We’ve seen the archetype in times past and it still works.
Fast-talking funny guy paired with straight-faced wing man–take on bullies’ and bad guys–together making everything all right. With a slight variation on a proven blueprint, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Kevin “funny as ever” Hart bring their dynamic forces to CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE, a buddy comedy in theaters June 17, from New Line Cinema and Warner Bros Pictures, rated PG-13.
The story follows a one-time bullied geek, Bob (Johnson), who grew up to be a lethal CIA agent, coming home for his high school reunion. Claiming to be on a top-secret case, Bob enlists the help of former “big man on campus,” Calvin (Hart), now an accountant who misses his glory days.
But before the staid numbers-cruncher realizes what he’s getting into, it’s too late to get out, as his increasingly unpredictable new friend drags him through a world of shoot-outs, double-crosses and espionage that could get them both killed in more ways than Calvin can count.
Gathered in New York City to promote CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE, both Hart and Johnson were transparent; their on-screen-off-screen chemistry was in full effect.
Talk2SV: Give a brief snapshot of your high school experience—
Kevin Hart: I’ve never been to a high school reunion but I’ve kept in contact with some classmates. My high school years were great! I was a popular, really cool guy.
Not the best student but I was a people person. I was the person that got along with any and everybody. I think that’s what made high school special for me; there was no segregation from the athletes to the non-athletes to the people who were all about education. I was around them all and was embraced by everybody. It was a good feeling and kept me out of trouble. I didn’t get in fights because the funny guy doesn’t fight–he makes people laugh about wanting to fight then they walk away saying, ‘Kevin’s right.’ (laughter)
Dwayne Johnson: I’ve told the story many times. During my freshman and sophomore years in high school, I spent a lot of time trying to get back on the right track, I was arrested multiple times since age 16 so I had a little harder time trying to adjust. Like many of us do in high school, it was not until I really got involved in sports and athletics that gave me a focus and a reason to do better than I was doing. By the time I was a senior in high school I was ready to go to college. I was lucky and got a full scholarship.
Talk2SV: Was there any unfinished business from high school that you resolved in adulthood?
Johnson: I think high school is a very defining period; you’re coming into your adolescence without being over intellectualized. I think it’s during those years where you start to define yourself and accept yourself, hopefully. If you’re not like me it takes a little while to accept yourself and become the person you want to be. To me, I think that’s what’s interesting about Kevin’s character. In high school “Cal” is the man then 10-20 years later, wishing you were something else, not quite happy with things around you.
Often times one’s perspective comes when something happens in your life–an anchoring moment, a defining moment years later—when you realize ‘I got it pretty good, I’m blessed.’
Hart: It’s weird too because it’s a kind of reverse from what I’ve noticed about high school. The people that you viewed as amazing specimens with everything going right, holding the world in the palm of their hands; then you see them again in adulthood and their lives may not be as happy as it once seemed.
They didn’t get the success they felt they were going to get because the years following high school weren’t great years and they don’t know how to cope. They don’t know how to find the balance of life; then there’s that guy who wasn’t necessarily a popular kid or somebody who was applauded in high school finds success in such an amazing way and his life turns around.
He tries to relive his high school years as an adult and wants to do all the popular stuff he feels he missed during high school. I think the overall message that we’re giving in this film is regardless of where you are or who you are be happy as that person in that position. At the end of the day there’s happiness in everything–that’s what these two characters had to realize and find within themselves.
I’m hoping people in real life will get that same message because I think it’s important.
Talk2SV: The two of you are major celebrities; what was it like working together for the first time?
Johnson: I remember having the first conversation with the film’s director, Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball: Underdog Story, We’re the Millers), before the three of us actually got together to sit down face-to-face. The conversation was about exactly that–embracing who you are and much later understanding the blessings you truly have. Often times we can lose focus; sometimes it takes the moment where you slow down and look around.
Hart: Rawson did a great job in making sure that we understood the path of these characters and that we kept it grounded in reality. I think the lines could have easily gotten blurred but the direction he chose made sure those stories were clear.
Talk2SV: Rawson, what do you have to say about it?
M. Thurber: Everything that Kevin and DJ have said is right on. I’m really proud that this movie has a great anti-bullying message which was really important to me—it was also important to Kevin and Dwayne. We think this movie has a lot of heart, it’s really funny, and it’s got action. We have the biggest star in the world and the funniest guy in the world in the same film. It was a real pleasure.
