We visit the downtown Los Angeles set of About Last Night with Kevin Hart
On a brisk night in late October of last year, I was invited to go to a bar in downtown Los Angeles. To those who know me, this may not come as a shocking revelation. However, not a single drop of alcohol was consumed that night, because I did not go to the Broadway Bar to drink, but instead to visit the set of Screen Gems' comedy remake About Last Night. The entire, spacious bar was shut down for the production, which was shooting a Halloween party scene. In fact, not only were the actors dressed up in elaborate costumes, but many of the crew members were as well, since this particular shooting date was less than a week from the actual holiday, and it was actually their second to last day of production.
To those who grew up in the 1980s, the original About Last Night, adapted from David Mamet's play "Sexual Perversity in Chicago," is near and dear to many hearts. The comedy followed a one-night stand between Danny (Rob Lowe) and Debbie (Demi Moore) that quickly spirals into an serious relationship, which their best friends Bernie (James Belushi) and Joan (Elizabeth Perkins) try to sabotage. The remake, directed by Steve Pink (Grosse Pointe Blank) from a screenplay by Leslye Headland (Bachelorette), takes a similar but modernized and modified approach to the story. As you could see in the trailer that debuted last week, this remake follows the plight of two couples, Bernie (Kevin Hart) and Joan (Regina Hall), the always-bickering couple, and Danny (Michael Ealy) and Debbie (Joy Bryant), the love-at-first-sight couple, as we chart the ups and downs of both contrasting relationships.
When we first got to the set, we were told by the unit publicist that the story actually spans several different holidays, with Halloween being one of them. We got to watch a scene where Kevin Hart, dressed as Channing Tatum from Magic Mike, is chatting with Michael Ealy, dressed as Jimi Hendrix. When a cigar girl walks by, Kevin Hart asks, "Don't you have any condoms?" She replies, "Not fun size." Cold. When Michael asks Kevin what he is dressed as, he's supposed to say 'Channing Tatum from Magic Mike.' However, for whatever reason, the actor just could not say Channing quite right (Shannon, Shanning, etc.), take after take, which reminded me of the end-credit gag reel on Rush Hour, where Chris Tucker just can't seem to say Chelsea Clinton. When he finally nails it, the actor turns to the camera and goes, 'Is that right?' Naturally, we were in stitches, and it was a hilarious way to kick off our night on the set.
We also got to meet Screen Gems president Clint Culpepper on the set, which is the first time I've ever seen an executive of his stature not only present on the set, but actively taking part in the production in his own unique and boisterous way. Part of the scene we were watching featured Michael Ealy offering a toast to Kevin Hart with the line, "Here's to another evening of sexual perversity in Los Angeles," a nod to the original David Mamet play. While noting that hardly any viewers will likely get the reference, Clint asked for another take, saying he needed that line for the trailers and TV spots. I've never seen the president of a motion picture studio on a movie set before, but even if I had, I doubt they'd be as cool as Clint Culpepper.
While they were setting up for a different shot, we had the chance to speak with producer Will Packer, who produced the 2012 box office hit Think Like a Man that Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy and Regina Hall starred in. When asked if it was always the plan to bring these actors back together again, the producer had this to say.
"It's a totally different film, but absolutely, people will say that. It's a comedy and it has some of the same cast members, but I'm not worried about it at all, because once you see the film, once you really get into it, this is such a different film. It's about these two couples, four singles, living, loving, laughing, playing in downtown Los Angeles. When you really get in and get engaged to who these people are, they're completely different characters than the characters in Think Like a Man. It's an adult film. This is a rated-R, a little obscene with the type of humor we're doing, so it's definitely much more of an adult comedy than Think Like a Man was."
We also got to watch a sequence where Joan notices three sexy women waving dollar bills at Kevin and Michael, when she goes to talk to the women, resulting in the line from last week's trailer, "There ain't no magic in that mini-Mike." We also saw more of Clint Culpepper's influence, when Regina made some mysterious motion that looked like she is rubbing her stomach. She said it was some sort of a herpes reference, which nobody caught, so that part was scrapped.
