I won't lie--there's something about being in a room with Ice Cube that makes you feel slightly cooler. Say what you want about the ARE WE THERE YET? movies and subsequent TV series, this is the man I saw in BOYZ N THE HOOD, THE GLASS SHIELD, there FRIDAY movies, two BARBERSHOP movies, ANACONDA, GHOSTS OF MARS, THE PLAYERS CLUB, XXX: STATE OF THE UNION, RAMPART, and 21 JUMP STREET (with 22 JUMP STREET hitting theaters this June). And that's not even mentioning his incredible success in the world of hip-hop, both as a member of N.W.A. and as a solo artist. His film production company, Cube Vision, is still thriving, and he's scheduled to release his latest album in May. To paraphrase another wildly successful hip-hop mogul, Ice Cube isn't a businessman; he's a business, man.
The latest film from Cube Vision (naturally starring Ice Cube) is RIDE ALONG, the action-comedy co-starring the always-funny Kevin Hart, who himself is something of a burgeoning entertainment mastermind, with his hands in film, stand-up features and television. In fact, just before Christmas, I sat down to watch a film in the theater and saw trailers for three films featuring Kevin Hart (GRUDGE MATCH, which came out at Christmas; the remake of ABOUT LAST NIGHT, set for release next month, in which Hart takes over the Jim Belushi role; and RIDE ALONG). The only reason they didn't play a trailer for THINK LIKE A MAN 2 (the sequel to the surprise 2012 hit, both directed by RIDE ALONG helmer Tim Story) is that there isn't one yet; that one is also due in June, a week after 22 JUMP STREET.
Until the last couple years, outside of his stand-up film, Hart was mainly a comic actor in such films as SCARY MOVIE 3 & 4, SOUL PLANE, MEET DAVE, DRILLBIT TAYLOR, SUPERHERO MOVIE, and EXTREME MOVIE. Okay, not a lot of winners in the bunch, but there's a flip side to Hart's acting career. He was in several episodes of "Undeclared," one absolutely hilarious scene in THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN, DEATH AT A FUNERAL (probably the funniest guy in the movie), and he popped up on "Modern Family" as the Dunphy's neighbor. He also showed up in THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT and one of last year's funniest films, THIS IS THE END (in which he died).
RIDE ALONG involves Hart's character wanted to marry his girlfriend with the blessing of her cop brother (Cube), who hates Hart because he's a videogame-playing weenie. But when Hart gets accepted into the police academy, Cube decides to take him on a ride along that he wants to annoy the guy out of the academy and his sister's life, but it ends up getting more than a little dangerous. The film also features John Leguizamo and Lawrence Fishburne.
In the world of comedies, Ice Cube has made a long and fruitful career playing straight man to a host of up-and-coming comedians-turned-actors, such as Chris Tucker, Mike Epps, Katt Williams, and more, so to work with a more established comic actor like Hart was an interesting step, and something we discussed on the pair's recent visit to Chicago. With that long-ass preamble, please enjoy my talk with Ice Cube and Kevin Hart…
Capone: Cube, good to see you again, sir.
Ice Cube: Yeah, how are you, man?
Kevin Hart: How are you, sir?
Capone: Good. We’ve met too before, Kevin. Last time you were in town. Let's talk a little bit about the buddy-cop comedies that informed what you guys were trying to do here. What films were you looking at and saying, “That’s how you're supposed to do it. Let's aim for something with that level of quality”?
IC: It’s simple. 48 HOURS, LETHAL WEAPON, BAD BOYS, RUSH HOUR--these are the staples of buddy comedies. You want to get on that Mount Rushmore yourself, you know what I mean? You want them to build a new head, and me and Kevin Hart’s heads gonna be on that mountain.
KH: Exactly. You know what’s good about those movies? They're examples. Those movies are great examples of those buddy-cop tandems. And the chemistry that they had those movies was amazing. What was important to us was not only making a movie that could fit in that realm, but how do we make it unique? How do we take something that has been done so many times and flip it to where we make it unique and original, and creatively incorporate our personalities into it. I think we accomplished that with RIDE ALONG.
Capone: What were some of the things that you guys tried to do to make it different from what's been done before?
KH: Well, the story. The story within itself. You’re not dealing with a movie where these are two cops coming out of the bag, and they’re fighting. The road to get to where we get in this film is a genuine road that’s believable--him wanting to scare me.
