By Dwight Brown
NNPA Film Critic
NEW ORLEANS (NNPA) – The comedy Get Hard, scheduled for release March 27, co-stars Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart. The shoot took place in New Orleans. A visit to the film’s production studios in there found Ferrell and Hart deep in their craft of making comedy mountains out of molehills.
The plot centers on a millionaire hedge fund manager James (Will Ferrell) who has been convicted of a crime and is being sent to prison. Scared to death, he looks for someone, his car detail guy Darnell (Kevin Hart), to show him the ropes. To his utter misjudgment, James pays his teacher for a crash course not knowing that his would-be mentor has never spent a day in prison and is as middle class as the Brady Bunch.
In real life, the two actors have had two different experiences dealing with the law. Hart bluntly says, with not a hint of embarrassment, and not using it as a badge of street cred, “I’ve been to jail. I was in jail three times: DUI, parking tickets…” On the other hand Farrell has not been behind bars. After a run-in with campus police during college, he has been a model citizen: “I was scared straight.”
On location in New Orleans, during a scene in which Darnell prepares James to withstand a prison riot, Hart and Farrell ham it up, polishing shtick and punching up lines. As the actors improvise, director Etan Cohen gives them free reign.
Shooting day 39 of a 44-day shoot Darnell (Hart) tries to teach James (Ferrell) how to survive in prison during a riot. Wearing what looks like a fireman’s uniform, with a megaphone in his mouth, Darnell, cues the extras who will stage a prison riot. He bellows, “We are about to simulate a prison riot. … The key to surviving is to not panic…” James, “Do I get body armor?” Darnell, “No! We do not have that kind of time!” James turns pallid; his facial expressions say very loudly, “I’m scared to death.” Darnell warns: “Do not freak out!”
When the camera stops for a break, Farrell and Hart brainstorm about how they can pump up the scene. The two comic actors mine the material and the moment like pros.
Always looking for a laugh, and setting the crew at ease, Hart makes a joke, a
Derogatory – but funny – remark about the lighting. Offstage, a camerawoman deadpans: “Rule number one: Never insult the one who lights your face!” The whole set erupts in laughter.
When producer Chris Henchy is asked how you manage comedic talents, he has a simple answer: “You don’t. You let them run free. Let them do what they do best.”
Sitting offset with earphones and a monitor and watching the making of the prison riot scene with Hart and Farrell in full comic spasm, you see how a film breaks down. You see the mechanics of building a movie, scene-by-scene, take-by-take, brick-by-brick.
Hart has his own cadence, a rhythm to his speech pattern that is distinctly his. He will be known for years for his antics and high, heavily caffeinated-like persona. But his vocal pattern is classic, too.
The title Get Hard, with its funny connotation, was a calculated marketing/creative strategy. Farrell and his producing partner Chris Henchy take the credit. They and the writers Jay Martel and Ian Roberts and director/co-writer Etan Cohen created the storyline for the comedy with echoes of Trading Places and 48 Hours, humorous movies that defied racial stereotypes.
The film shot for three days in the 9th Ward, where Hurricane Katrina did most of its damage on the six-feet below sea level neighborhood. In this heavily African American district, the locals, who turned out to watch the filming, knew Hart and rapper TI, who plays Hart’s brother. But Ferrell had his fans, too. Hart: “They didn’t call him Will, they called him ‘Ricky Bobby,’” the character Ferrell played in the popular comedy Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby has left an indelible impression on the American psyche.
Will Ferrell patterned his hedge fund character on the stiffest White person you are ever going to meet. “Perfect posture,” says Ferrell. “I patterned him on a snobby Harvard guy.” Hart has his character all figured out, too. “Darnell is basically a good guy but he‘s the kind of guy that always loses. He wants to do the right thing. This is the one chance that he can get a do-over,” he says.
Hart swears he stays focused and doesn’t burn the midnight oil when he’s filming. When asked if they have favorite places to eat out in NOLA, Hart deadpans, “Brothers Chicken, you can get it at a gas station. I don’t want to see it being cooked, but I’ll eat it.” Ferrell, being true to his character, recommends Willy Mae’s Scotch House (2401 St Ann St. New Orleans), a lauded family-owned spot since 1957, famous for fried chicken and other soul food in a humble setting; and the highbrow Le Petite Grocery (4238 Magazine St.), where the menu offerings run from Turtle Bolognese to Gulf Shrimp & Grits.
Hart and Ferrell have never worked together before. Ferrell is astounded that Hart is so media savvy. “He sends something out in the morning and he has 300,000 likes by the afternoon,” says Ferrell. “And, he reads everyone’s comment.”
Hart wades into ironic humor when talking about the film’s targeted demographics. “Will’s Black fans will come. My White fans will come,” he says laughing. “This is a universal movie. Everyone the world over should see the film. Let’s make a comedy that everyone wants to see.”
Audiences will decide on March 27. And after seeing the film they may just be tempted to take a trip down to NOLA to see where Hart and Farrell filmed the movie and visit their favorite restaurants.
Visit NNPA Film Critic Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com.