"Kevin and I have a lot of fun. We did Think Like a Man together, but we weren't really in scenes together that weren't group scenes. This was the first time we got to work off of each other. I have to tell you, it's so amazing. Kevin goes to shows, he comes back and knows his lines. He's an amazing actor. It's a pleasure. I watch this guy and he's insanely funny and off the cuff. He keeps me on my toes, because I'm like, damn, Kevin's coming with the best game. He makes me work harder. Will is committed. He's here on set every single day, and Clint is here. When you have the executives and the cast that committed, you have to commit too."
The actress also spoke about her character Joan, and how the story is more faithful to David Mamet's original play than the 1980s movie.
She also teased that the Thanksgiving holiday scenes were rather memorable.
"I think Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving turned out to be quite a holiday. Go see that one."
We also got to speak with Michael Ealy, who gave us some insight into his character, Danny Martin.
"I play Danny Martin, and Danny is a restaurant supply guy, just like Bernie. He's a blue collar guy who's looking for a little more out of life, and he's also trying to get over his ex. I think where we separate ourselves from Think Like a Man is that, in this particular film, we get into the minutiae of the relationship. There are good and bad times. You start to understand more about how a relationship can go awry when two people spend too much time together. They tend to overlook all of the red flags that pop up early because they want to make it work and they want to believe it's right. Ultimately, this movie is all about timing. Is it the right time for Debbie and Dan? Is it the right time for Bernie and Joan? Think Like a Man definitely had a bit more comedy, and this one has much more drama. But, not tonight!"
He also spoke about his approach to a remake like this, revealing he hasn't watched the original movie or read the stage play yet.
"I didnt not watch the original. I looked at the script as a separate movie. I know there is a movie called About Last Night out there, and I know who was in it, but it's important for me to approach it as a fresh idea. I find that, if I look at the old one, I may try to repeat that. If I just take it as a fresh script, then I'm gonna put my best foot forward. I didn't read (the stage play) either. Some actors can watch that stuff and do what they want to do. For me, I like to do that stuff afterwards. That started when I first started acting, actually. My first acting class, I did a scene from Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, which is the play. The movie was Frankie & Johnny, with Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer. It was just a habit that I picked up when I decided that I wasn't going to watch it. For that particular performance, we just did a scene from the play, and it was what it was. It stood on its own. When I saw the movie, I thought, 'That's great. That's their interpretation.' And I think there are going to be multiple interpretations of About Last Night. We definitely have a much more comedic version, but at the same time, we get into the minutiae of each and every relationship."
He also spoke about one of his favorite scenes in the film.
Director Steve Pink spoke about the remake's unique structure.
"It has a peculiar structure. First of all, I always sound like a pretentious idiot when I try to actually describe it with any ability to be articulate about it, at all. I sound like an idiot, so I get very insecure when I start talking about genres, in general. They usually rely on a big device, like mistaken identity, or a big lie involved in the movie. Weddings Crashers is one of my favorite movies, but they can't reveal that they're wedding crashers, so they lie and they get into a hilarious romantic adventure by virtue of a big lie. This is a very grounded story. I don't know if it's low-concept, but there is no high-concept. People meet. It's boys meet girls, boy gets girl, and girl gets boy, in a really grounded way. You naturally see the evolution of their relationship, and how it grows and breaks apart. Ultimately, what their relationships are about determine how and why they love each other. It's very simple and grounded, in that way. The trick there is to keep moving. Mamet's original play, and the original writers of the first film, knew that. Structurally, the movie moves quickly. You're moving through a pretty big emotional story in a short amount of time without a lot of high-concept devices. I think that's always welcome. I don't see a lot of those kinds of movies being made. Big hooks have always been a part of American movie-making. So, to make a movie where you're just driving story through the characters without a high-concept is a challenge. That's why it's great that we have world-class actors. What's compelling you besides the circumstances is your connection to those people. We have to figure out how to invite you into this world, warm you up to the characters quickly, and then get you invested in their stories, and I think that we've done that. That was the challenge, and I think we've done it well."
