The film shows Kevin Hart performing in front of a real theatre (Source: Source)
Having acquired the ability to tell stories from an early age, producer Kenny “50 Cent” Johnson was keen to “humanise” Kevin Hart on the big screen. So when the comedic actor came through the WWE ring at London’s O2 on 10 June, Johnson also pitched a story idea that would somehow blend the star’s off-stage life with his hour-long professional performance.
It started with a decision to produce the film using a “true story” structure, one which Johnson had previously used with the late South Park creator Trey Parker.
“Having something to relate to, it starts with looking at the life of the actor. They pick a situation, they have to identify it and then they build a story,” he tells City A.M.
“We felt it had to be an actor who people know and care about and obviously [Hart] happens to be one of the people you know and care about. So having a screen that you can relate to instantly just made it all easier to do.”
And in that first meeting, Johnson and Hart came to an agreement. The film’s official title (which was used at the time) was “A True Story”.
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“We said ‘man, we’ve got to, it’s not the best title in the world if you don’t show some kind of depth to the character and actually let the audiences into this guy’s mind and lifestyle,” Johnson explains.
“So I said look man, let’s do a true story because ‘a true story’ doesn’t have too many kids’ movies. True stories don’t have bad bloods between the players involved and a star big enough to catapult it to the mainstream. So let’s pick a true story.”
To this end, the producers asked Hart to think seriously about adapting a little-known, heartfelt 2003 comic strip called Bill Wasabi’s News, which depicted a Tokyo newsagent’s assistant, Ooni, who heroically saved his younger half-brother Koko from a struggle with an abusive landlord. It’s a true story: Ooni told the comic strip’s writer in 2002 how his stepsister had been murdered.
To serve as inspiration for his character and to give himself an initial education on the same colourful world of manga and comics, Hart had to visit a comic shop and study some of the strips.
Over a couple of days, he read more than 60 pages of the strip. Once he was convinced about the concept, Hart asked 50 Cent for suggestions.
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“I have an artistic background so he asked me ‘what should I look for when I look for material for my character?’ He went through the list of all the submissions I had and he watched it again, and kept and circled things he liked,” 50 Cent recalls.
“Once he saw things he liked, he asked me to build a screen to do the thing, and I said: ‘Well I can have you read some of the parts of that, just to let you know that’s why it’s tight like that. If you like it you’ve gotta read more.’
“The minute I read it, I was sold and said ‘we need to make this’.”
The “board” is “stacked” with 50 Cent’s own sketches, as well as drawings by Hart himself.
The aim was to make a film that would star two icons from very different worlds – one who is a successful professional wrestler and the other a stand-up comedian whose film appearances have included Ride Along and Get Hard.
“As the story unfolds, people will see that we’re just two workingmen,” says 50 Cent.
The project has taken longer than the two-month timeframe agreed between the production companies, and in some ways the workingmen still struggle with feelings of on-screen miscommunication.
“We didn’t realise that would be the case, it’s a shock to a lot of us. But the company is doing fine,” says Johnson.
“We never shut ourselves out. Everything is an open book, we walk in and we have meetings with each of them before we start a project, to get their ideas and take their suggestions.
“To get it done and watch the film before anybody else on the planet, that