The phrase "quiet on the set" has never been more ironic than when I visited the set of Think Like a Man Too at the fabulous Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas last June. Film sets are generally noisy places, just because of the hundreds of people that are there working to bring a story to life, but when you're shooting on an actual casino floor, the noise level is almost ridiculous, which surprisingly wasn't curbed one bit during production. Our day on the set started at 8 AM, so there weren't too many people out on the casino floor, but nothing was really closed off for the production, and the constant din of slot machines was always heard. Still, before every take, we would hear "quiet on the set" being uttered, which I found rather humorous.
Of course, no one would be here at all if it wasn't for the surprising success of 2012's Think Like a Man. The adaptation of Steve Harvey's book earned a healthy $91.5 million at the box office from just a $12 million budget. $33.6 million of that take came from its opening weekend in just 2,015 theaters, unseating The Hunger Games after it took home the top spot for four weeks in a row. The adaptation, which follows the lives of four couples at different stages in their relationship, features a talented and diverse cast, all of whom are back for the sequel Think Like a Man Too, along with a few new additions.
The sequel follows these couples and friends as they head to Las Vegas for the wedding of Candace (Regina Hall) and Michael (Terrence Jenkins), with everyone else in tow including Cedric (Kevin Hart), Zeke (Romany Malco), Dominic (Michael Ealy), Bennett (Gary Owen), Jeremy (Jerry Ferrara), Mya (Meagan Good), Lauren (Taraji P. Henson), Kristen (Gabrielle Union) and Sonia (LaLa Anthony). There are also a number of new casting additions, most notably Wendi McLendon-Covey as Tish, Bennett's wife who was only referenced but never seen in the first movie, along with Kelsey Grammer, Adam Brody and David Walton.
The first scene we watched was right on the Caesar's Palace casino floor, where Bennett plays a slot machine and hits the jackpot. Naturally, Bennett freaks out, screaming out "Slip-n-Slides for everyone!" However, the celebration is cut short when Cedric comes up and claims that Bennett won the jackpot on the dollar he gave him, and before long, Tish and the rest of the cast converge on Bennett and Cedric, who are making their cases with a casino floor manager. We watched several takes, where Gary Owen uses different lines in his "victory speech," including "I'm getting (director) Tim Story new glasses! I'm getting (producer) Will Packer a new hat!" While the whole cast rehearses this scene, Will Packer explained that Bennett has won $100,000, although they may change that dollar amount at some point.
When it comes time to shoot the actual scene, Gary Owen says, "I'm gonna adopt one of those babies with the flies on their face in the commercials," before the rest of the cast comes in. In another take, where a minor scuffle ensues between everyone, Terrence Jenkins actually loses his shirt, as a crowd of extras begins to form around them. It's incredibly chaotic, but also incredibly well-planned at the same time.
During a break in the action, producer Will Packer explained to us that, if this scenario were to unfold in real life, it would be much more complicated.
"It's interesting because I had to talk to the casino managers today. I wanted to find out, because Gary wins all this money, and he uses Kevin's dollar. What would really happen in real life? They said it wouldn't be anything like this, because in real life, there's a whole damn process, with surveillance cameras and verification, you have to sign stuff, the whole deal. We're skipping all of that. We're taking total creative license, as if the loudest person gets to claim the money. That's basically the game we're going to play today. It all gets settled right here, right now. It's kind of like at the end of the movie, kind of over the credits. Vegas has been good to us, but it's been hot. It was 106 degrees today in the shade. We've been shooting out in front of the casino, and it was 106. True story. Crazy. That's another downside about Vegas. It chokes you."
On most set visits I do, we do interviews with the cast whenever their schedule allows, but this one was a bit different. We actually had a massive roundtable with all of the main cast members in attendance, except for LaLa Anthony, although we did get to speak with her briefly on her day off. In the first Think Like a Man, the female cast members were typically only seen with their significant others, not as a group of friends like all of the guys, an aspect which has changed significantly in the sequel. Here's what LaLa Anthony had to say about her character Sonia entering into this new circle of friends.
"I'm still Meagan Good's best friend, but now I'm introduced to everyone else in the movie, and I'm part of the girl crew, in a sense. In this movie, the girls are in Vegas doing their thing, the guys are doing their thing, so you definitely see all of the crazy antics that the girls get into."