IC: How many fathers have taken the boy that wants to date their daughter on a little ride along for a talk? So it’s a universal thought, “Yeah, this is a good way to scare the shit out of him.” The dude you hate, which is cool. But I think what makes our story unique, and this is the part that really caught me, was the gamer aspect, you know? You got this guy who is so into these games that he thinks that [gaming strategy] can work in real life. Now how many dudes think that some of them games give them certain fighting skills. They think that if you drop them in Fallujah and give them a gun, they'd come out alive. [laughs] "I'll kill everything!" That to me was one of the unique things that was fresh, that was today, that set us apart from those other movies in a way.
Capone: You’re going to reinforce in guys that game all the time those ideas, you know that, right? You’re going to make them think, “Yeah, I can see that.”
IC: "You've got five seconds to pick up a grenade1"
Capone: I love that in the end, the gamers saves the day kind of. They come in and get you where you need to be.
KH: I like the unique approach to it, though. As silly as it is with us talking about the game, and my character really being in the face of death in the [videogame] world is reality, and when he has a chance to demonstrate that, he’s very scared. When I first get the gun, I’m very scared. And you talk me through it. “Calm down, calm down. She’ll burst.” But everything he’s saying is shocking him because it’s coming true. But its not in a weird, corny, quirky way. It’s in a “Holy shit, this jackass just picked up some ammunition off the ground. I’ve been working the business for years. I’ve never picked a round up off the ground. It’s his first day, he just got lucky.” It’s great.
IC: Yeah, it’s awesome man, just that ebb and flow that we've got with this movie. It just felt so real, and with every gamer, you've got to figure out, who’s the opposite? The guy who’s like, “Man, get off that damn game. That is not reality. You're in the virtual strip club; let's go to the real strip club.”
KH: Let’s go deal with real life.
IC: Yeah, man. You know what I’m saying? So, I play that guy, and they’re so real to this world.
Capone: Cube, you have a great history in the comedies you've done of surrounding yourself with up-and-coming talent or guys that are maybe even established but haven't been featured very much in movies, with you playing the straight man. What the key to play the straight man? And Kevin, what’s it like for you to be asked to come in and do a movie with Ice Cube?
KH: Huge, man. You’re looking at a guy who’s responsible for so many careers, you know? You look at Chris Tucker, Mike Epps, Katt Williams, John Witherspoon, Don "D.C." Curry, Ricky Smiley, Bernie Mac--rest in peace. Literally, this is a guy who’s put so many people in a position to win and to go on and have careers. So me now, yes, things are going well, but this is huge. I’m working with Cube. I don't care if it’s been 30 years since Cube has done a movie. Ice Cube to me, holy shit, yeah I’m going to do a movie with Cube. Because here’s the thing about him, Ice Cube comes with a background that is proven. And for me jumping into it, I’m the one who’s not proven here. I’m the kid that’s just the new kid on the block that everybody’s just waiting to see what he’s going to do, but I’m not proven yet. I want to pair myself up with somebody, and we can do something together and we can both look at each other and say, “Yo, we just did that. We just knocked it out of the park.”
Capone: So what is the key to being like the consummate straight man?
IC: Just to stay in you’re lane. You know what I mean? Stay in your lane and let the pro do what he do. The comedians are, they’re magnificent, and Kevin’s a master at comedy. He’s an absolute master at it, so for me to get in his way would be the equivalent of telling Bruce Lee [stands up pretending to push Bruce Lee out of the way so he can fight instead of him], “Hold on, man. Give me one.”
IC: You just don’t do that. You let the man do his thing, and when he's finished, you step in there. You just try to lob him soft balls and just let him swing. It’s really like the hitting derby. The home run derby. You're up there and you're just pitching soft, 70 mph across the plate, and you just let him take a whack at it.
KH: [Back to the Bruce Lee reference] "Hold up that piece of wood, I’m gonna break that too. [Pretending he broke his hand] Ahhh, I broke it! I broke it!"
Capone: You mentioned last night that there's a lot of improv, at least on your part. So is there a whole other cut of this film with different jokes?
KH: The DVD extras are going to be amazing in this movie, just showing the process of making the movie, from the amount of fun we had on set, even though work was the priority. We got work done, but it was very comfortable and loose and people laughed. And when you’re laughing and everybody’s laughing, everybody’s going to work just as hard because they are enjoying what they do, and I think we had a set full of that, man. And as funny and as silly as I was with the improv, it doesn't work if you don’t have a guy with you that knows how to receive it, like Cube said, and is setting you up to hit it out the park.
