The Hollywood star and health nut (don’t believe us, just check out his Instagram account and the marathons and grueling weight lifting sessions it chronicles) opted for a more low-key kind of partying. Instead of popping champagne or hitting up a night club to celebrate his seventh No. 1 opening, Hart had a small dinner with his family. “It’s intimate but cool, with a purpose,” he says. “I’ve been on the go pretty strong, so being able to shut it down and be with the wife and kids, to me, that’s the best kind of celebration.”
Hart is no stranger to the big screen, having appeared in lots of hit films. But “Night School” marks an important step in Hart’s evolution into becoming a comedy mogul. It’s the first feature film he’s produced and the first project under his HartBeat Production banner. Hart’s not stopping there. Eventually, he says, he’ll step behind the camera to direct.
“Kevin has proven to be an unstoppable force on screen, and we are thrilled that he and his team at HartBeat are bringing that same energy and commitment to producing hit films at Universal,” said Peter Cramer, president of production at Universal, the studio behind “Night School.”
Following the debut of “Night School,” Variety spoke with Hart about casting Tiffany Haddish as his co-star, his directing ambitions, and why comedy is still going strong.
Where did the idea for “Night School” come from?
It was something that I was just flirting with in my head, and then [producer Will Packer and I] were in London, we were at a club called the Box, and I told him, “Hey man, I got a funny idea, I want to know what you think of it.” Will said, “Oh my God, that’s funny, what are you going to do?” I said, “Dude, I want to do it.” He said, “Then go do it. When you’re ready, come to me and let me know how I can help.” My crew fleshed out the idea, and we brought it to Packer and after that, he was on board. This is a relationship that I value because he’s a guy that I’ve watched. I’ve watched how smart he is about the projects he’s picked. Within that success, it’s only right to be a sponge and soak up as much as you can.
What’s the response been like to the film? Did you read the reviews?
It’s been so positive from the fans. The main reason I never really feed into any reviews or articles before the movie comes out is because movies are made for the people. The beautiful thing about getting that A- CinemaScore is it shows that there is a demand for comedy. It adds to my reason for never listening to the critics or feeding into the reviews. The people are going to dictate the success that your movie has.
Why did you want to produce?
I’ve been patiently waiting for the right project to really get behind and develop from the ground up. Any and everybody can have the opportunity to produce, but if you really want to do it at a high level and get the confidence of the studio to back you and your company, then you have to do it right. I felt that this was the project that I was very close to because it was an original idea that I had. We got the idea to a place where we felt that this could ultimately be the movie. To see your vision and your words all put on page and then be brought to life is a feeling like no other, and makes me excited about the work that’s to come. You’re looking at a guy, in myself, that’s just motivated to do so much within the entertainment industry. I love to create content.
What kind of projects are you hoping to produce?
The main focus is to open up doors and create opportunities for others. If you look at “Night School,” it’s another comedy with an African American lead that’s being promoted on a global level. And remember, there were conversations back in the day that comedies don’t work on an international level, especially with an African American lead. I continue to break that conversation up. I make sure I go in the direction that comedies, and comedies with a diverse cast, and comedies with an African American lead will work. It’s all about the way that it’s marketed and promoted. If you have the talent that’s willing to do the work, you’re ultimately going to get the win. In the long run, that’s what I’m doing. It’s about creating opportunities and making sure that the opportunities for diversity become bigger and become better. There’s a lot of color all over the world, and I think it’s important to celebrate that. It’s important to show that all people can pretty much be on the screen together and show a positive light into what our world can be. To do anything that’s driving that message home or that’s creating those opportunities, that’s a priority to me.
Why did you cast Tiffany Haddish in “Night School”?
Her name came up. Will allowed me to screen “Girls Trip” before it came out. I’ve known her for quite some time, we’ve been good friends, but I had no idea about “Girls Trip” and about her level of funny in the movie. Getting to see it before the world saw it, that’s when I made the decision, “Oh my god, Tiffany would be great for ‘Night School.'” After I brought her up, everybody jumped at it, and we got her. It was about giving her a different lane to play in, but also making sure to give her some wiggle room to play as well and give everyone the Tiffany that people will want to see.
Did she have to audition?
No, no, no. I just came to her with the opportunity and cast her in the movie.
Did you learn anything from working with her?
Ummm, no. I’m joking. It was more just how to be happy. The one thing about Tiff is just to really appreciate life and the opportunity you’re given. It’s OK to embrace a moment and smile and be thankful. That’s one thing Tiffany did. She’s such an amazing talent, but what I love the most is that she’s hungry. She’s a person that’s not taking the opportunity for granted. She’s making the most of it. I remember when I was at the same position. All of my advice to her was just, “Hey, don’t take none of this for granted. Make sure you’re always prepared, make sure your professionalism speaks for itself, and make sure you’re always in a room where people can only say good things about you.” That’s how you keep yourself ahead. I’m excited to see her in the position that she’s in, and I’m happy to be a part of it.
Do you want to direct?
Look, that’s in the future. There’s nothing that I think exists in the entertainment field that I don’t want to do. I’ve been around the movie business for quite some time now, and I’m in a position where I know it frontward and backward. I think it’s only right that I explore all options within the entertainment industry and put myself in a position to say I did that, or I was a part of this, or I remember when… I’m just a guy that’s never content. The more that I can do, the better for me.
How will you know what the right project is?
Right now, we have a couple projects that we’re developing. Once I get a couple films under my belt that can act as a clear definition of what my company is, then I’ll say, “OK guys, it’s time for me to take the next step with directing.” I would love to get a good three or four movies complete and have some box office success underneath the HartBeat umbrella first, and then after that, push further to do more.
Have you started working on the “Jumanji” sequel yet?
We start shooting at the end of January. We almost made a billion dollars with the first one, so to have the opportunity to repeat that same level of success is beyond exciting. To get that whole crew back is exciting. I’m pumped up about it.
Comedies have had a rough run at the box office recently. Is the genre is a slump?
Comedy is a field where you have to be creative. I give my hat off to all the comedy movies that were released this year, whether they worked or didn’t work. You’re trying to come up with something fresh. The challenge is trying to find new ways to appeal to the audience and market, the talent that’s attached to it, and how the talent is getting those movies out there. Just because a few haven’t worked doesn’t mean the overall world of comedy is on a down slide. That’s not the case, it never has been. People love to laugh. I don’t feel like comedy has ever taken a dip.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.