When asked if its' chaotic shooting in Las Vegas, the actress had this to say.
"Yes, it has been chaotic, because you do have to remember that you're a professional and you're at work, and we do, at times, have 3 and 4 and 5 AM call times, so the slot machines and the blackjack tables and the clubs can't be calling you, because you've got to get up. But it's also great because when you have days off, you're in Las Vegas, and there are so many great things to do."
Since the first movie was based on the Steve Harvey book, the actress was asked how the story evolves since there isn't a second book the sequel is adapted from.
"This time around, it's kind of just a continuation and you see how the relationships have unfolded, using some of Steve Harvey's tips and tactics. It's interesting. It's like a real relationship, it evolves and you're seeing these couples evolving as well."
After our interview with the actress, we were shown some of the footage they had already shot and cut together, including a scene where Kevin Hart does his version of the Risky Business dance in his massive villa, and footage of both the guys and girls getting crazy at their respective bachelor and bachelorette parties, which includes a cameo by boxing champ Floyd Mayweather Jr., and our first look at Kelsey Grammer, Adam Brody and David Walton.
We also got to see how the crazy rich live by taking a tour of the massive and insane villa. In the movie, Kevin Hart's Cedric gets one of these villas for the trip, although, in real life, regular folks like us can't just walk up to the front desk and ask for a villa. They are strictly reserved for high rollers and VIPs, which includes a private pool and hot tub, its own gym, a full kitchen and much more, with each villa ranging between 9,200 to 11,200 square feet. Sadly, we were not allowed to take pictures of anything in the villa, but trust me, it's rather amazing.
The villa is also where we got to sit down with producer Will Packer and Tim Story, who spoke about how they crafted the sequel without a book to adapt from, bringing the cast back together, and much more.
Will Packer first spoke about how sequels are a "lose-lose" proposition, with this follow-up presenting a new set of challenges.
"Sequels are usually lose-lose propositions. You already have an audience that liked the first movie and is invested in it. That's the only reason sequel conversation even comes up. So, you really can only disappoint your fans. We entered into a tough proposition the first time because it was a beloved book. It was a book that had done very, very well and had a built-in fan base, and we were trying to do a cinematic retelling of that. That's tough. It was a book that didn't have any narrative or characters, so we went about creating the characters. That was really the tough part. So then, to come back and do a sequel when we already had characters that had resonated with people and that people had connected with, it was a challenge, but it was a fun challenge. It was very different from the first one. It's like a family, so the truth of that is that, within each family, you've got all these different personalities. Kevin Hart is the resident gambler. He gambles a lot, anyway. Michael Ealy is the resident player who teases the women. Any particular weekend, we would be in Vegas with them, anyway. So, I told Tim, 'You know what? Let's just film it. Let's shoot this shit! Kevin is going to be spending too much money. Taraji is going to have her hair done. Michael is going to be looking at girls with those eyes. Let's just shoot this shit, and we'll call it a sequel.' And the studio fell for it."
Tim Story revealed that they started talking about sequel ideas after the first movie had wrapped.
"We definitely started talking about ideas, once we finished the first film. As it came together, the characters and us, behind the scenes, are all really close friends. We just wanted to take this group that everybody fell in love with on another adventure. It seemed like it would be wrong, if we didn't explore it. So, we started talking about it pretty soon after we had a cut of the movie."
The director also talked about how Kelsey Grammer fits into the story.
"We did something that was really special in the first film where we were able to make a lot of the cameos seem organic to the storytelling, but at the same time, give you a wow factor. So this time around, I told Will that he had to up it, and he came through. We have a lot of great guys, like Kelsey, who was just a last-minute thing. He was my first choice. He plays Lauren's boss. And we had Floyd Mayweather Jr.. We got a lot of great cameos. It's become our thing to have a lot of great cameos, but at the same time, make them organic to the story."
After chatting with the producer and director, Regina Hall, Terrence Jenkins, Kevin Hart, Romany Malco, Michael Ealy, Gary Owen, Jerry Ferrara, Meagan Good, Taraji P. Henson, Gabrielle Union and Wendi McLendon-Covey arrived for a massive roundtable interview.
