There’s a time for sweeping, emotionally charged Oscar bait, and there’s a time for laugh-out-loud, explosive, charismatic action comedies. Right now? It’s time for the latter, which is why it’s convenient that Universal’s Ride Along is making its way into theaters today. The film stars Kevin Hart as fast-talking security guard Ben and Ice Cube as tough-as-nails detective James. There’s no reason these guys would ever hang out in real life save for one — Ben is dating James’ sister, Angela, and James is going to make Ben prove to him that he’s worthy of the honor. What follows is a madcap caper that takes them through the streets of Atlanta and embroils them in a massive criminal conspiracy.
Recently, I sat down with Ice Cube and Kevin Hart to talk about the revival of the buddy cop genre, the secrets to a good script, and why they’re increasingly drawn to what’s going on behind the camera rather than just in front of it.
Nerdist: You guys have great chemistry together. I feel like it’s been a while since we’ve had a legit buddy cop movie. Ride Along felt like a return to form. What is it about this genre that drives audiences wild?
Ice Cube: I think it goes back a long time, even back to Vaudeville days, where you had two people kind of giving each other grief, like Abbott and Costello. It’s just cool to see two people – you know, one straight man. You had Dean Martin. It’s a classic set-up, but you have to pull it off. You have to do it right and you have to be unique in some aspects of it to stand out or you just become one of those uneventful, forgettable duos. I think in recent history, in the ’80s we had 48 Hours and Lethal Weapon, ’90s was Bad Boys. Or was that 2000?
Kevin Hart: Nah, you ’90s, you ’90s.
IC: So now it’s time for a new one. It’s time for Ben and James, Cube and Kevin to really get busy and I think we got a unique take on it that’s fun.
KH: It’s different. Bottom line on it is that our approach to it is definitely different than what you’ve seen in the past. And just to reiterate what Cube was saying, all of that stems from chemistry. The chemistry on film is amazing, and when you talk about those other movies, the Lethal Weapons, the Mel Gibsons and Danny Glovers, when you talk about Bad Boys, when you talk about Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, when you go to 48 Hours with Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy, the chemistry was there. You believe Ben and James in this journey that they go on, and that’s the makeup of what these great films are actually made out of. We have a chance to do something really special here. Hopefully this is something that can live on for a second. These are characters that people will not only love, but want to see over and over again. That’s the goal behind it.
N: Yeah, the film didn’t feel outdated at all. It felt very of the moment. I particularly enjoyed the gaming aspect you were able to tie in. Are either of you guys big gamers yourselves?
KH: I’m a gamer. He’s too much of an asshole to play games.
N: So he’s just on the mic?
KH: All the time – he makes me feel stupid whenever I say I’m a gamer. I don’t deal with that stuff. I’m all over it.
N: Part of the reason I ask is that a lot of our audience are gamers – myself included – and the handles in the film were pretty hilarious. Kevin, your character went by Blackhammer and hung out with dudes named Assface. Is your real life handle as hilarious?
KH: My real one?
N: Your call. I don’t want everyone hitting you up on Xbox Live.
KH: Nah, I don’t give a shit. It’s LilSwag. You have a handle so people can go out and play you. Some people know it’s me. My friends know that it’s me. When I do random chats, I remember I got caught in a room with a little boy and he just starts cursing at me. We were playing Madden and he’s like, “Yeah, touchdown, bitch!” Then I start arguing with him. That’s the best part. I just argue with kids on the headset. [laughs] That’s my favorite part, just going back and forth with them. Like, “Yeah, what now, bitch? What now? Tie game! Tie game!”
IC: “Go on and get your juicebox!”
N: You know you’ve won when you hear their mom scolding them in the background.
KH: I love it. That’s the best part about that whole viral communication – arguing with kids.
N: There’s our pull quote right there. Getting back to the film, how much room did you have to improvise versus how closely you stuck to the script? If so, is there a favorite bit or joke that didn’t make it into the final cut?
IC: We don’t go shoot a movie unless it’s a great script. No matter what comedians you have, you should always start off with a great foundation. It should be funny without the comedians or anybody having to ad lib anything, so we start off with a script that’s funny right off the bat. From there, we’ll shoot it, we’ll add little ad libs here and there. Once we get what we want in the can, we’ll go, “Hey, let’s have fun with this take” and go straight off-script. You can go anywhere — they’ll bring us back at the end. We have fun with it, and I think it gives the editor the best options.
KH: Yeah, it gives them the best variety. You don’t go into a movie just off the ability to improvise. You can’t do that; it has to be on the page. And from the producers to the writers, we did a great job of having material on the page to then stem from and go here and then come back.
IC: Some scenes are written short. They’re funny, but they’re short. As the banter goes back and forth, that will stretch with ad libs as the filler. It’s a formula that I’ve been using since Friday. I’m pretty sure that everybody who makes a great comedy uses it and, you know, we used it on this one.
N: Do you have a favorite moment ad libbed or otherwise that didn’t make it into the final cut?
KH: Oh man, it’d be tough to pick just one. I have so much shit sitting in that can right now. Man, we had room to play. I think one thing that Cube said yesterday that makes so much sense is that if you do five takes and all of them are great takes, you can only use one. That being the case, you have so much stuff left on the cutting room floor. It makes for great DVD extras and at the end of the movie, you roll takes of ad libs and having a good time. I’m curious to see what those moments are, but I can’t just pick one.
