And ‘True Story’, Kevin Hart’s pone serio

NEW YORK – Getting Kevin Hart’s attention sometimes takes some perseverance, but it’s worth the wait in the end.

As he approached for our lunchtime interview last Thursday, Hart was in the middle of a phone call that he couldn’t leave or hadn’t ended. For a few minutes, he paced the corridors of the MO Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in downtown Manhattan, his cell phone pressed to his ear as he tantalizingly approached our table, then diverted in another direction and continued the conversation.

Then, with a single movement, Hart ended the call, sat in a chair across from me, and effortlessly switched to face-to-face conversation mode.

“Talk to me, let’s go,” he said.

Hart, a 42-year-old comedian, has an incessantly busy schedule and seems to like it that way. He can be seen practically at all hours in light-hearted adventures like the “Jumanji” series; dramas like “Friends Forever” and “Paternity”; animated films such as “The Secret Life of Pets”; your ads for Chase Bank; any of his live monologue specials, or his streaming talk show, “Hart to Heart.” Hours after we spoke, it was announced that diminutive Hart will play the role of Gary Coleman in a live television recreation of “Diff’rent Strokes.” And on Tuesday, his comedy album “Zero _ Given” was nominated for a Grammy.

Adding to this broad curriculum is the Netflix series “True Story,” a seven-episode suspense series starring Hart who plays a celebrity rushing to cover up a death for which he may or may not be responsible.

In “True Story,” which is scheduled to premiere on Wednesday, Hart plays a mega-popular comedian and actor known simply as Kid. After a turbulent night with his older brother, Carlton (Wesley Snipes), Kid awakens in a hotel room next to the body of a woman and then makes a series of increasingly reckless decisions to cover up his death and protect his career.

One might wonder if Hart is capable of handling such a role, with its life-and-death tension and occasionally brutal action scenes. He does not share any of these concerns. As Hart explained to me between bites of fries and sips of coffee, “True Story” was created to show that it is as capable of acting in a serious drama as it is in any other genre. (Hart is also an executive producer on the series.)

“At the end of my life and my career, people are going to realize that I have checked all the boxes,” he said. “This is simply to show that I can do it. It is included in my catalog. If I want to do it, I will do what is necessary to achieve it. “

“True Story” grew out of this ambition and Hart’s conversations with Eric Newman, executive producer and director of the crime dramas “Narcos” and “Narcos: Mexico.”

“True Story” is largely fiction, but Hart’s real life has not been short of drama. Just two years ago, he was in a car accident in which he seriously injured his back and had to undergo surgery and rehabilitation. And it’s been almost three years since he stopped hosting the Oscars after some of his past jokes and comments were criticized as homophobic.

While Hart has continued to reflect on the Oscar controversy, he has also received renewed public support from Dave Chappelle, his friend and live comedy partner, who said on his recent Netflix special, “The Closer,” that Hart was treated unfairly. (“The Closer” has in turn been criticized as transphobic, and dozens of Netflix employees left the company’s Los Angeles office last month in protest.)

Hart also spoke about his desire to make “True Story,” the facts and fiction behind the series, and his understanding of the criticism he and Chappelle have received. Below are the edited snippets of that conversation.

P: “True Story” is much darker than any other project we’ve seen you do. What led you to choose it?

A: The goal was to present a facet of my talent that would never be expected. The best way to do it was by killing. How do you kill yourself on camera? Without hesitation, that easy. In show business, joy is doing the things you can’t do in real life. Comedy has presented the opportunity to be funny in different ways. Movies of police friends. Action and adventure. That has given me a world where I have been able to play and have fun. Well, this is the opposite. I keep playing, but this time I can show a much darker side.

P: Is there a possibility that your audience will not accept you in something like “True Story”?

A: When you start doing it from the perception of others, you will never win. The biggest believer in what you do must be you. If I want to do drama it is because see that I can do it. I know I’m good at it. So I’m going to do it and I’m going to expose it to the public. I would never give so much power to another person, I could not think that their opinion controls my narrative.

P: How did you get Wesley Snipes to play the role of Kid’s brother Carlton?

A: When we started to get into character, we realized that it was a very important piece of the puzzle. We needed a good actor who could play Carlton and the name Wesley Snipes came up. We said, “Do you think we can do it?” And I replied: “I’m going to look for it.” Wesley thought it was a comedy at first; it was a bit distant. I had to explain to him that this was serious and that he wasn’t kidding. When he got hooked on the material, he said, “Okay, you better give it your all. Because if I do, that’s what I hope ”. I replied: “Say no more.”

P: Dave Chappelle spoke in your defense at the end of his new Netflix special, “The Closer.” How did you feel about it?

A: He is my brother. My relationship with Dave is something that I value, respect and appreciate. In our profession, there is a crab in a barrel mentality. There is a perception that there can only be one star or one funny guy and we are always pitted against each other. When you have the confidence and security to accommodate and support other talent, that says a lot about who you are. Chappelle operates on a different frequency and I couldn’t be more proud of him.

P: But where is the middle ground between Chappelle and the people who have been hurt by “The Closer”?

A: That man does not have a hate bone in his body. And I’m not saying it because it’s hypothetical. I say it because I know him. I know your world. I know you accept the LGBT + community, because you have close friends from that community. I know your children understand equality, fair treatment, love. I know that his wife passes it on to her children. I know why people accept it. He’s a nice guy.

P: Do you agree with the argument – made by some defenders of Chappelle and often raised when a comedian is criticized for his callousness – that anything said in the context of a joke is permissible?

A: You cannot say that. “It’s just a joke,” right? I understand that people want it to be that way. But is not the case. If there is a joke, there is an attempt to be funny. A joke can seem tasteless or tasteless to you. If you’re a fan of an artist, whatever he does is probably okay with you. And if you are not a fan, it infuriates you and outrages you. With good reason, you have every right to feel that way. You also have the right not to support it. But the energy that is put into wanting to change or end someone, that gets out of hand.

P: Does it feel strange that comedians are the center of so much attention, that their words carry so much weight?

A: You cannot ignore the attention that the scenario we are in brings with it. The only thing to keep in mind now is that words have an impact. You have to choose your words well when you speak as a person with a platform. If you want to say things, it is your right. Those things you choose to say can cause a reaction. If you agree with the advantages and disadvantages of it; then, it is your choice.

Today I am much more aware than yesterday and I am aware of the things I say. I make sure I am on the side of understanding. That doesn’t take away from me the ability to be myself. It just means that, being myself, I have to make sure that I am respectful in the way I express myself.

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