Will Ferrell on his shocking 'Get Hard' moment: 'It's the riskiest thing I've ever done'
I'm on the set of "Get Hard," and Kevin Hart is cracking himself up.
Some context is in order. Hart, Will Ferrell, actress Edwina Finley (as Hart's wife) and Ariana Neal (as Hart's young daughter) are sitting around a table on a New Orleans soundstage. It's a dinner scene. Ferrell's character James, a business executive wrongfully convicted of tax evasion, has hired Hart's character Darnell to prep him for prison under the assumption that the car wash owner has served time.
There's just one problem: Darnell hasn't been behind bars a day in his life. In this scene, he's forced to concoct a story about his criminal past after James puts him on the spot during dinner. And by "concoct," I mean "pass off a scene from the movie 'Boyz N the Hood' as an episode from his own life."
"Rickaaaaay! Rickaaaaay!" Hart screams near the tail end of his monologue. He does this over multiple setups and takes. When the cameras aren't rolling, the superstar actor and comedian dissolves into giggles.
"If we were keeping a break meter of who breaks the most, my meter would break every day," Hart tells us during a break in shooting. "I’m silly, man. I’m silly. I love to have fun while we’re working."
L-R: Ariana Neal, Kevin Hart, Edwina Finley and Will Ferrell
It's a fascinating experience watching the scene evolve throughout the afternoon. Hart and Ferrell, both skilled improv performers, never do the exact same thing twice. I note small adjustments -- Ferrell's "I'd like to blame the baboon but I think I stabbed myself" becomes "I'd like to blame the baboon but I think I did it to myself," and as I do I develop preferences (the former version reads funnier to me).
Neal, whose age I peg at eight, is told to eat the food on her plate for real ("We can tell that you're not," they inform her). A spit bucket is provided between takes. Hart goofs with her, sings to her. Ferrell is more restrained, less playful. Finley, perhaps best known for her work on "The Wire" and "Treme," takes it all in with a still, confident smile.
There are a lot of funny lines here.
"That's why I wash cars now, cause I'm trying to wash the blood off my hands," says Hart in wrapping up his "Boyz N the Hood" monologue.
"Thanks for taking the knife out," Ferrell tells Findley in the most matter-of-fact way imaginable.
"Daddy, why did you voice change?" Neal asks Hart when he affects a gritty "thug" quality. Answers Hart: "Daddy is going back to a dark place."
Et cetera, et cetera.
The physical disparity between Hart and Ferrell is mined as a source of comedy in the film, and in person too the difference is certainly striking: at 5'4", Hart is nearly a full foot shorter than his co-star. It's a contrast that helps to further play up the "odd couple" pairing at the movie's heart -- an energy evident not only in the world of the film but in real life as well. They are, as director Etan Cohen notes, two wildly different performers and personalities.
"They have very opposite, to me, anyway, opposite comedic energies and styles and I always feel like Will is very zen and quiet in his energy and lets the materials flow through him and Kevin is constantly creating this perpetual motion machine, creating stuff out of nothing and pulling it out of the air," says Cohen, making his directorial debut on the film after cutting his teeth as a writer on comedies like "Idiocracy" and "Tropic Thunder." "The two of them together, seeing opposite kinds of energy on screen is really exciting."
It bears addressing the elephant in the room by posing a question that seems obvious but is not, apparently, so cut and dry in the filmmakers' eyes: is Ferrell's character racist? Judging from the premise it certainly feels that way, but from talking with the talent involved I get the sense that the "Anchorman" vet's "lovable doofus" screen persona may ultimately serve as a shield against those claims.
"I’ve assumed for horribly wrong reasons that he’s been incarcerated because, 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," Ferrell tells us.
Chimes in Hart: "That’s the crazy thing. He’s not a racist at all."