Monday, 09 March 2015 01:11 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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Are you ready to Get Hard

Opening in theaters on March 27th is the new comedy entitled Get Hard, which stars comedic powerhouses Will Ferrell (Casa de Mi Padre, The Campaign) and Kevin Hart (About Last Night, The Wedding Ringer). 

The film follows businessman James King (Ferrell), who is wrongfully convicted of tax evasion. He hires his former employee Darnell Lewis (Hart), who he incorrectly thinks has served time in jail, to teach him how to survive his upcoming 10-year prison sentence. In addition to Ferrell and Hart, the movie also features performances from Alison Brie (The Lego Movie), T.I. (Identity Thief), Matt Walsh (Into the Storm), Dan Bakkedahl (Four Dogs), and Paul Ben-Victor (Don Jon). Get Hard was produced by Ferrell and Adam McKay (Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, We The Economy), and directed by longtime screenwriter Etan Cohen (Men in Black 3). 

Last year I had the pleasure of traveling to New Orleans, Louisiana (along with a few other members of the press) to visit the set of Get Hard and talk with some of the cast and crew about the film. While on set, I had a chance to speak with director Etan Cohen, as well as actors Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart. I also had a chance to tour one of the sets, as well as watch Ferrell and Hart shoot a scene.

On the day of our visit, we traveled to the local sound stage where the production was filming. Upon walking into the studio, we witnessed the shooting of a scene between Ferrell and Hart. The sequence involves James King having dinner with Darnell Lewis’ family. At this point in the film, King has been convicted and sentenced for his crimes, and Darnell has already begun training him to survive in prison. However, this is the first time that Darnell’s wife and young child are becoming aware of his arrangement with King. 

It was fascinating to watch Ferrell and Hart work together. They had several discussions with director Etan Cohen about the objectives of the scene while they were filming. Ferrell and Hart are both legitimate comedic geniuses, but they have very different styles and processes. Ferrell is incredibly focused and arrives on set completely prepared, knowing all of his lines and studying his sides. Hart is more like a comedic hurricane and does not prepare at all before arriving on set. Ferrell is quiet and reserved between takes, while Hart was practically manic. But it was clear that the common thread between the two performers is there ability to improvise. While Ferrell effortlessly recited his lines as scripted, he would occasionally throw in an adlib or an unexpected reaction. In contrast, Hart never did the same take twice and would often request multiple attempts at the same sequence. 

After they were done filming, we had a chance to sit down and speak with Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart about their work on the film. The two comedic actors discussed the scene they were just shooting and explained why they were adding elements to it from another scene that they had already cut from the script. “This was a little bit different because we took two scenes and kind of combined them into one,” Ferrell explained. “So, this one took a little extra. We were trying to figure out how we could maintain some of the stuff we’d lost from the other scene and put it in this one.”

“This kind of shows you how prepared Will is because he came in with notes today and I didn’t even know that things had changed. That’s how prepared I was. I had no idea,” Hart confessed. “But Will came in with thoughts and notes about everything. I came in knowing from what we were going to do way back when. That’s what was in my head. All that stuff changed, but I like the fact that he’s always thinking about the story. We both are, but as a producer on the film he’s conscious of it. So at times he gets to flex that muscle and this morning he did just by wanting the scene to be right. The conversation between him, the director, and my unprepared ass came in and we got the scene right. So, that’s really how this whole thing broke down and that’s why you guys got to see a different type of progression before we actually started filming the scene.”

Ferrell, who has never collaborated with Hart before, talked about his experience working with the popular stand-up comic on Get Hard. “It’s new for me to work with Kevin, but Etan really got the ball rolling,” he explained. “Etan had three or four meetings with Kevin where he got all of his input into the character, which of course enhanced the role of Darnell ten times from what was originally written. Kevin just had great ideas about how he wanted to play certain things, especially from the black perspective. We met before shooting and went through all of the scenes. It took about a week of rehearsal, which really wasn’t rehearsal other than just reading it out loud and saying this part works or this part doesn’t. We were riffing ideas and then just throwing all that in when we started filming. We just show up and if we have additional ideas that day, it’s the job of our script supervisor to keep track of it all and figure out how to make it work.”

Hart then discussed what its been like for him to work with Ferrell and join this production. “For me, it was definitely dope because this is me stepping out of my comfort zone,” Hart said. “My comfort zone as far as successes came with Will Packer and Tim Story, they’ve been my producer and director. Coming here and working with Will (Ferrell) and his production company is exciting. I will say, the way that they approach their workday is dope to me, because we all care. I met with Etan way before and I wanted to go through the beats. We wanted the material to be right. So although Will and I haven’t worked with each other before, once we knew it was happening we both hit the ground running and literally we gelled very well. It was chemistry from the start.”