"I think the sequel is interesting, in that I'm normally not a fan of sequels, but I honestly wanted to see, selfishly speaking, I wanted to see the progression in all the push and pull there was between Zeke and Mya's relationship, and how that would evolve. I completely trusted the writers and their ability to give a realistic depiction of that, so as a result, I'm happy to be here again, and having a lot of fun."
Taraji P. Henson revealed that she was a little nervous about signing on for the follow-up.
"I was a little nervous, to be quite honest. Whenever something goes really well, they go, 'Let's do a Part 2!' I've seen a lot of Part 2's flop. Sometimes, when it's so good, you should leave it alone, but I don't know. I just feel like this one could be possibly better than the first one."
Kevin Hart added how these relationships in the movie are incredibly authentic.
"On a serious note though, I will say that all the actors and actresses, the one thing I love from going to 2 from 1, is it's believable. Of course, we're doing a movie and it's the job of actors and actresses to make it believable and relatable, but in Part 1, I believed every single relationship. I saw that couple before. I can relate with Zeke and Mya. I can relate with Domenic and Lauren. With everybody's characters, I could really relate and say, 'Wow, I know people like that,' or I've been that person. To see it now, and to track where they're going, I think for our audience, it's something they'll have a need for and want. Relationship movies can be cheesy and corny, but nobody wants to address real situations, and I think that's one thing we've addressed here. The writers have a great job and the producers, as well as myself, the talent. I think I've done a great job."
"Mya and Zeke have been together for awhile now, and they're doing really well, except for Zeke's past keeps rearing its ugly head. We're kind of at odds with that, and also in terms of our level of commitment, there are constant questions and the feeling that we're not seeing eye-to-eye, so there's a bit of dysfunction."
Michael Ealy said that the sequel deals with each relationship's maturation process.
"I think with most of the couples in the sequel, it's all about the maturation process of the relationship. Dom and Lauren are, once again, pretty solid in the second one, but they're independently confronted with challenges to the relationship that they're forced to work out individually."
Wendi McLendon-Covey revealed that the events of this sequel shake things up for Tish and Bennett's marriage.
"We've been married a long time, and we see the world through khaki-colored glasses. I think, over the course of this movie, it shakes up the snow globe of their marriage."
"For Jeremy and Kristen, you left off where she basically wanted the ring and he finally manned up and they... got married... I guess I can say? Right, yeah so we're married now and with marriage there's not a new set of problems, but a new set of marital issues, the next step after, family, and trying to make that happen. I'm trying not to say a whole lot."
"We watch Michael grow. I think he's broken a lot of the momma's boy tendencies, but my mom's, she hasn't dies, so she's still very much involved and very controlling. I think her character plays out a lot with all the women, since Jenifer (Lewis) isn't here, you're going to see her interact with all of the women. One of the funnest parts of this film is getting to see different characters interact that never got a chance to do so in the first one. Even for us guys, we haven't seen a lot of the stuff the girls are filming, so I'm excited to see the dailies with Meagan and Raji and Regina and Wendi and Lala."
Gary Owen said that he wishes he was more like his character, Bennett.
"I will say that Bennett is the guy that I wish I was more like, as far as being unselfish. He definitely puts his wife and kids before himself, and in this line of work, you have people telling you you're great and you can get selfish and self-centered. When I watched the first one, I thought, 'OK, I can really take that over from Bennett.' Put my kids before other stuff, but you can get caught up. Especially when your son has a basketball game that three people are going to be at, and you get Super Bowl tickets. I didn't go to the Super Bowl, but it is what it is. They still lost. And he wasn't even starting."
Michael Ealy said that in the sequel, fans get to see where the real work in building a relationship begins.
"In the first one, there are a lot of mind games and courtship, stuff like that. You have so much fun with the first one, because it's fun trying to get to know somebody and see if you have a true connection. I think in this particular film, the connection is there. The hard part is figuring out how to stay there. That's where the real work begins, when you're in the relationship. Getting to know someone, you can do that at work, but in order to stay with them for a long time, that's here the real work begins."
Unlike the first movie, all of the girls have several scenes together, which Gabrielle Union addressed.
