Feature: Kevin James Talks Paul Blart
Fri, 16 Jan 2009 15:00:22
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Kevin James would make a great little league coach. Standing in the courtyard of the Hollywood & Highland mall complex, he offers commentary on a contest promoting Paul Blart: Mall Cop. As four contestants go through a series of "Mall-lympics" in order to win the grand prize of playing Guitar Hero against him, James coaches the clamoring competitors. Watching one contestant lose his pants in order to change into a requisite security outfit, he laughs, "He started de-pantsing early. That's a smart move. Anytime you want to make moves, you've got to de-pants early." Sound advice.
For James, Paul Blart: Mall Cop is more than just another comedy. It's a chance for him to try his hand at one of his favorite genres: action. Watching action films was part of his preparation for the part. "I think, when you look at me, I give an action movie vibe. It's innate," James laughs. "I loved movies like Die Hard, Rambo, and all of those other crazy flicks growing up. I thought, 'Why can't I play that? Why can't a bigger, out-of-shape, sadly inept guy play this character?' I thought it would be funny. I wanted to make this the most physical project that I've ever done." Mission accomplished. Paul Blart is a traditional physical comedy with a few twists, and it's all driven by James.
“We knew this was a character that could be very funny and engagingly fun to watch.”
Paul Blart was also a chance for James to pay tribute to some of his comedy idols. "I love being physical. All of my heroes, like Jackie Gleason, John Belushi and Chris Farley, were very physical comics. It's not good that they're all dead [laughs]. However, all of them were big guys that could move gracefully. Anytime I surprise someone by doing something that they don't expect me to do, I'm in territory where I want to be. Out of all my films, this movie means the most to me. I feel like I've become Paul Blart the most, in a way. I'm really proud of this character. I think people will identify with him and go on this journey with him."
This was James' first official outing as a leading man on film. Though he once starred on King of Queens, becoming a silver screen main man has proven to be a fulfilling challenge for him. "Paul Blart is the first movie that I've done where it's just me out there by myself. I don't have Will Smith or Adam Sandler. I'm tired of carrying those guys [laughs]. I knew if I was going to do a movie where I was at the forefront, I had to be very confident with the character and connected to the character. Hopefully, the character would be someone that the audience could connect to, believe in, and root for as well. I wanted to give them a hero in a way. We knew this was a character that could be very funny and engagingly fun to watch."
For James, becoming Paul Blart didn't prove too difficult because he already had a pronounced, if rather unique, affinity for mall cops. "I've always had respect for mall cops. It's very difficult to enforce the law when you don't have a weapon or any real authority [laughs]. They can't really do much more than a citizen can. That was always intriguing to me. The job entails so much. If someone spills an Orange Julius, they've got to cone that off. They have to return kids to their mothers. They have to give directions to Cinnabon and know where it is right away. They've also got to stop crime and anything that happens in that mall. Doing that without weapons and without the respect of people who work with you and the shoppers in that mall made me laugh and feel for these guys. I think their story needed to be told."
It does take a certain personality to don that uniform and pick up the suburban security responsibility, and James recognizes that. "[There are] two types of mall cops that I noticed," he explains. "There are guys who don't take the job seriously at all, and they're just there to flip over a spackle can, sit there, read a book, and kill time. Then there are the guys who are like Barney Fife, and they take their jobs very seriously. They've been issued a generic badge that says "Security Guard," and they wear it like a badge of honor. You're not going to screw up in their malls. That's who Paul Blart is."
Paul Blart is an unassuming hero in many instances, and that's a big part of his charm. "When we first came up the idea, we thought it would be just like a Die Hard movie," says James. "I wanted to make it as real as possible, and I thought it would be very funny if you could have a Die Hard situation but with me, instead of Bruce Willis. I wish I would've gotten in shape because it was hard. I was getting banged up and bruised every day [laughs]. As we started developing the movie more, we realized that we weren't being vulgar in anyway. Our audience started opening up. It was more about a guy you can root for. We realized it [could] be a family movie."
James also had some personal memories of a mall from childhood that he's very fond of. "I remember my mall was the Smith Haven Mall on Long Island. I used to hit it with a bunch of my buddies in my black KISS concert t-shirt. Malls are like night clubs for kids. That's their social life! There are lights, food, and girls. There's a lot going on and a lot of action, a lot of stimuli. That's the place to be. I loved malls growing up. As a standup comedian, I also hit malls a lot. When you go to different cities, you work for about an hour a night, and during the next day you've got nothing to do, so you just walk the malls. I was always aware of mall cops and how they were disrespected. So I wanted to tell their story, and I think everybody needed to hear it. I'm proud to tell it."
Well put, chief.