IC: There’s one moment that I wished we could have left in. It’s just a little too much. It’s when I pull the gun and shoot you, the fantasy?
KH: Yeah, yeah.
IC: We kept it going, like all out, some real Robocop shit. I walk up on him and give him hell. It was like, “Ah, man, that might be a bit too far.”
N: [laughs] Yeah, there might be some kids here.
IC: [laughs] A little too Scorsese for ’em.
KH: “Did he have to shoot him in the head all those times?”
IC: Yeah, it’s just one of those surprising moments – like [Kevin] being blown back with the [shotgun] – it’s a moment that keeps the fantasy intact. You know what I’m saying? I think with comedies you need to have those moments where you bend reality to its fullest and then snap it back.
N: I remember when that scene first happened I was like, “Oh my, this got dark really quick.”
IC: [laughs] Real quick!
N: Along similar lines, there’s plenty of big ticket action set pieces and cool chase sequences. Do you have a favorite moment from the filming process? Maybe one of those “holy shit I can’t believe this is happening right now” kind of things?
IC: That first opening scene for me when I’m driving that Ram truck!
KH: Yeah, you don’t put Cube in goddamn machines with engines like that. Dude, I honestly thought about that yesterday though. Just the takes with you at the beginning of the movie with the Dodge Ram, the red truck. That’s him in there all day. He’s like a kid in a candy shop in there. The movie definitely opens up with a huge bang.
N: Cube, you’ve been writing and producing for a minute now. Kevin, you’re also getting into that realm too with projects like Let Me Explain and Real Husbands of Hollywood. What interests you in that aspect of the creative process?
IC: That’s where all the action is, producing and writing. Executing a movie is fun. It’s fun to shoot it and act, but I want to be in those meetings. I want to talk about locations. I want to talk about colors, cinematography, and make sure the movie works on those levels. The movie can be fucked up on a lot of levels, you know? You can fuck it up in pre-production, you can fuck it up shooting it, you can fuck it up cutting it and selling it! If you’re not a producer, you’re not gonna be in a few of those steps and you can look up and it’s not what you wanted it to be. As a producer, you always have a say, you can massage it and make it what you want it to be from start to finish. There’s no moments where you’re like, “Ugh, I wish they could have done that better” or “My part’s good, but everything else sucks.” [laughs]
KH: It’s about that control though. At the end of the day, you want to control your career, your brand, your destiny, and the best way to do that is to get educated on all avenues – from the writing process to the producing process to the directing process. You don’t have to be a director. I’m not a director, but I understand what’s going on. I understand where I’m supposed to be, where the cameras should be, and why they should be there. That makes everyone else’s job easier, because you’re there and you know what you’re supposed to be doing, and it makes you a more powerful actor because your conversations with the director will be different. Directors like that because you’re adding input to what’s already there, but you’re also seeing something they might have missed from their perspective.
Even the writing process – you’re not paid to write if you’re there as an actor, but you want to make sure it fits your voice, so you say, “I’m going to meet with the writer for a second.” Not to be a dick or change things, but how do we make this better? How do we make better what’s on the page? It’s a better overall process behind the scenes as well as being in front of the camera. I’ve learned so much from watching guys like [Ice Cube] building their company and going on to do so many successful things. It’s the blueprint that’s out there, so why would you not follow it?
N: Kevin, you’ve worked with producer Will Packer quite a bit. Cube, this is your first time working with him. Is it a very collaborative relationship?
IC: I love it. I think he’s a great, smart producer and hopefully we can produce things together for a long time.
KH: What number is this? I think it’s my fifth movie with Will. I can’t say that I have a better relationship with anybody else in the business because there’s a mutual respect for one another and I know he has my best interests at hand. That’s the best thing about a producer. With Cube being a producer on Ride Along, his best interest is in the movie. He’s protecting himself, so he wants everything in the movie to be great. This producer, Will Packer, I feel the same way about. I trust him because I trust that you’re not going to put me in a bad position because I have nothing to complain about. You’ve been right, you’ve executed, you’ve delivered – and that’s the most important thing a producer can do, show that they can deliver and execute on what they say they can.
IC: And keeping control of the ship, keeping the set moving in the right direction. It’s not always the director’s job to keep things moving. It’s the director’s job to get the creativity in the can. But you also need a strong producer to say, “Hey, man. We got it. Let’s move on.”
N: Yeah, you need someone to keep things moving along so your hands are free to do what you need to do.
IC: Yeah, you’re not over here worried about some light in the film because the producer’s not around. You’re focused on the job at hand.
N: One thing I’ve noticed is that movies don’t have theme songs any more. So, I was wondering what it would take to get Chocolate Drop and Ice Cube on the track together for Ride Along 2: It’s Been A Long Time?
KH: [laughs] It’d take years.
IC: [laughs] It might take the United Nations to get that combination. You know what I mean? There’s a little animosity there.
N: Is there a recent battle that I missed?
KH: Nah, I keep ’em separate. I haven’t even introduced him to Chocolate Drop yet. Just from two different rap worlds. You know, Chocolate Drop respects him, but at the same time he feels like he was kind of overlooked in some past situations. Cube’s opinion towards him is so strong that I don’t even bring them together because I know how Dropper is and I’m not trying to bring that to Cube because that’s my guy.
IC: Especially if he starts rappin’.
Ride Along, starring Ice Cube and Kevin Hart, is in theaters everywhere.