"Especially with the girls, you're watching a lot of friendships re-blossoming, but it's all happening organically. There were so many moments like that. Wendi and Regina are two of those rare birds that can literally make you laugh so hard that you cry. It happens mainly on set. But when we're just in downtime between takes, we don't scurry off to our trailers. We hang with each other. You see a lot of the natural progression of our real relationships in those scenes, not in a sense of growing pains, but actually beautiful and blossoming."Regina Hall added how she has become good friends with the rest of her female cast members.
"I love the girls. Obviously, I'd met all of them before, but on this movie, I got to know Meagan more. I didn't know Wendi. We had never met. I feel like we actually became really, really good friends."
Kevin Hart talked about the cast's social media presence and how it helped make the first film a success.
"You've gotta understand that with branding and the way things are promoted, in our day and age, your older movie stars are not reachable or accessible because they're not a part of the whole social media world. This younger generation that's around, that's Tweeting, Facebooking and Vine-ing, the fans appreciate that because they feel like they can get to you. So, the way of promoting movies has changed and turned over to this particular route. If you add up our social media presence, you're looking at anywhere from 15 to 20 million people that we can reach, as a cast. A movie studio has their regular way of promotion, but they can't buy our world. That's our world. And now, it's becoming a place where, as actors and actresses, you can get smarter about your brand. We have what they don't have, which is a direct connect to our fans, and we know what our fans want. That is where the power is, within social media, overall. So, the success of the movie isn't just laying on them. It's also in what we decide to incorporate ourselves in, and studios now know that. That's the best thing about social media."
Romany Malco talked about how the fans were invested in the success of the first movie.
"One thing that I think we're overlooking is that no one expected this film to do what it did the first time, out of the box. We put together a video where we thanked the fans, and how this movie performed on opening night, the fans felt like they played a big role in the success of the movie. We built this city together. Not just us, not just Will and Tim, and not just Sony, but all of us together, fans included. I feel as though giving them all this social media and pictures behind the scenes, it includes them in the process again. I believe that's a big part of what keeps them loyal, but at the same time, enables us to express our gratitude."
After the full cast roundtable, I had a few minutes to chat with Romany Malco, who shared details about one particular scene he can't wait for the fans to see.
"We did this scene where, honest to God, we didn't know what we were walking into, but it's when Cedric first gets the Constantine villa. We walk into the villa, and we were really impressed. Mind you, we were really impressed. I hadn't seen the Constantine villa, and we were walking and walking, and there he was, sitting in the hot tub, eating strawberries and grapes and cheese. First take, I shit myself. Cut. That's a long as walk. But I'm looking forward to it because I laughed through the whole scene because of his excitement and his antics of being in there."
One of the aspects of this production that was much different than other sets I have been on is there was no separation of the cast and crew. It seemed very much like a family environment, everyone hanging out with one another between takes. I asked Romany Malco if that was the same environment that was fostered on the first Think Like a Man, and here's what he had to say.
"Yeah. Look, it really starts at the top, so when you look at (Screen Gems executive) James Lopez and (producer) Will Packer, at the end of the day, James, Will Packer, Kevin Hart and (director) Tim Story are setting the tone. Those are four really grounded, really earnest dudes, and there's no hierarchy amongst them. So, as a result of that, it kind of trickles down. Also, to make that first movie, whether you're aware of it or not, we made it for $10 million. Favors are being pulled, people are busting their asses. You can't have people busting their ass on your behalf, for a fraction of their rate, and then be shitting on them at the same time. The point is it's been a labor of love from the beginning for everyone, and because of the fact that it's successful, everyone is extremely grateful to be here again."
After the interview, we got to watch a different scene where the group first arrive at Caesar's Palace, where Bennett reveals he wants to see the play Jersey Boys and Cedric lectures his friends on their fashion sense.
Just as we were wrapping up our day on the set, Kevin Hart came back to our area to watch playback of the last scene he shot. He laughs and looks at us all and says, "I'm such an asshole.!" While he may play some of the funniest assholes on the silver screen Kevin Hart and the rest of the cast and crew are genuine and hilarious people who sure do know how to make a group of strangers feel right at home.
That wraps up my day on the set of Think Like a Man Too, arriving in theaters nationwide June 20. While the first movie was one of the biggest surprise success stories of 2012, I doubt no one will be shocked when the sequel does great business at the box office this summer.