Despite the number of talented comedians on the set, the director revealed that there haven't been many pranks, although there is one that was being planned for that night.
"Everyone has talked about pranks more than we ever execute them. We've had such a tight shoot that we're here to work, as hard as we can, every day, all day. And then, we wake up the next day and do it all again. It hasn't been a very luxurious schedule, so we haven't had a lot of time to do pranks. Pranks have been discussed. There is talk of one today, but I can't reveal it because I don't know if it's going to work or not. You can get back in touch with me and I'll tell you if we pulled it off. There is one tonight that I'm gonna try to pull it off, but I can't say. I can't talk about it. So, feel free to get back in touch, next week or whenever, and I'll tell you if we got it done or not. It will be funny, if we get it done."
Kevin Hart - Bernie
You're coming off the success of Think Like a Man, and you're back with the same crew, back in a rom-com. Talk about the differences of the two, and the role that you play?
Kevin Hart: There's a big difference in the two. Think Like a Man was more of a, for lack of a better word, mainstream. The reason I say that is we dealt with topics and subjects within relationships that are easy to relate to. I feel like, in this movie, About Last Night, it's a little more edgy, vulgar. We're pressing buttons, we're pushing the envelope. You're dealing with two different couples. One couple is just about that potential of love, and being in bliss, where the other couple, their style in the relationship is just unorthodox. It's all over the place, but I feel that couple exists. I've been a part of that relationship, that's been violent, and you keep going back, because sex is good and it's just something that seems like it's not right, but then, eventually, you realize that it's right. I think you get the best of both worlds in this movie, and that's why I was excited to play Bernie, because it's different for me. I'm cussing up a storm, I'm having a bunch of sex. I'm a mess. I fall in love, but I don't know that I'm in love, and I admit it it to the man who I give the most shit to about being in love. There are great levels for me to play in this movie.
This is your second film with Will Packer. What is it that keeps bringing you to his projects?
Kevin Hart: Well, you know, when you do something right the first time, you don't have a reason not to go back. Teaming up with Will Packer and (Clint) Culpepper and (Tim) Story on Think Like a Man was a great experience for me. When I was approached to do this film, I could only imagine that we would be going down the same path, because the material spoke for itself. It was such a solid script. Will is hands-on. He's a guy who makes sure he's around for his project, with the actors that he gets and he builds his relationships with, it's important to him that they're comfortable. I've been nothing but comfortable, and I commend him and Clint for that.
There's been an upsurge of white films being made into black films. Annie, this film, Steel Magnolias. Why do you think that making this cast African-American enhances the story?
How far would you say the envelope is pushed in this one? We saw that sex scene earlier, and that was rather insane.
Kevin Hart: The envelope is pushed a lot. It's definitely pushed a lot. I'll say mainly on my side, but I do a good job of toeing the line where I can get away with it. We're pushing the envelope, but it's not offensive. We're not offending anybody. All of the stuff we're doing is coming as a personality trait. These are things that are my own demons, my character, that I'm dealing with, and I need to get better at. Joan, her character as well. She's a female who's been through so much with men, that she just doesn't believe in the word "relationship" or "love." For us both to have found each other and to have gone through what we go through, it takes pushing the envelope to get us to a place where we feel like we've fallen in love. It's from getting drunk and belligerent and having sex in public places, to embarrassing friends and loved ones and messing up family events and private functions. We literally do it all. But, I think within us pushing the envelope, you relate to our characters that much more.
How much of a balance is there between the drama and the comedy?
