With four movies this year — including ‘What Now?’ — Kevin Hart’s the hardest-working man in show business

Kevin Hart has a new concert-tour comedy film, "What Now?"

Kevin Hart has a new concert-tour comedy film, “What Now?”

(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

“When are you getting starred?” Hendrix Hart, age 8, asked his father.

There was still an hour left before Kevin Hart was set to receive his star on the Walk of Fame, and his son was tired of waiting. The Hollywood Roosevelt hotel, where the Hart clan had been given a room to change before the ceremony, wasn’t exactly kid-friendly. One hotel guest was sitting nearby openly smoking a joint, while the European tourists sunbathing by the pool at 9 a.m. opted for cigarettes.

“I’m almost done with this, then we’re going to get dressed,” Kevin explained.

“Dad, can I wear a T-shirt and not the button shirt?” Hendrix asked.

“No, go dress shirt,” the elder Hart advised, prompting Hendrix to pout. “You can take it off right after. It’s only going to be an hour. Come on, this is my big day. Don’t mess with me.”

Hendrix agreed, begrudgingly, slinking off to commiserate with his 11-year-old sister, Heaven. You could see why he might be frustrated. Lately, almost every day has been a big day for Kevin Hart. The comedian made $87.5 million last year, according to Forbes. Most of that came from a 50-city, 13-country stand-up tour, where he sold out massive arenas and football stadiums. But he also wrapped the fifth season of his BET show, “Real Husbands of Hollywood,” which premiered Tuesday, and starred in three box-office hits: “Ride Along 2,” “Central Intelligence” and “The Secret Life of Pets.” On Friday, he hopes to add another film to his list of 2016 successes: “What Now?,” a concert film that was shot during his tour at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field.


Hart is well aware, at this point, that his time is no longer really his own. He pulled out his phone to reveal his work schedule for the next few days, which was filled with promotional appearances on big talk shows like “Ellen” and “The Tonight Show.”

“I don’t even look at this until the morning,” Hart said of his schedule, downing an egg and spinach scramble. “I ask what time I got to be up and what’s first, and when I get there my assistants come in and give me a run down.”

I want my ‘I Spy.’ I want my ‘Get Smart.’ I want my ‘Austin Powers.’ What is my version of that?

— Kevin Hart

Doesn’t he need to prepare to tackle the day ahead? “What’s to prepare for?” he said. “I’m being myself.”

What’s more, he genuinely doesn’t seem to mind going on press tours, which most actors can barely hide their disdain for.

“I’ve never felt, ‘Oh my God, this is miserable, I don’t feel like getting up,’” he said. “What are you miserable about? It’s for you. You’re the one that spent all those days on set and did all the 6 a.m. call times. You don’t want to reap the benefits of your hard work and tell people how amazing of a project this is because of the work you did? When people say ‘I’m not doing that promo,’ who are you hurting?”


He stopped eating for a second, suddenly yelling out to one of his assistants.

“Bird! Come here for a second!” he shouted. And so appeared Bird, a barber with 32,100 followers on Instagram, wearing a wide-brim maroon fedora that matched his shirt to perfection. Hart pointed to his beard: “How I look in the light? Good?”

“You good,” Bird said. He walked away, but others in Hart’s entourage continued to circulate: His father and brother, who had flown out from Philly for the Walk of Fame ceremony, some security guys and a couple of dudes who would arbitrarily start taking pictures or filming video. (“He always has a camera man,” his publicist explained later. “It’s constant content for social media and future projects.”)

On average, Hart said, he can get by on five hours of sleep a night. But he’s become really good at sleeping on the fly — on private jets, in his Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van. “You stop talking to me right now? In 10 seconds, I’m out,” he said.

“Oh, you’ll turn around and suddenly he’s sleeping,” said director Tim Story, who has worked with Hart on more than a half-dozen films, including “What Now?” “Once, we had to go from his show at Madison Square Garden back to the ‘Ride Along’ set, and we all only got an hour and a half of sleep. But he was bouncing off the walls while we were all moaning like tired old men. I must admit, I don’t get him. It’s almost exhausting to watch him.”

