Kevin Hart Details Art of the Casting Call in Exclusive Book Excerpt

Kevin Hart Variety Cover Story
Pamela Littky for Variety

In his stand-up act, Kevin Hart has built a reputation for being honest with audiences. From divorces to family issues to fame, he puts it all out there. He’s taking the same approach with his memoir “I Can’t Make This Up,” on sale June 6 — and exclusively excerpted in Variety. The book takes readers from his childhood in Philly to his struggles to break into Hollywood. “I wouldn’t change anything that happened,” says Hart. “I’m happy about the problems I had and the shit I went through, because I learned from it.”

Liars Get Lied to Too

I was too young, too old, too good-looking, too ugly, too urban, not urban enough, or “just not what we’re looking for in this role.” I couldn’t seem to get any work.

Pamela Littky for Variety

Dave had connected me with a talent agency, UTA, and one afternoon, the agents there called me in for a meeting. The room was full. It seemed like everyone in the company was there, talking about all the new movies they were going to get me auditions for: “King Arthur,” “The A-Team,” “The Hulk.”

I finally said something:

Me: Wait a minute, “The Hulk”? They want a five-foot-four-inch black Hulk?
Them: Well, who knows, look at Tom Cruise—
Me: You guys got me going out for B.A. Baracus in “The A-Team”? I’ll never get that. There’s nothing Mr. T–like about me.
Them: Well, you know, I can really see you reinventing Mr. T for today.
Me: Look, man, ain’t nobody putting me in none of them damn movies. Y’all don’t have to Hollywood me.

The agents seemed taken aback by what I was saying, as if no one had ever called them out on it before. But I was starting to understand that auditions were less about nailing the part and more about nailing the casting agent. Some of those parts weren’t for me; in other cases, they already had someone they liked in the part. The goal was to shine and to win over the casting agent, so that when the roles that were right for me came along, and I was further along in my career, they’d remember me.

“I learned what I shouldn’t be doing from what my dad did.”
Kevin Hart

“Just get me in rooms with the right people,” I told them, “and I’ll take care of the rest.”

That talk, and that realization, changed my career. I started going to auditions with the intention of not getting this role, but the next role. To make an impression, I’d pop right away: “Hey, guys, what’s happening? How’s it been going so far? Am I the first black guy you’ve seen?”

Later I might say something like, “When I’m done, I’m gonna leave my phone here accidentally, with the recorder on, so I can come back for it and find out if y’all said I was good or bad.” Or I might point to the guy who was lowest in the pecking order in the room: “If I don’t get the part, I’m blaming it on Ray right there.”

The goal was to break the tension and get them laughing, but without trying too hard. I’d still work to embody the part. Even if the role wasn’t for me, I wanted them to see how prepared I was and what I was capable of. I’d mix it up and play the character in ways that weren’t right for the film, just to show them that I had different levels.

Illustration: Ben Mounsey

I almost always got a callback, and to this day, I’m still close with a lot of those people. The leading actors in Hollywood may change, but the players behind the scenes often remain the same. Even though they didn’t give me parts at the time, some of them ended up giving me great roles later.

Though people say to live in the moment, each moment leads to other moments. So treat each moment like a seed, and care for it so that something beautiful can grow from it. That Ray kid you joked around with when he was just starting out may become a studio head ten years later, and will remember that you noticed him and treated him special.

Excerpted from “I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons,” by Kevin Hart, which hits bookstores June 6. Published by arrangement with 37 Ink/Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. Copyright © 2017 by Kevin Hart