The famously indefatigable Kevin Hart is nearing the end of marathon press interviews for his new Netflix movie, Fatherhood, and he’s looking, well, fatigable.
The Zoom interview occurs the day after the dispiriting opening game of the Sixers-Hawks series, so maybe that has something to do with it.
Hart is also taking a brief, excused absence from shooting a new action movie (Borderlands) in Budapest, so he won’t be ringing the bell or prowling the Wells Fargo sidelines during this round of the NBA playoffs, and that’s probably just as well, he says.
“Every time I show up,” Hart quips, “something bad happens.”
On top of all that, Fatherhood, opening June 18, is a project that Hart has worked extra hard to bring to life — it was one of those movies derailed by the pandemic, until it was rescued by Netflix and picked up for distribution by Higher Ground productions, which happens to be run by Barack and Michelle Obama.
Hart’s comedy brand hasn’t always lined up with the decorous Obamas, but we see a new side of him in Fatherhood, and the movie’s wholesome true story of a widower (Hart) raising a daughter (Melody Hurd) with the help of friends and in-laws (Alfre Woodard, Lil Rel Howery) is in the Higher Ground wheelhouse.
Even for a guy whose movies have made $4 billion worldwide, partnering with the former president and first lady is “huge.”
“Huge, man, to find out that the Obamas were acting as producers on the movie,” he said. “It showed that the project was everything that I thought it was, which was meaningful, impactful, a great story but also an opportunity to uplift the conversation surrounding Black fathers.”
The movie is based on the life of Matt Logelin and his best seller Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss and Love, and director/cowriter Paul Weitz (About a Boy) says the role was revised to accommodate Hart, whose memoir, I Can’t Make This Up, struck Weitz with its candid revelations about the actor’s North Philadelphia childhood as the son of a mostly absent father.
“I had the cheat sheet of having read his autobiography, which has some serious stuff in it, stuff that he was dealing with in his childhood around fatherhood, frankly,” said the director.
Hart, now 41 with four children of his own, says he put a good deal of himself into the role, and emphasized that he has repaired his relationship with his father. “I love my dad for who he is, and I’m [always] going to,” he says. “I think you learn from mistakes, whether they are yours or others’. They can always act as lessons.”
Weitz had worked with Hart on 2010′s Little Fockers and even then was impressed with the comedian’s versatility on set, he said. He remembers pulling him aside and telling him he’d be great at drama, if he ever wanted to give it a try. He also liked Hart’s dramatic turns in 2017′s The Upside and in the obscure 2011 movie Let Go, and so was eager to reteam for Fatherhood, which he said taps into the actor’s ability to invite audience empathy.
“I think it goes back to Chaplin, to the great stars throughout cinema history who are underdogs you want to bond with even if you don’t want to particularly have the experience they are having on screen,” Weitz said. “There is an element to them that is human, that gives the audience entry into what they are going through.”
That trait has made Hart one of the industry’s most bankable stars. He recently inked a four-picture deal with Netflix — on top of the limited series True Story, already in development, in which Wesley Snipes plays his brother. (While the movie centers on Philadelphia, it’s to be shot mostly in L.A.). He also has one of the most popular streaming shows on the Roku Channel — a series of action comedy shorts called Die Hart — and is making plans for season two (Die Harter).
Fatherhood, Weitz said, offers the “epitome of a very relatable thing, which is: Can I be a good parent?”
Hart is careful to point out that he had a lot of help in the movie. His character gets a lot of input from a mother-in-law (Woodard) who’s not sure he’s up to the job of single parent, giving Hart a chance to work opposite the accomplished actress.
“Alfre and me were responsible for a lot of the heavy lifting,” said Hart, who found himself in the unusual position of relying on actors like Howery and Anthony Carrigan to provide the comic relief.
At the same time, Hart said he doesn’t want to fall into the trap of diminishing comedy by characterizing it as a placeholder for the supposedly more serious work of drama.
“I’m just going to say it. It’s harder to do comedy. I know that dramatic roles are perceived to be the hardest of the two, but comedy is extremely hard, and that is overlooked,” he said.
Actors like Hart who came to the movies from stand-up have learned to make people laugh live and on stage. He uses that feedback to find the jokes that inform the structure, rhythm, and timing of his story-based humor.
But on set, “you don’t have an audience,” he said. “You’re hoping these things work and then when people watch it they are going to laugh out loud, but that’s a gamble.”
Hart hasn’t ironed out all the specifics of his Netflix deal, but said his increasing range as an actor will allow for more options.
“I know that I have that dramatic gear. It’s just making sure that the material is right for me to showcase that gear,” he said. “I’m excited about the future, man. It could be a nice mix of things.”