WHEN MOVIE producers came knocking on Steve Harvey's door about buying the rights to his self-help book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, he thought he'd get a fat paycheck out of it and nothing more. "I've sold to Hollywood before, they bought it, they gave me a check and I never heard of the movie ever again," Harvey said.
Harvey figured "Think" would be the same song-and-dance, especially because his book is a peek inside the mind of the man. There's no story. There are no characters. Harvey figured the sale would amount to no more than another college-tuition payment for his kids.
"Think Like a Man" opens in area theaters today.
Made in the same vein as ensemble movies such as "He's Just Not That Into You" but geared to both genders, "Think Like a Man" is not just Harvey spewing advice into the camera. Instead, writers Keith Merryman and David A. Newman (who also penned the sharp and endearing "Friends with Benefits") constructed characters out of tropes that Harvey talks about in his book: There's the Playboy ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin's" Romany Malco), the Mama's Boy (Terrence J), the Non-Committer ("Entourage's" Jerry Ferrara), the Happily Married Guy (Gary Owen), the Happily Divorced Guy (Philly-born and bred comedian Kevin Hart) and the Dreamer (Michael Ealy). "My character is the guy with potential. The guy with potential doesn't mean the guy with money, but he's got potential," Ealy said. "He's going to take a little while, but if you're patient, the payoff will be incredible."
Ealy, who does a spot-on Hart impression, chose not to read the book before filming the movie. His character didn't know about it, so why should he?
The women in their lives, played by Gabrielle Union and Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson, discover Harvey's book, which spent 66 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, and start using his advice to transform their men into partners they can build a life with. "Every man in there is missing one component, but the takeaway is that the woman is the missing component," said Harvey, who appears as himself in the movie.
As much as "Think Like a Man" is about love, it's also about the way men bond. The guys are brought together by a game of basketball, where they dish about their personal lives.
The structure of the movie made for a rather bipolar shooting experience.
"Shooting with Taraji was like one romantic movie," said Ealy, who will star in the upcoming USA series "Common Law." "Filming with the guys was like shooting 'Animal House.' "
Harvey wrote "Think Like a Man" for his daughters. He has four, all under 30. He's seen them go through bad relationships and figured it was time for some straight talk. Men are simple, he told them, you just need the keys to figure them out. "It's a reminder to women of the power they possess that they often relinquish to a guy because they think they have to take a submissive role and take all of this and don't push and don't ask for a wedding date and don't ask him too much about his income and don't ask him too much about his dreams. You don't want to run him off.
"Running a man off is all stuff we created," he added. "A man who wants you can't be run off. He just hounds you."
Other insightful tidbits:
"Nature is very sexy. If you ever want to fix an argument between you and your man, go to the park in the middle of the grass," he said. What's the golden rule of marriage? "You can be happy or you can be right."
But there was one piece of advice Harvey wanted to keep to himself: "Here's the No. 1 takeaway for women. I really hate to give this jewel away, because I want to put it in another book: All men can change, and all men will eventually change, but there's only one woman that we will change for."
It took him three marriages to finally find the one woman he'll change for. But he's found her. "We're soul mates," Harvey said. "Absolutely."
Contact Molly Eichel at 215-854-5909 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @mollyeichel. Read her blog posts at www.philly.com/entertainment.