As fans of Kevin James know, he is the epitome of versatile. Whether playing an inanely clumsy but dutiful mall cop or a well-loved sitcom figure, his humor easily appeals to a wide variety of audiences. However, his latest film is far from his Paul Blart or King of Queens days. Coming out Oct. 12, Here Comes the Boom stars James as 42-year-old biology teacher Scott Voss, who works in a struggling high school that is threatening to cut the music program and lay off its teacher, Marty Streb (Henry Winkler, Happy Days). Scott raises funds—in addition to attracting the attention of the school nurse (Salma Hayek, Frida) and rallying the entire student body in the process—by moonlighting as a mixed martial arts fighter and ultimately battling his way to the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
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James co-wrote, produced and stars in the comedy, and admits, “I’m so excited about this movie because I thought it came out really well and different, and it’s not as necessarily goofy as I normally am.” Although the film certainly contains a fair amount of slapstick comedy—think vomit scenes, face plants and food fights—this work indeed contains a deeper message than a typical Kevin James/Adam Sandler collaboration. The heart of the story takes root rather early, as viewers learn that 60’s-something Marty simultaneously learns of his wife’s pregnancy and his imminent dismissal. From then on, the precisely balanced blend of body-slams and poignant conversations—as well as a romance thrown into the plot—provides laughs and action, entertainment and excitement. A cameo by online singing sensation and rising star Charice (who plays Voss’ student, Malia) adds just the right note to the overall picture. Despite a predictable ending and some unoriginal witticisms, the performances of the core trio (James, Winkler and Hayek), excitement created by the fight scenes and touching moments brought from the high schoolers and musical scenes carry the film and allow viewers to see Kevin James in an entirely new light.
Kevin James recently sat down with The Technique to talk about his role in the movie, the physical demands of filming, and his plans for the future.
Why MMA? [The Technique] know[s] that you co-wrote this film and co-produced it. Are you a big MMA fan?
Back in the day in ’93, I saw the first UFC and just became enamored by it. Then through being able to meet all these fighters over the last decade or two, what was interesting to me was that they’re not just these gladiators that are in the ring; they’re like family, people just like you and me, they just have a really odd job. They’re the most incredibly trained athletes and they’re all friends among each other in the community… I always thought it was an inspiring thing and that I wanted to make a movie about it and somehow tie it into the teaching aspect of it—since I had some very cool teachers back in my past—and still make it a comedy. I wanted to balance all those things and make it work great without sacrificing one—When people hear this movie, they think it’s going to be Paul Blart running around in the ring; but it’s not like that. It’s definitely got fun moments, but we try to keep it as real as possible.
Knowing how physically adept the people you were working with were, was it intimidating at all, sparring with them?
Yeah! I said to them—which might have been a mistake—“Don’t put the baby gloves on for me. Do it.” And then when they hit me, I said, “Well, you don’t have to go that hard. It is just a movie.” But we worked really hard at it! I brought guys in and said, “I want to do this as a fighter.”
Besides mixed martial arts, there’s the aspect of the music program getting cut for budget reasons in the film, also. You wrestled in high school, but were you ever part of an extracurricular activity that was cut?
No, but I remember them cutting back on small things, like our uniforms. I remember the helmet I had to wear in high school; opponents with funds would come in with uniforms and look like a pro team on these incredible buses, while I’m sitting there with this “pasta shell” and I don’t even have all the pads or anything…I was never musically inclined, but I know what it would be like if they cut sports from me and I didn’t have that outlet.
Why did you pick “Here Comes the Boom” as your character’s entrance song and which song would you pick if you were going into the MMA?
We picked “Here Comes the Boom” by P.O.D. because I watch all these fighters and their intimidation and getting built-up and the back stage [importance]…[Music] can transport you and it’s so important, from every aspect: from Henry being the great teacher that does it to Charice belting out that song—which you wouldn’t think a typical MMA fight song would be that [inspiring], but you can go different ways with it. As far as my song, I would probably go with, “Jimmy Crack Corn” [by Eminem], because I don’t care. I don’t think I could out-psyche the other opponent at this point, so I would just try to confuse them.
Were you even more excited about this movie since you co-wrote it? Like with stand-up, it’s all you: writing, producing performing… Do you feel more ownership over this movie?
I definitely do. I feel more responsible. You have to write what moves you and try to do the best you can with it and hope people like it…I’ve never felt like how I feel for this one, where people really feel like you’re hitting the mark in a different way. One of the best comments I got was, “God, I hate Kevin James, but forgive me because I like this movie.” Which makes me happy, because he’s not a Kevin James fan…but he’s gotta [admit] “he did it right.”
Is there anything else you want your fans to know about you, the film, or any upcoming projects?
I’m looking into a movie now called Valet Guys with the great Kevin Hart [Soul Plane, Think Like a Man], who I love… And just trying to keep broadening that audience and keep making movies that are positive, in a way, and make people feel a little better about themselves when they leave that theater.