Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart star in Etan Cohen’s upcoming R-rated comedy, Get Hard. Executive Producer Chris Henchy was on set during our visit to the production, and he talked about the process of getting Ferrell and Hart together in a film, the challenges of doing a prison comedy, shooting in New Orleans, and just how absurd this comedy gets. Our interview with Henchy follows below.
Someone like Kevin Hart has a really big hit. What does that do for you? How does that change your perspective?
Chris Henchy: We always thought Kevin was hysterical. We were thinking about this before Ride Along, but he was already in the big upswing, but we were thinking about what can we do with Will and Kevin, trying to find out like a pair and myself and Adam McKay and Will chatting and you know, it was just an idea, teaming up those guys, and sometimes that’s how ideas start and then McKay had the idea of, “What if it was this scenario, this Get Hard scenario?” So, it was, you know, we don’t really, yeah you think about money, but we’re not really, we’re thinking the idea and putting a package together, who can direct, who will write and who will star, and then we kind of figure out where we can, what’s the time frame. Both these guys are so busy, so we had to make sure, we had to move relatively quickly.
Can you talk about some of the risks and challenges of doing a prison comedy, especially nowadays, there hasn’t really been a successful one since Stir Crazy.
Henchy: Yeah, you know, it’s, yeah, it is challenging, you know, we kind of, there’s something that we all felt was sort of universal for anybody is what if you were wrongly convicted and had to go to jail, and I think it’s something as you go through life, everybody has that fantasy, like, “What would I do?”, so it seemed like a natural kind of topic and subject matter that was pretty universal. So, I think, it seemed like a fun area to go to and kind of dwell on a bunch of stuff, you know, differences in race and whatnot too. It was, so it’s not just a prison movie, but a couple other things happening at the same time.
Going even further back with projects like this, was there the idea of, “Let’s get Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart together and find a movie that suits them?”, or “Let’s make this movie, we think they’d be great for it?”
Henchy: It can happen either way and any way, but this was like, you know watching Kevin’s stand-up would be like, “Hey, how great would it be to see those two guys on a movie poster?” This one started that way. So then, you can kind of picture the two of them… [given something from Kevin] Best guy ever. We hang out a lot. We’re going to. He doesn’t know it. We’re going to hang out a hell of a lot. Go to Miami with him. Vegas, I’m flying with him private. This one was kind of like, “What is the craziest world you can think of?” Start with the poster ad kind of work. Those two guys on the poster, I’m already starting to laugh. What’s the crazy world? What situations can you put them in? And it kind of evolved and then McKay was like Will as this uptight kind of narrow-minded hedge fund guy and Kevin as a struggling business man. One’s going to jail and one’s got to help him. So, it started, that’s pretty much it and you just keep building from there.
Do you think a lot about their audiences too and making sure that each one has enough going on on screen?
Henchy: Yeah, I wasn’t necessarily thinking about their audiences. It was the natural pairing, you want to spend a lot of time with them on camera as much as possible. So, it was pretty simple to … we’re not thinking, “Now is a good time for a Kevin moment. This is a good time for a Will moment.” I think the bonus of this movie or the appeal is to see them both on camera as much as possible and as crazy as possible.
Henchy: Yeah, we’re pretty busy. We just had two pilots picked up, going to series. We’ve got, you know, I think Will has a fairly decent slate of stuff, you know, in the hopper, I guess. Movies come together and they fall apart. We try to focus on things we love to see. It is, they come together, they fall apart and they come together again and you’re with them for a long long time. As long as we have ideas, we’re constantly trying to reconfigure and repackage and rethink, you know. It’s hard to get a great idea sometimes. When you get a good one and you have a good script, you want to keep shepherding it to make it happen, so, and we have smaller movies and other people in them and so it’s, the company has gotten pretty busy.
It seems like, the impression I sort of get is a lot happens behind the scenes. Someone may take a look at the script and punch it up and it’s not like their name going on the script. It’s more just a collaborative process.
Henchy: It is a lot of collaboration. There usually is a writer or a team that kind of shepherds a first draft and we all kind of, it’s a lot like improv on stage, we do the same thing with the scripts and pull people together and write more jokes and have other jokes and alternate jokes, and then, you know, when we start shooting, the script is here, but we go off of it and improvise and you know, you’re constantly looking for more jokes, in case one joke doesn’t land like you’d hoped, and you never know. You can be as confident about a joke and you go, “Oh, I don’t have to worry about that one and that’s the one you have to worry about when you’re at screening in Burbank and everybody’s looking at you like, ‘You have another joke here?’ and hopefully you do.”