Hart: Another thing I want everybody to understand that is so important is there were no egos involved. I came to the set knowing the star that DJ is and celebrated it; I was excited to work with him and vice versa. The fact that no ego was present when approached those days on set giving 110% made it that much easier. I think it shows in the movie. You can see there is happiness within the characters we’re playing. I think actors wear on their faces what went on while making the movie; the final product is nothing but smiles on these guys’ faces throughout this film because of the effort we put in beforehand.
Johnson: I can relate to what Kevin is talking about; we’re all in the business of making movies and there are many stars…many things to deal with and manage. It’s never easy. But when you have a guy who checks his ego at the door, is really supportive–very competitive but supportive–Kevin and Rawson made it very comfortable to play and have fun.
Talk2SV: Kevin you’re making quite a career of chopping big guys down at the knees with your self-deprecating humor. You’re a dragon slayer. What say you?
Hart: A dragon slayer, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard that! What I think I am right now is a person who has put myself in great positions to win. The only way you do that is to surround yourself with people with the same attitude and mentality. In this case, with DJ being the big guy that I’ve been around, I’ve learned a lot from this big guy.
I came in as a student. As a fellow entertainer, seeing what he has accomplished, I want some of that knowledge. I want to put some of that knowledge in my repertoire and hopefully use it at some point in my career. I think the most humbling thing I can say I’ve ever seen is a guy that you’re in awe of say, “Hey man, I’m in awe of you.” The fact that we were aware of each other’s work and what we were doing shook me up. Truth be told, that’s how it should always be. I was honestly taken aback by the person that this guy is and I love him for it.
Johnson: Thank you man, I appreciate that. All jokes aside, I was impressed with Kevin and told him I was following him on social media before we met, before this movie came about. When we sat down at our very first meeting, I told Kevin I’m really impressed with something about you. Success is one thing, but there is a sense of feel good about you; you make other people comfortable and that’s a cool thing to make people laugh and feel good.
Then too there’s your hard work. Sometimes with the glitz and the glamour in Hollywood, it’s the show; it’s the showmanship and the whole thing. Kevin is always leading through the example of hard work and that was something I really appreciate especially at his level. He’s a massive star, a global star.
Talk2SV: What are your comments on school bullying?
Hart: I believe in the whole anti-bullying message but, as a kid, I think you need a little bit of drama–I don’t like it when people try to make a kids’ life perfect. You need to go through something to build character. Situations that make you uncomfortable yield life lessons. I have two kids and I’m hoping my son gets into some stuff at a young age so he can come and talk to me about it. I want to be able to tell him to figure it out on your own. You don’t want your kid to be 18 before he has his first fight (laughter).
I don’t want to shelter my kids. In today’s society I think we’re putting up this big glass around them: don’t, don’t, don’t, do that… it’s going to happen. You can’t stop these things from happening; you can only lessen the impact. You can communicate but you’re not going to stop it overall; just make sure that the people around you understand their self-worth and their value. That said, deal with the stuff… its stuff man, it happens.
Johnson: Yeah, I was bullied…not in high school but, I was bullied in junior high school. There were two big incidents that occurred. As Kevin said, I realized the best thing was to stand up for myself; I hit that kid so hard after he was bullying me all summer. Then I ran so fast but it was a good life lesson.
True story, I was 11 years old and ran all the way home. The bully was in high school. I jacked him in his face and ran out of my shoes. My mom asked me what was going on, “where are your shoes?” I told her I ran from a fight and left them. Her reaction was unexpected. It wasn’t even about the shoes. She made me get in the car, drove me back to summer camp, made me go find him and made me basically work it out with him. The moral of the story and the lesson for me was, “You’re going to get into situations, don’t you ever run from anybody, stand up for yourself,” just as Kevin explained.
Hart: My dad gave me the lesson when I saw him lose a fight; he was trying to show me don’t let anybody push you around. He got into it with this guy. My brother and I were sitting in the car and my dad told us to handle yourself at all times. I remember my dad getting out of the car and this guy hit my dad with two of the hardest punches I’ve ever seen in my life–it was so fast! The guy said something like, “Hey man, I didn’t want to do this in front of your kids.” My dad got in the car, closed the door, started driving and was not going to say nothing about it. I learned two lessons from that: to let it go and just act like he won; to duck and get out of the way (laughter).
CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE, in theaters June 17th