It's easy to dismiss Kevin Hart as simply "the jester" in his films. If you trace his filmography, he's steadily played the go-to guy for pee-inducing punchlines, even in his comedies. In director Nicholas Stoller's upcoming laugh-fest, The Five-Year Engagement, in theaters this Friday, his character, Doug, an offbeat psychology grad student who's in the same study group as the betrothed Violet (Emily Blunt), is essentially no different. 

Ironically, all of his seemingly random goofball roles have made the 31-year-old stand-up comedian/actor the guy audiences look forward to seeing. Regardless of how far down on a playbill he's listed, simply reading the name Kevin Hart can elicit excited anticipation in moviegoers who are vaguely familiar with his work, even more so in those who can quote his stand-up material and recite his entire monologue in Judd Apatow's The 40 Year-Old Virgin.  It's safe to assume that the recent box office success of Think Like A Man, the rom-com whose commercials and other marketing tools prominently featured Hart, is the manifestation of such fandom.

And Kevin himself couldn't be more grateful for that. We sat down with the comedian a few hours before he joined his cast mates on the red carpet at the film's NYC premiere last week, as part of the Tribeca Film Festival, and chatted about developing Doug, making connections within Judd Apatow's world, and why he's proud of being the "comic relief."

Interview by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)

Follow @ComplexPopCult

How did you land your role in The Five Year Engagement?
I landed the role through [the film's director] Nick Stoller. Nick Stoller and Jason Segel have been good friends of mine since years, years, years, and years ago. Nick called me and told me he had a movie coming up and told me had a good idea for a character that I would be good for. He wanted me to come in and talk about it and we honestly developed a character in his office. We just had a conversation and talked about who this guy was and how I feel about him and how can we make him believable yet quirky. After that, we came up with Doug.

In the film, Doug comes up with his own social experiment. Where did that come from?
The funny thing about him was his love for masturbation, not in a perverted mind. In his mind, it’s research. It’s what he studied and what he knows. After studying so much about it, he wants to educate other people on it. But people don’t understand that it’s real, it’s serious. Nobody takes him seriously, even the other psych students.

They look down on him when he talks about it, like “Oh, not again.” He’s not a pervert. He just genuinely studied masturbation for some time that he feels like he has so much research that he generally has to share with the world. [Laughs.]

Was that your idea?
Yeah, that definitely came from a perverted place. [Laughs.] Me and Nick just started laughing about it. I said something in the room just jokingly and he’s like, “Oh that’s funny!” So we just kept pitching on it and it got to something actually good.

You’ve been part of the Apatow world since you guest-starred in Undeclared and the appeared in The 40 Year-Old Virgin. Generally, when you’re attached to a Judd Apatow movie, there’s instant buzz about you. There’s this sense that you’re going to be a breakout star. What do you think it is about him or his films that earn that reputation?
You literally got to go with his past. Everybody he has touched has turned into something. His eye for talent is amazing and that literally cannot be denied. He puts people in a position to win; by "win," I mean he puts you in a position to really show your talent in the best light. For me, you can’t ask for anything else from him. His projects are smart. They’re all character-based. They’re all believable. They don’t put you in a place where you’re pigeonholed to be a certain person. For me, that’s why I welcome them whenever I have to opportunity. I jump on them and they’ve done nothing but good things for me.

How did you start working with him?
Judd found me. My manager had a conversation with Judd back in maybe 2001 or 2002. Judd was doing a pilot called North Hollywood. On the pilot, my manager told him about me and so Judd wanted to see a tape. He saw one, flew me out to L.A. and, after flying me out to L.A., told me I was talented, thought I had a good eye for comedy, and gave me the part. We shot it with Jason Segel, Amy Poehler. and Judge Reinhold. The pilot didn’t get picked up but my relationship with Judd did, which was ultimately more important than anything that could’ve happened at that time. Other projects came up through time and he’s always remembered me and I’ve always been involved. I have no complaints at all.

Now, you’re working with Seth Rogen on a buddy cop comedy. Is that film also being produced by Apatow?
That’s from me and Seth. That’s from our companies. But that’s another relationship that comes from back then through Judd. We’ve all know each other for over ten years. For us, it’s just getting back to what we ultimately knew in the beginning. We’re friends. We all enjoy each other’s company. We all want the best for each other within the business, but we’ve learned to self-produce from coming up under Judd’s wing. We’re a product of our environment and Judd was our environment.