Henchy: I think, probably my guess is the tax incentives, yes, were the original draw and I think people came here because their dollar went further, but I don’t know how long the taxes thing has been going on, but what’s happened is there is more production in New Orleans than LA, there’s more production and there’s a lot in Wilmington, there’s a lot in Atlanta, but what it’s created for, especially for New Orleans, what I see in New Orleans, is you have great crews that have moved from New York or LA, where it’s probably a little bit easier to live, but there’s plenty of work here, so you’re not missing out or you’re not sacrificing anything. You have great, really great strong crews here, so it’s, you know, I love coming here. The food is good.
This sounds like an off question, but how racial is the story?
Henchy: You know, it deals with some stereotypes that are quickly broken down, so I think it’s a great jumping off point, but quickly is pushed aside and just becomes a great buddy comedy.
It seems like one of the things that happens a lot, is there is a vague moral or social commentary…
Henchy: You know, it’s hard, and you know, it’s something Will and Adam have always, I think always, even probably going back to their SNL days is there’s always been some, you know, a, something to poke, and it’s, it kind of helps with the writing, because it gives you a strong, little moral point of view and it’s about something, so you know, there’s always, you know, if you can hide a little message in these movies, behind a bunch of comedy, then it works out two different ways and it kind of helps your third act too. It gives you this, someone can make a statement that they stand for something, which is fun to do.
With Kevin and Will, can you talk about how much of the movie will be improvised versus scripted?
Henchy: No I can’t. No I can not talk about that. I actually have no idea.
Well, also balancing, because they both have very different comedic style, also balancing those styles.
Henchy: You just never know. We know stuff that’s scripted generally works and then the great bonus is all the stuff they come up with on the fly, so it’s some of your biggest lines will be improvised, biggest laughs, so I don’t know. 30%?
Was it tough with the script sort of getting the right tone of what both of them do well, because what they do is very different, different styles of comedy?
Henchy: Yes and no, just like we, you know, we are obviously familiar with Will’s work and then we’re also very familiar with Kevin’s work and you know, the great thing when we set this movie up is, you know, nobody is kind of a hired gun. They’re all invested with the subject matter. So, before, as we writing and rewriting, we were spending time with Kevin and going, “Hey, what about this scene, what if I did this? Here’s a great moment here.” So, it’s always … you’re not going into this blindly. You’re definitely using these guys, everybody is chipping in who has some strong opinion.
Are studios getting a little bit more lenient to do absurd stuff in comedies, because audiences seem to be accepting…
Henchy: I think studios and Warner Bros. has been great. They just want … if it’s funny and we all think it’s funny, they’re excited. So, I think they’re especially … the success of some of the more absurd, like Neighbors. It’s just like, it’s a comedy, what’s the fun film, theater-going experience that you’re going to provide?
Does Will get to play an asshole at the beginning of the movie or is it more…
Henchy: Yes he does. Will’s [laughter] he gets to be that guy that is…
Perfect time for him to roll by.
Henchy: Yes, it’s a great set up for a character. The higher they are, the further they have to fall.
Henchy: We kind of went into this knowing that you’re dealing with prison, you can’t sugar coat it and make it PG-13 and it was as simple as that, and the thing is if you’re going to do it R, make sure you have scenes that warrant the R rating, so we make sure we have scenes that warrant the R rating. Yeah, prison is not PG-13.
So we will get to see inside an actual prison. It’s not all this interior set-up stuff?
Henchy: We go inside a prison. Will is arrested and we are … there is stuff in prison.
What sort of crossover exists on projects, where you’re sort of doing a joke or something, might it ever show up again in another project?
Henchy: If it doesn’t work on a film, no, you’ll never see it again. If it didn’t work in the writing process, we can always go, “Hey, hey remember that other joke? Let’s see if it works here.” Everybody pulls out their favorites, like a little plastic box with recipes inside, you kind of float through it, like I got one. Alt standards.
Do you think you’d ever step behind the camera as a director?
You step in front of the camera on this one?
Henchy: A couple times. It’s not pretty.
Can you tell us about your role at all?
Henchy: Nothing in this one. I was, I was cut out of The Other Guys. I was a real estate agent, purchasing a house in Step Brothers. I think my role, my performance was described as pasty. Not the greatest, yeah, I’m not great in front of the camera.
Can you talk a bit about release windows and if there’s a better time to release a comedy.
Henchy: I think there’s always, “Let’s do it summer, let’s do it towards the end of summer when some of the other movies are drying out.” Then there’s, “It’s got to be the holidays,” and I think, you know, the calendar is wide open. We were thinking with Will, early August was always a great time and then you release something else and it does great. I think Kevin’s Ride Along came out in February, which has always been a slow month and that killed. I think there’s an exception to everything.
Make a good movie.
Henchy: Just don’t come out on Hangover.
Get Hard opens on March 27th.