Kevin Hart On Playing The Straight Man For Once In ‘Central Intelligence’

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The list of great buddy comedy teams is pretty short, but judging by the rapport co-stars Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson demonstrated on the set of Central Intelligence, there’s a chance they could join them. Or at least that’s the impression left on this reporter and a roundtable of others on the film’s set just outside of Boston last July.

Between The Wedding Ringer, Get Hard and the two Ride Along movies, Hart has demonstrated his ability to act opposite others known for comedic or action chops strikingly different from his own. So his work with Johnson in Central Intelligence — the new action-comedy by We’re the Millers director Rawson Marshall Thurber and Mindy Project writers Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen — will presumably be no different. Yet the pair’s fans and the studios backing them seem to think otherwise, especially since they’re already planning a Jumanji remake around the team (and hopefully a few other projects).

In Central Intelligence, Hart plays Calvin, once the most popular guy in high school, now an accountant living an unremarkable life. That changes when an outcast from his past, Bob Stone (Johnson) enters his life, revealing himself to be a CIA operative in need of Calvin’s skills with numbers. It sounds like a typical buddy comedy on the surface, but as Hart revealed while answering our questions during a break from filming, it didn’t feel typical because he’s not used to playing the straight man in a comedy.

It seems your character, Calvin, is more of the straight man than the comic relief.
I think Johnson is actually more of the comic relief in this film. I’ve been lucky enough to get opportunities in the films that I’ve been doing to switch it up a bit from the Think Like a Man roles, where I narrate the story, or About Last Night, in which I’m scoring the funny in a relationship in a raunchy manner. Or the The Wedding Ringer, in which I’m on a completely different level and, for the first time, playing the straight leading man role. Even though it’s funny, it’s about telling a compelling story and making everything work. Ride Along plays with Cube, and it’s comic relief. I’m more like the bitch, the guy who wants to be bad so much but is afraid to do it. Central Intelligence is a different level of that. It’s a different level of a guy who is in a position he doesn’t want to be in, and at some point has to build up enough courage and enough balls to deal with the situation and make the decisions that matter.

That’s what was intriguing about the movie. Plus working with Johnson on an action-comedy that isn’t like the action-comedies I’ve done before. They did a great job of making it unique, and with a story that made sense. I like the fact that Johnson’s character is the guy that you fall for and root for, and not Calvin. He’s the kind of guy who’s having a pity party for himself in his head. Where no one thinks there is anything wrong with his life but himself. Whereas a guy like Bob comes in and he’s so envious of who Calvin was, which builds his self-esteem back up to where it used to be in high school.

Can you tell us about the action. How physical does it get?
It’s a lot of action. It’s not that I’ve gotten really physical, it’s just my character gets thrown all over the place — thrown out of windows, in car accidents, and jumping over sh*t that I don’t want to jump over but I have no choice. It’s definitely what you want to do when you have the idea of doing an action film. I’ve had fun with doing all of the things that I am doing. My stunt man is amazing at making me look good in all of the stunts that he has been required to do. We get to stand next to The Rock and when stunts come up, no matter what you are doing to look good, not only does he have a great stuntman but does all that stuff too. He’s done it so long and he’s polished, so it makes you step up your game and come off of just as good as he does.

What were the flashbacks like?
As far as the flashbacks go, you don’t want to go too crazy. You want to keep it grounded. We already have a crazy premise that we’re doing and Johnson has done a great job pulling off the character that he is pulling off. You believe it. You believe the guy. You believe our relationship. I wouldn’t want to do anything that deters people from paying attention to what they are supposed to. I make sure I keep my stuff subdued when it should be, because ultimately it’s about us both looking good, and making him look good makes us both look good.