Reel Talk | Kevin Hart

by Brett Lange | via Variety

Stop trying to get Kevin Hart to eat another french fry!

This story first appeared in the May 30, 2017 issue of Variety.

It was an impulse order. Hart tried to change to a kale salad, only to be sweet-talked into indulging by the waitress at the Matador Room, one of those chic Miami eateries where the walls are alabaster and the trellises adorned with climbing bougainvillea. After inhaling four or five fistfuls of golden fries, Hart insists he’s done. He hands the plate to the bodyguard sitting at a nearby table, but each time the waitress walks by, she plops more savory potatoes in front of him.

“Goddamn, don’t bring them back over here,” Hart cries in mock exasperation. Finally, he grabs a glass of water and dumps it on the fries.

“That’s how you stop yourself,” he declares. Then turning to his bodyguard, Hart points to the bowl of drowning fries and says with a cackle, ‘I watered them up, so you can go f— yourself.’”

Hart is a man of discipline. If you track his movements on social media — and with 32.7 million Twitter followers and 51.5 million Instagram fans, many do — you know he’s a physical fitness junkie. He rises every morning at 5:30 to hit the gym, and last August he ran 35 miles in a relay that took him from Mount Hood to the Oregon coast. He routinely shares pictures of himself in mid-crunch or hoisting barbells in the air.

“You can’t expect to give 100% if you’re not in a physical place to give 100%,” says Hart, 37.

Right now, the actor and comedian is arguably the hardest-working person in show business. He’s appeared in nearly a dozen movies since 2013, many of them in leading roles and most of them box office hits. That’s to say nothing of the grueling stand-up tours that put him on the road for weeks at a time. The animated film “Captain Underpants,” featuring Hart’s voice, debuts in theaters June 2, and in December he headlines “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” alongside Dwayne Johnson and Jack Black. He recently wrapped “Untouchable,” a dramatic comedy with Bryan Cranston that will open in 2018.

Working with Hart on the “Jumanji” sequel motivated Black to step up his own acting. “I raised my game a couple of notches out of the intimidation factor,” says Black. “He’s a king of the industry. I’ve done a lot of movies, but when someone is on fire, at the peak of their powers, you feel like you have to earn your spot.”

As if he didn’t have enough going on, Hart is also about to become a published author. “I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons,” his first book, hits stores June 6. In his stand-up act, Hart’s comedy draws from personal experiences, delving into the cheating that torpedoed his first marriage or his hardscrabble youth growing up in North Philadelphia. Onstage, stories about his alcoholic and drug-addicted father are played for laughs.

In print, Hart gets real.

“People get to see the comedic persona, but there’s more to me,” Hart says. “This is a story that can be told, and I chose to tell it. It’s funny, but there are serious components to it.”

Kevin Darnell Hart was born on July 6, 1979 to Nancy Hart, a single mother, and brought up in one of the toughest sections of the City of Brotherly Love. His father, Henry Witherspoon, missed much of Hart’s childhood. He was in and out of jail, and an addict. The drugs, and escalating parental screw-ups, such as the time Witherspoon dropped Hart off at the wrong school, caused his mom to limit his visits.

“We come from a f—ed-up situation,” says Robert Hart, Kevin’s older brother. “We come from the worst living conditions.”

When Hart performs stand-up, he treats his father as a jester, arriving coked up to cheer his son at spelling bees or giving his kids another family’s dog when they wanted a puppy. But there was a darker side to Witherspoon. In the book, Hart recounts how his father broke into his mother’s house to steal money. Another time, he robbed Robert Hart’s barbershop and crashed his car.

“He didn’t escape any of it — jail, drugs, addictions, ruining your family to a point where my mom didn’t want me and my brother to be around him,” Hart says. “Seeing the stuff firsthand. Seeing the reality behind drugs and addiction, and what it can really do to a person, that’s why I don’t do drugs. I learned what I shouldn’t be doing from what my dad did.”

Hart says his father is now sober and the two have reconciled. At some point, Hart decided it was important for his two young children, Heaven and Hendrix, to know their grandfather.

“It takes too much time and energy to keep hate alive,” Hart says. In return, Witherspoon makes an effort with the children.

“He’s as good as he can be,” Hart says. “He’s very much in their lives. He talks to them. He sends them messages. He Facetimes. He’s serious about making his presence felt.”

If Hart has conflicted feelings about his father, there’s no ambiguity in his love for his mother. It was she, Hart says, who gave him his work ethic. A computer analyst at the University of Pennsylvania, she told her sons to set goals and achieve them. And she lived out her maxim.

“She was forever in school,” Hart remembers. “She was always trying to get a new level within her education — a new master’s or a new degree. She was constantly pushing to be the best version of herself.”

When Hart decided he wanted to do stand-up, his mother agreed to pay his rent for a year as he worked to get noticed. He’d commute daily from Philadelphia to the comedy clubs in New York, hitching rides or taking the bus from his home in the afternoon and returning at four in the morning. As he opened up about his personal life, he could feel the audience leaning in and responding.

“In the beginning, I was trying to be versions of what I saw or what other people were doing,” he remembers. “It was all, What’s the new shtick? ‘Oh, man, everyone’s coming onstage and they’re using music. I need to give them some music or I need to be loud.”

The first piece that clicked centered on a fight he’d had with his girlfriend.

“I was like, ‘I called the cops on her,’” Hart says. “‘Officer, I called you here because she put her hands on me and you guys need to do something about it.’ It was funny because all the things a woman would say, I was saying.”

To read the rest of the story, “Kevin Hart Wants to Be the Oprah of Comedy,” click HERE!!!