Considering the unusual premise of the film, it’s no surprise that Get Hard is rated R. Ferrell talked about the importance of not trying to make the movie fit into a lesser rating. “There were conversations where the studio asked if there was any way that the film could be PG-13. We said no, but we weren’t trying to be obstinate,” Ferrell said. “Going through Anchorman 2, that was a struggle to get the movie to be PG-13. The rating system has gotten so prohibitive. There are now jokes that you’ll see on 2 Broke Girls that will make a movie R rated. So, the standards are getting tougher and tougher. If you say one thing wrong it will throw you into an R. So having just gone through that, and the thought of trying to make a benign movie about prison, I just didn’t want to be handcuffed in that way. It just kind of had to be R. That having been said, we do go for a lot of jokes in our own creative way.”

“The backbone of this whole thing is this story of a guy with a guilty conscience, who has taken this money under false pretense,” Ferrell continued. “My character has assumed for horribly wrong reasons that Kevin’s character has been incarcerated before. Not because I’m a racist, but because I’m a statistical freak and my character read somewhere that 1 out of 3 African Americans has been incarcerated in their lifetime. Kevin’s character is about to punch me in the mouth, but then I offer him enough money to change his life. So he’s having this struggle going home to a family who is like, is that the right thing? I know it’s a lot of money, but is that the right way to obtain it? He’s like, why should it matter to you? My character is a crook, and so we’re kind of asking all those questions, while we’re saying and doing horrible and filthy things. So, hopefully there’s a balance.”

Apparently an actual baboon will appear in the film at some point, and we asked Hart if he could tell us what role the primate is going to play. “I’m not going to tell you about that one,” he replied. “That’s part of the wild ride that we’re creating here. There’s going to be a lot of things that you question and the baboon is probably one of those things.” I followed up by asking Hart if he has any scenes with the baboon in the movie. “I’m not going near no damn baboon,” Hart proclaimed. “I’ll tell you how bad I am. I saw the trainer had the baboon by the hand and they were walking towards me. I went the other way. I didn’t want to see no attack! If anything happens, I didn’t want to say I was there.”

Get Hard attempts to push the comedic envelope farther than any film before it, and Ferrell confessed that there is one scene in particular that he was nervous to shoot. “There’s definitely one scene that will be the riskiest thing I’ve ever done. It was an idea that Adam McKay came up with and we still haven’t shot it. In fact, it’s being saved for the last day,” Ferrell admitted. “I’m always in these situations where I forget to separate what is pitched as an idea to the fact that I’m actually going to have to execute it. I remember reading Old School for the first time, and reading about my character streaking. I thought it was funny. Then I was standing naked on a set and thinking, why did I agree to do this?”

After the two actors went back to set, we had a chance to speak with first time feature film director Etan Cohen. The accomplished screenwriter talked about developing the script and improvising on set. “Obviously we had a long rewrite process, table read and rehearsals. So throughout that we’re honing the script and the story,” Cohen explained. “Especially as a first time director, I wanted to approach the production with as tight a script as we could. We always had the safety net of a script that we knew worked on the page, and then that give us the liberty to explode it and go off the page. We knew we had a coherent story. So then that gave us the freedom to go crazy, both in terms of tone, level, and the kind of jokes we had. A movie like this, when you have great improvisers, you’re kind of just harvesting as many joke as you can. Then when we get to editing, we’ll dial into the right kind of consistent tone throughout.”

Cohen also discussed his experience collaborating with Kevin Hart. “It’s a luxury. Kevin is great because he knows how to lock into the story and the performance. He knows what needs to be done for the grounded version and then we just kind of let it rip. We’re sort of mining for gold too at the same time,” said Cohen. “My approach is always, we know it worked on the page, but we’re never going to be satisfied with what’s just on the page. We have these two guys here who are the best at what they do coming up with new stuff. So we’ll always try to look for things we didn’t even think of before the day.”

I followed up with Cohen by asking him why Hart was the right comedic actor to pair with Ferrell for this film. “I’ve thought about this a lot and what’s so great about them is they have very opposite comedic energies and styles,” explained Cohen. “I feel like Will is very Zen and quiet in his energy, and lets the materials flow through him. Kevin is constantly creating this perpetual motion machine, creating stuff out of nothing and pulling it out of the air. The two of them together, seeing opposite kinds of energy on screen is really exciting. As a pair, whenever they’re together on screen you just always want to watch them together. It’s really exciting.”

Before he went back to work, Cohen finished by summing up what he thinks the movie is about. “There are a lot of parallel worlds going on. James thinks that Darnell is this thug who’s had a criminal past, and Darnell is actually a middle class, small business owner with a very solid family. In contrast to Will’s character, that has this fair weather fiancé named Alyssa, played by Alison Brie. She is sort of representative of the world that abandons him as soon as he’s convicted. Will’s character gets stripped of all the things that are superficial connections to his world, and then he discovers a new life at the end of it.”

Finally, before leaving the set we had a chance to tour the mock prison cell that Darnell creates in James’ wine cellar. It was equipped with pots and pans, toilet paper, and porno magazines, everything you would expect to see in a real prison cell. 

Get Hard opens in theaters on March 27th. 

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