Can you talk about the comedy at all or is it hush-hush at this point?
Yeah, Seth and I are doing this comedy with Universal. Basically, we pitched a film about the first ever black-and-white cop duo. So, it’s a period piece and it’s going to take place in the 1950s. We’re the first black-and-white partnership. Essentially, everything you’ve seen after that involving black and white cops, the sayings like, “I’m too old for this”we’re the first two people to ever say it and ever do it.

But it’s a pitch that we just sold, so right now we’re in the process of writing it. It’s something that we can hopefully have out after the fall. It’s going to be funny, it’s going to be smart and we expect it to be edgy with some action, but it’s something that’s going to put me and Seth in a different light. Think Lethal Weapon, but in the '50s. [Laughs.] 


You’re also in the process of developing your sitcom.
It’s a little sketch sitcom. Mock-reality, I like to call it. [Laughs.] It’s a show called Hollywood House Husbands where I’m essentially poking fun at all of the reality shows dealing with women, like The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and The Real Housewives of Atlanta. I’m putting a bunch of successful men together and we’re going to be catty. We’re doing it in like the Curb Your Enthusiasm kind of way, something fun. BET picked it and we’re doing it under my company, Hart Beat Productions. It should be a smart, funny comedy that people can laugh at.

Do you watch a lot of reality TV?
I don’t, unless I’m with my girl and she’s making me. [Laughs.] I’m not a huge fan of it, but I don’t knock it. Everybody’s gotta get it the way they can. Find success in whatever which way you can. These people just happen to find it in reality TV. My success comes in making fun of whatever you’re doing. That’s my way. [Laughs.]

 

Everybody remembers your lines and that’s good because you’re creating memories. These are classics in people’s eyes and you’re responsible for them and that’s a really, good feeling.

 

Speaking of making fun, your stand-up comedy is different in the sense that it’s more close-to-home and a lot of your material is inspired by your kids.
Yeah, when I’m around them all the time, my funny literally comes from them and seeing what they’re doing. I like to poke fun at it and bring it to life. They’re too young to say anything about it now since they’re seven and four, so I get away with it. Once they get older and get tall enough to possibly whoop my ass, I’ll probably cut back on the jokes on that. But right now I’m safe. [Laughs.]

I remember you mentioned on Conan that your daughter just doesn't think you're funny.
Yeah, my daughter doesn’t even get my humor. She’s like, “Um, no. I don’t get it dad. Mmm, no, not that one, dad.” [Laughs.]

What makes her laugh?
Me! In general. Me being silly, fighting with her, tickling her. You know, doing daddy stuff. Wrestling, telling her, “Be quiet or I’ll knock you in the head.” [Laughs.] She likes that type of stuff. She likes to play. But when it comes to trying out jokes, she’s unimpressed.

You get cast for a lot of comic relief parts. Even within a comedy, you tend to lighten up the more dramatic moments. Are those roles something you don’t mind playing or something you just keep getting cast for?
You know what’s funny? I’ve been lucky to be the guy that’s set up to come in and kill. You can’t do that without a good cast and without a great director. You can’t hit the ball out of the park without backing and support. I welcome it, man. I’m lucky and I’m happy that I’ve gotten a chance to play these roles. Hopefully they continue. I don’t want them to stop because these are great roles for me. [Laughs.]

Do you ever feel any pressure to do a dramatic role to prove yourself as an actor?
Well, I know a dramatic role is going to happen, but you just got to be patient, you know? It’s going to happen when it’s supposed to happen. I’m not rushing it. I’m not trying to make it happen tomorrow. I’m not out saying, “Yo, I got to play a serious character immediately.” In time, it’ll come and I’m going to welcome it when it comes. Right now, it’s not a priority.

Regardless of how small your part is in a movie, you always seem to have the most memorable lines. Do people ever come up to you and quote one of your characters?
Of course! At the movies, yes. People see me on the street and they point to me and they’re like, “Hey! All right, all right, all right!” Whether it’s from my movies or my stand-up, I get it all the time.

I don’t get mad. I like it. It shows that people are paying attention. It shows that you’re someone people remember. I mean, from 40 Year-Old Virgin, I think I’ve gotten it several times. Strangers just walk up to me and are like, “Im’a clap you up, man! Uh!” [Laughs.] Everybody remembers your lines and that’s good because you’re creating memories. These are classics in people’s eyes and you’re responsible for them and that’s a really, good feeling. [Laughs.]

Interview by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)

Follow @ComplexPopCult