And in return, he comes off better because the subtleties then become bigger for his character, like. We both actually slowly started to develop our characters more as we went on by creating these little nuances throughout the film. The whole kick move and the whole "Don’t touch me" routine, and me being annoying and "Let me say 'Copy'". Him going and grabbing the thing from me, that stuff isn’t written. But as we go on, our comfort level has gotten so high to where we know where we’re going and we can push each other and what we’re getting from each other.
Capone: You were using baseball analogies earlier: the guy who built the park for you in this movie was [director] Tim Story. I’m a fan of the variety of films that he’s tackled over the years. BARBERSHOP is a very different style of comedy than this one. What does he do? What does he bring to it?
IC: Tim Story is a wizard. He has elves and shit that help. I don’t know how he does it. He’s so laid back, and I don’t know how he gets such great material. Just take after take, scene after scene, he’s getting magic, and this dude is the most kicked back, easy to work with dude I’ve ever known. I don’t know how he get it done.
KH: He’s amazing, man. He has a great rapport with his actors too, just in talking to us and dealing with us and communicating and telling us what he wants, and then after getting what he wants allowing us to bring what we want to the table. You’ve got to take your hat off to a director like that, because he understands he’s going to get the best out of his actors when he allows his actors to bring some things and give him ideas, and he’s open to everything. “So, what do you think when we did this?” “Well, why? Let’s talk about it for a second.” Everything is a conversation, and that's good because he shows that he respects your opinion as well, but at the end of the day we felt protected.
Capone: It sounds like he wants a reason for those choices, though. He’s not just going to say yes all the time.
KH: He wants to know why.
Capone: Does he deal with your levels at all? Does he say, “Can you just dial it back maybe?”
KH: With me, I don't think I’ve heard, “Kevin, bring it down a couple notches,” more in my life. [laughs] Or, “Yeah, we got that one. Do me a favor, let’s go down a little bit on this one. Give me another.” “Okay, alright, yeah! So, you don’t want me to come in hot?! Okay!”
Capone: It’s funny that in the last couple of years, you’ve been playing cops a lot. You’ve played cops throughout your career. What would the 20-year-old Ice Cube say about the guy playing cops all the time?
IC: At 20 years old, I was just as much a movie fan as I am now, so I would think it was crazy ironic if I stopped rapping and became a real cop. [laughs] But playing a cop, I mean, all the money they pay you--damn. He’d be like, “Get it, baby. Get it.” The young Ice Cube was not a dumb man. No, he would have been like, “Yo, get the money.” But with the songs and the whole flavor, that was our weapon back then. That was our only weapon to fight against the tyranny called the LAPD and the L.A. County Sheriff's Department. So the young one would have gave me that and probably would have asked me, “How do I get in one of your movies?”
Capone: Kevin, right before Christmas I was seeing some movie, and I saw three trailers for movies that you were in right in a row--GRUDGE MATCH was one, this was one, and ABOUT LAST NIGHT. So, you’re the hardest-working man in show business right now. Do you ever just want to take a little break, or do you just have too much energy to stop?
KH: Right now, man, I’m just focused . My motivation is basically knowing how far I can go. The minute that I sit down and take a break is the minute you get comfortable, so why get comfortable when you haven't achieved anything to be comfortable about yet. I’m not sitting on a rock and looking back. I don't have assets where my money is just making money for me all the time and my company runs without me; I don't have that yet. So, until I build that brand that I’m working so hard to build, I need to continue to work.
Right now, I’m doing these movies and focusing on HartBeat Productions and literally developing and producing and writing and self evolving, and that’s something that you got to learn because so many people in front of me have done it. You’re looking at a man who’s self evolving. Like he said, create. Be creative. Whether it was a TV show that he did--"Are We There Yet?"-- whether it was the FRIDAYs that he was behind, whether it was the BARBERSHOPs that he was behind. You’re looking at a man who was self creating, and that’s how you constantly stay relevant. I’m not waiting on nobody to make me relevant, I’m going to do it myself.
Capone: I saw your last couple concert films in the theater. So when does the next gestation period begin for the next one? It must be harder to find time to actually work on it.
KH: Yeah, right now, it is, but that’s why you have to take time. That's why once I’m done with my next movie, I’m just going to shut down for probably four months and just try to focus on the material and then take another five months to tour it on a smaller level, like comedy clubs, and just build and build. Once I get a solid 9-12 months of working out the material then I’m going to do arenas. So, hopefully by 2015, I’ll be ready to tour.
Capone: Alright gentlemen, I think they’re going to kick me out of here. It was so great to see you both again.