Stand-up comic Kevin Hart brings his stage skills to the screen in a big way in “Think Like a Man,” a romantic ensemble comedy based on Steve Harvey’s dating-advice book. Hart plays one of a group of basketball-playing pals, four of whom get involved with women who read the book and put its principles into practice. (Hart’s not one of them: he’s the dyspeptic character who’s going through a divorce and comments ruefully on his friends’ relationships.)
In a recent Dallas interview, the exuberant Hart talked about his contribution to the picture. “There was so much improvisation in the film, especially myself and Romany [Malco]—me and Romany have known each other for a long time, we did ‘30-Year Old Virgin’ together—so [our] whole scene was improv, there was no script,” he said. “Going into this, what was important to us was making sure we come off as friends for real. Yes, we know each other, but we had to make sure that it transferred to film. So we went out to dinner several times, we went out for drinks after set, because we knew the scenes we had coming up. We put ourselves in those environments a lot to make sure they came off genuine when it came time to actually film. It was so much fun, because literally we would laugh, because [the scenes] actually mimicked the same stuff the night before when we were at dinner.
“This movie is set up as debates about relationships and how we treat women and why men do the things they do. We found ourselves as a cast debating throughout the whole movie. Nobody went to their trailers after a scene was done. We’d all be sitting on the set debating. Literally it was the girls against the men at some points. Some days there were a couple of men that would agree with the women, or the women would disagree. The conversation was amazing. All of this stemmed from the film, from the scenes we were dealing with. So the friendship was already there, but it was enhanced because we got to spend so much time together. And our chemistry, I think you can see in the film, was amazing.”
Hart’s ability to work without a net came in handy in one standout sequence, when the diminutive comic squared off on the court against some NBA heavyweights. “The basketball scene was all improvised,” he explained. “They called Ron Artest, Shannon Brown, Rasual Butler, [Darren] Collison and Lisa Leslie, and they said we’re going to have them there, what can we do? I pitched, I said why don’t they come down and ask us to use the court? That’s a good opportunity for conversation, so much can happen there. I said, I’ll just stay in a tight bubble to where everybody can kind of feed off what I’m doing. Just let me kind of engineer that scene…. Literally we had no plan. We just did about thirty takes of me riffing. We were able to get great takes out of it.”
Hart added that making the picture was actually therapeutic for him. “I was going through a divorce at that time, and Cedric [his character] was doing the same thing,” he said. “Actually the movie helped me with my divorce. At the time me and my wife were going through it. We weren’t enemies, but it was getting ugly. But afterwards it made me go back and really spark a friendship, and forced me to understand why we should be friends. That’s something I’m very happy about.”
Asked to situate “Man” in his movie career, Hart was notably self-deprecating. “In my career thus far, I haven’t been a part of many great projects,” he said. “When you first start out, it’s not like you have the choice of so many great pickings. You can’t do what you want to do, you can do what they allow you to do. You can be funny in whatever you do, but at the end of the day if you’re not selling tickets, there’s no need to have you there. Hence, why I was a part of the ‘Scary Movies’ and ‘Superhero Movies’ and “Not Another Teen Movies.’ They weren’t good movies, and I’m just trying to do stuff so that people can see me and I can get a chance to do something else. ‘Soul Plane,’ I thought, was going to be the movie. I’m starring in it, this is the one. ‘Soul Plane’ was bootlegged seven months before it came out! It might have done seven million on the street. I just know that we were still filming it, and people had the movie! So that didn’t pan out the way I wanted it to. Neither did ‘Big House.’ I was twenty-three, I had my own TV show. This is it! I’ve made it! I’m done! It got cancelled after four episodes. I did ‘Fool’s Gold’ in Australia—I thought that was going to be the thing to catapult me into another realm. No one cared! Nobody said anything about me. People still don’t know I was in ‘Fool’s Gold.’
“I’ve done tons of cameos. You go to IMDB, I’m twenty movies deep. But I haven’t been part of a movie that was a good movie that I was approached to be in from the start. Because of my stand-up career, I was approached to be in this from the start. And after reading the script, I said, ‘This is a good movie. The script is good. This could be a great project for me.’ I’ve never been a part of a great project, where I can say I’m happy to put a stamp on it. Am I ashamed of anything I’ve done? No. Will I stand behind everything I’ve done? Yes. I don’t care what people have said about ‘Soul Plane,’ I stand behind it. That movie gave me an opportunity to display my talent. This one, everybody from the gate had the same goal—to make a quality movie. We didn’t want to make another ‘black’ movie. They put that stigma on a movie cast with African-Americans—it automatically becomes a ‘black’ film. When we all got cast in this, we all had the same goal—to make a smart, universal film. And [director] Tim Story did a great job of keeping us all in line so that everything we did was to appeal to everyone—women and men of every ethnicity.
“And after seeing it, we were all taken aback because the goal that sought to do in the beginning was accomplished. We did a smart comedy.”