Kevin Hart: I think there's a good balance, and I think they did such a good job of casting this film. Michael and Joy's characters, they give you that sense of drama, whereas me and Regina are the comic relief in the beginning. Michael and Joy eventually turn into, not comic relief, but a story that you follow but it starts to trail off from that hopeless romantic feel of love, to 'Damn, they're not gonna make it,' whereas the couple that didn't give a shit about each other, you slowly see them climb that ladder to falling in love. It's a very nice role reversal, and it's done tastefully. I really don't think you see it coming, either. Of course, I'm telling you now (Laughs), but you don't see it coming. It's done in a very, very tasteful manner. The writers did a very good job of evolving the story at a nice pace, through all the acts of it.
They cast Kevin Hart in a movie because they like what Kevin Hart does. How much do you get to interject into the character?
You've worked with Michael Ealy before. How is it working with Joy Bryant and Regina Hall?
Kevin Hart: I'll start off with Regina, because my scenes are with Regina more than they were with Joy. I consider myself funny and I'm good when it comes to improv off the top of my head. Regina is amazing in keeping up. I've never seen a woman who is so fast. She's never falling off. There's never been a moment where we've had to wait and then pick up. She just is fast, and I think this movie is going to show a lot of people how serious she is in this comedic game. Joy, she shines on camera. She's a beautiful woman, not that Regina isn't because she is. She's coming from a different background. She's done movies before, but she went to television and now she's coming back to film. I think it's a great opportunity for her, because she comes back and she's working with Michael Ealy, who brings whatever he needs to bring out of you, but she's giving him something in return. You believe their relationship and the role their taking to get to where they want to be. You believe their fall, and I think they did a great job of making that change of emotion in the film, because it takes a lot to get that chemistry, when you're supposed to be telling a love story and you're responsible for that A story. Then, when that breaks off, it takes a lot to make sure you're channeling the same energy you had early on, at the end of the movie. Thus far, they've done a great job of it.
Does Steve Pink allow for much improv?
Kevin Hart: He likes it, man. Steve likes the fact that he has a cast that he can work with that listens to him and is passionate enough about the project to where they come with ideas. Some people come to work and that's exactly what it is - work. It's, "My line, my line, my line. I'm done. I'll see you tomorrow." But, we all have opinions and we want to know what makes the story better or what keeps it going or what drives the story and is going to keep the viewers attention. Steve is really good at listening to our opinions. Some of them work and some of them don't, but at least he doesn't shoot us down. That's one thing that you want from your director.
Kevin Hart: I like the fact that now my understanding for entertainment and the entertainment business is completely different from what it was when I first came in. I get the business side of it. Of course, with the financial gain that you get in your career, the more you develop within the business. For me, it's about becoming a mogul, owning my own projects, and establishing myself as a funding producer. That's what's big to me. The movies and all that stuff are great, but the fact that I'm in a position to do what I want to do, however I want to do it and when I want to do it is bigger. If I choose not to work, I can fund my definition of work, whether it's me doing a studio film, whether it's me producing a television show, or whatever it is. I now am in control of my career, and that's what so many actors don't take advantage of. You get to these successful points, and you continue to just work for other people. But, when you're your own brand and you're your own boss, the whole line of work changes. That's my biggest turn on.
Are you shadowing directors and producers, then?
Kevin Hart: Of course! Every relationship should eventually become a long-term relationship. Any director that I meet now isn't just a director. He's potentially a friend, and someone I can call to do a project that I want or that I have. That's what I mean when I say branding and developing yourself, as a business. That's the part of entertainment that I understand now. When you're in these movie deals and the studios are talking, they're putting business deals and packages together, but they're making calls based on previous relationships. They go, "Oh, let's call this actor because we did this with him, and he might like him. Does he like him? Let's piece them together." There's a brain behind that puzzle, and I want to be the brain. I don't want to be the pieces to the puzzle forever. I'm 33.
That wraps it up from my day on the set of About Last Night, which arrives in theaters February 14, 2014. You can CLICK HERE to watch the trailer that debuted last week, and stay tuned for more footage from this remake. With a talented cast and crew, this looks like it very well may be a huge comedy hit when it arrives in theaters this coming Valentine's Day.