Kevin Hart, at the Buckhead St. Regis Hotel earlier this month, was visibly tired. He had just spent the previous night partying at local hotspots the Gold Room and Velvet Room. “Premiere parties. Afterparties. Hosting special events,” he said.
But he wasn’t complaining. His career is on the rise, and he’s excited about being such a central character in “Think Like a Man,” a romantic comedy which hits theaters nationwide Friday and is based on Atlanta comedian Steve Harvey’s best-selling advice book.
“This,” Hart said, “could potentially be my breakout role.”
Within an ensemble cast which includes Gabrielle Union, Taraji B. Henson and Michael Ealy, Hart brings a brash, Chris Tucker-like sensibility to his role as Cedric, a recently divorced man on the prowl.
Hart said his own recent divorce helped inform him about his character. He said he and his ex Torrei, who have two kids, are working it out. “We’re both adults and we’ve matured a lot,” he said. “We’re not fighting over this and that. I didn’t walk away without taking care of her.”
“Think Like a Man,” he said, focuses on the men’s point of view. “Most romantic comedies are female driven,” he said. In this case, the men spend a lot of time teasing each other, giving (often bad) advice and hitting bars, clubs and basketball courts.
In one scene, Hart challenges several much taller players (many who are actual NBA players) to a game despite the fact he’s only 5 feet 5 inches tall. But don’t take his clowning on the court to mean he doesn’t take his game seriously.
“I’m really pretty good,” he said. “I’m fast!”
Off camera, he said the camaraderie among the male actors came naturally. “Nobody ran off to their trailers between takes,” he said. “We hung out and talked. That’s how we managed to create some really great chemistry.”
Will Packer, CEO of Atlanta-based Rainforest Films, which produced the movie, said he gave Hart plenty of breathing room to improvise during scenes. “Before I cast this film,” Packer said, “I went out and watched Kevin to stand-up in three cities. I wanted to see how he related to people in different parts of the country. I realized that we could anchor our film around him.”
The Philadelphia native started his career doing stand-up comedy. In New York City, he drew inspiration and advice from the likes of Colin Quinn and Jim Norton, then met bigger stars such as Chris Rock, George Wallace and Jerry Seinfeld. “It’s all in the company you keep,” he said.
He was impressed watching already successful comics like Ray Romano and Tracy Morgan hitting small clubs to work on their craft. Success, he learned, meant hard work.
Early on, Hart said he was creating characters on stage. “That was hurting me,” he said. “I was trying to get laughs instead of naturally doing what I know is funny, which is telling stories about my life and my childhood and as an adult. I do a lot of self deprecation and joke about my flaws. That’s what people love most.”
Last year, he decided to release a stand-up comedy film in theaters, “Laugh at My Pain.” Hart and his business partner Jeff Clanagan funded the movie to the tune of $700,000, a major risk in this day and age of YouTube and ubiquitous Comedy Central specials. But he made back his money and then some because it grossed $7.7 million, an impressive take for this type of movie.
Hart knows to keep his career on full throttle. He is co-producing a film with Seth Rogan about an inter-racial cop buddy team set in the early 1950s. He’s also committed to a “scripted fake reality show” on BET called “House Husbands,” inspired by a popular skit from the BET awards mocking the “Real Housewives” shows.
He’s also planning more stand-up dates later this year and reflecting his rising status, hopes to book Philips Arena in the fall. Just five years ago, he headlined the Punchline (capacity: 270) for the first time.
“The success I’ve been having is unreal,” Hart said. He has a hard time wrapping his head around it” “I don’ t think about it. I don’t want to think about it. I want to maintain a humble mindset.”
Check out the highlights from the Atlanta premiere at the Atlantic Station.
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk