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Little big man

Hollywood hits have made Kevin Hart A MAN OF STATURE

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WASHINGTON -- The coffee can't arrive soon enough for Kevin Hart.

The comedian is trying his hardest to be alert during a photo shoot in a Georgetown hotel on a freezing February day, one of many appointments on a busy media tour for his new romantic comedy About Last Night, which opened Friday.

However, he can't stifle a mighty yawn that interrupts a short impromptu belting-out of the chorus from -- of all things -- A Whole New World from the Aladdin soundtrack.

Maybe Hart, a 34-year-old master of multitasking, can add "Disney singer" to his list of hyphenates, which include standup comic, producer, writer, social-media guru, media mogul and, most recently, box-office powerhouse.

He might stand only 5-foot-4, but he's starting to loom large in Hollywood, and with a broad audience.

"Universal, baby!" Hart exclaims, clearly getting a second wind. "I pride myself on appealing to everyone at the end of the day, not just black people, not just white people, not just Chinese people. That's one thing we as people share is laughter."

About Last Night finds him playing Bernie, a quick-witted, motor-mouthed guy who's constantly orbiting -- much to his chagrin -- the wild woman (Regina Hall) with whom he had a one-night stand.

Audiences can enjoy a Kevin Hart double feature, since his comedy Ride Along is still in theaters and has grossed US$106 million since opening in January -- the first movie to cross the US$100-million mark this year.

Add in the facts he had a major role in the 2012 surprise hit Think Like a Man and his 2013 concert film Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain pulled in US$32 million (No. 4 all time in the genre, Box Office Mojo says). That makes Hart a bankable star, says Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst for Exhibitor Relations.

"He has that thing that Eddie Murphy had: You just like the guy," Bock says. "You want to be his best buddy. As far as box office goes, it means you want to buy a ticket for whatever he's in."

Hart doesn't take for granted the audience will be automatic, though. During down time in an interview, he takes 30 seconds to send a 140-character missive reminding his 9.8 million Twitter followers to get their tickets to About Last Night, a remake of the 1986 Brat Pack movie.

It has taken a lot of work for the Philadelphia native to build his brand. While some might see his success as overnight, he's spent more than 10 years stealing scenes in movies and TV shows, dating back to Judd Apatow's 2001-02 TV series Undeclared.

"I'm sure it looks quick to everyone else, because it always does," Last Night co-star Hall says. "But he's been working at it and he's been diligent, and he gets better and better."

Fostering a legacy is important for Hart, but he also doesn't forget the men who influenced his current track: Murphy, Chris Rock, George Carlin and Richard Pryor, among them.

"These are comedians who literally had the world in the palms of their hands because they were responsible for a good time," Hart says.

He also found their honesty about their foibles and shortcomings helped them to connect with audiences. That's why Hart has no problem being self-deprecating about his height in his comedy routine or in films.

"It takes a special person to laugh at themselves. I say what people may think before they say it, and when you address it first, it erases it," Hart says.

"It also sets a tone. People can laugh at you laughing at yourself. That opens up the arena for people to then laugh at themselves and at their problems. I'm not a perfect person, I'm flawed, so I put it out there."

Building an audience seems to be working out all right for Hart, who has started his own HartBeat Productions company he hopes can become a major player in the studio system. But until he becomes the comedic equivalent to Harvey Weinstein, the acting thing will suffice.

"He couldn't be in a better spot," Bock says. "I wouldn't be surprised if Sony pitches him Ghostbusters 3. He's going to have the opportunity to do a lot of these sequels to big films."

Still, "His next few films will be the things that Kevin Hart wants to see," adds Bock. "He's reached the point in his career where he can be choosy."

Next up is the sequel Think Like a Man Too (opening June 20), then he teams with Josh Gad for the comedy The Wedding Ringer (January). There's small-screen stuff, too. Hart stars in the BET series Real Husbands of Hollywood and is developing a pilot about his life for ABC.

"That's why I haven't slept," Hart says, laughing about his increasingly full plate of projects. "Soon as you stop talking, I'm probably going to pass out."

-- USA Today

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 16, 2014 A14

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