Hart attributes his work ethic to his mother, Nancy, who died in 2007 from cancer. She raised Hart and his brother as a single mom.(Hart’s dad was a cocaine addict, in-and-out of jail; he’s now clean and father and son have reconnected.) Still, she held down a job as a computer analyst at the University of Pennsylvania, continually going back to school on her own.

“She was probably in school for 12 years, chasing degree after degree after degree because there was always another one,” Hart recalled. “So I just don’t believe in doing anything half-assed. That’s where it comes from.”


Still, he doesn’t feel like there’s anyone who can understand his drive. He constantly refers to himself as an “alien” — a singular breed, except for maybe his “Central Intelligence” costar, Dwayne Johnson. (Hart is in the midst of filming his second film with Johnson, a “Jumanji” reboot; he took a few days off from production in Hawaii to promote “What Now?”)

But while he admits that “success is definitely addictive,” Hart insists he’s not hustling to make more money. When he first got rich, he bought “dumb stuff” — he declined to elaborate on what that stuff was — but now invests most of his money in real estate, his children and his own business ventures.

“I think the scariest thing in the world is an entertainer with business sense,” he said. “That guy that can star in your movie, broker a movie deal, partner with the studio and then go out and promote it and then talk to you about the numbers and the finances and what you did together? That’s scary. That’s a different kind of weapon. I’m becoming that guy.”

Kevin Hart lies down next to his star during a ceremony honoring him on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood on Oct. 10. Hart received the 2,591th star in the Live Performance category.
Kevin Hart lies down next to his star during a ceremony honoring him on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood on Oct. 10. Hart received the 2,591th star in the Live Performance category.
(Mike Nelson/EPA )

He put his money where his mouth was with “What Now?,” funding the movie’s $13.8-million budget himself. Universal Pictures, which is releasing the film, is paying to market it and collects a small distribution fee. The movie is expected to gross about $14 million on its opening weekend, according to box-office analysts.

It’s a strategy that he employed on his prior two concert films, though the budgets on those were far smaller: The 2013 film that followed his “Let Me Explain” tour cost Hart just $2.5 million to produce and grossed $32.2 million.


So why did “What Now?” cost so much to make? For one, the venue where it was filmed was a lot bigger — 53,000 people filled the stadium — so Hart needed more cameras. Eighty-eight, to be precise, including some used in an overhead helicopter shot. For some jokes, he had background footage playing to help the audience understand his point-of-view: When he talks about an aggressive raccoon infiltrating his yard, for example, suddenly the crowd is looking out at Hart’s manicured lawn.

Not to mention the 15-minute cinematic prelude that leads into the stand-up act, in which Hart plays a James Bond-esque character who must fight off a villain in order to make it to his gig. That part of the movie alone — shot in just two days — cost more thanr $2 million to make and stars Halle Berry, Don Cheadle and Ed Helms.

The entire endeavor, said Hart, was about leading by example: “I’m going to show you guys that the guy you are following behind and letting be your leader is so serious about his career that he puts it all on himself.”

But it’s also meant to steer Hollywood executives in a certain direction — the Bond part of the film, anyway. While Hart has proved to be a bona-fide draw at the box office over the last few years, he’s always done it with other popular leading men: Will Ferrell, Ice Cube, Dwayne Johnson. Now, he said, he’s ready to lead his own franchise.

“I’m very big in forcing my own hand,” Hart said. “I want my ‘I Spy.’ I want my ‘Get Smart.’ I want my ‘Austin Powers.’ What is my version of that? It doesn’t have to be as serious as James Bond. But this just offers a glimpse to say, not only is he fit, but we can see it — we can believe it.”

A publicist signaled it was time to wrap up, so Hart abruptly leaned into the tape recorder to deliver a special message.


“If you can’t take anything else away from this interview, take away the fact that Kevin Hart loves love and I love people,” he said, never breaking eye contact. “I’m a people person, which is why I provide nothing but happiness for people. That’s my service, that’s my job. I think until this day, I’ve done a damn good job of doing it.”

He stood up and started walking into his hotel room to change into a suit.

“Good talk,” he shouted over his shoulder. “Make me sound good!”

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