and star of the series “The Real Husbands of Hollywood.”
Warner Bros. Pictures’ “Grudge Match” opens Dec. 25. For more information, visit grudgematchmovie.com.