Actor, 'Paul Blart: Mall Cop'

Kevin James cultivated a sizable following over nine seasons on CBS’ “The King of Queens,” but it took a sleeper rent-a-cop comedy to boost the lovable character actor to movie-star status. Released in the doldrums of January, the PG-rated “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” plastered James’ mug on billboards across the country and took in a surprise $146 million in the U.S. alone.

“It was a natural time for him to emerge,” says Columbia exec Sam Dickerman, a producer on the film, who credits James’ performances in “Hitch” and “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry,” along with the sitcom, as indicators of James’ potential. “When you’re watching Kevin, you connect with his everyman underdog persona. Paul Blart was the perfect character to fit those qualities.”

And for any who doubted James’ appeal, Seth Rogen mall-cop comedy “Observe and Report” (which mustered only $24 million) proved it was more than just the concept that lured auds.

Keeping busy, James has since reteamed with Adam Sandler in “Grown Ups,” a summer 2010 release also produced by Columbia, after which he voices the title role in the MGM live-action feature “The Zookeeper.” And don’t rule out a “Paul Blart” sequel. “We would love to do it,” Dickerman confides.

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