By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
Comedic actor Kevin Hart has two children and another on the way so, as a parent, he is well-acquainted with Dav Pilkey’s wildly popular children’s book series “Captain Underpants.”
In a new movie based on the books, “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie,” Hart voices the character of fourth grader George Beard who, along with his best friend, Harold Hutchins, enjoy imagining making up comics about a briefs-and-cape wearing superhero when they’re not pulling pranks on their teachers. George and Harold’s nemesis is their mean principal Benjamin “Benny” Krupp, who thinks by separating the boys into different classrooms, he can destroy their friendship.
When the duo spoil another kid’s science project involving a smart toilet, Krupp finds his excuse to implement his separation idea. Before he can sign the papers, though, the boys use a cereal box ring that puts a spell on the school administrator so that whenever they snap their fingers they can turn him into their made-up hero Captain Underpants and when they splash water on him, he turns back into their principal without recalling his other identity.
Initially, pleased with their newfound power, the boys discover another antagonist in a mysterious new teacher named Professor Pippy P. Poopypants. Turns out the new teacher has created a device that is designed to get rid of all laughter because he’s been teased about his name throughout his life. In order to stop the professor from turning fun-loving George and Harold into virtual zombies, Captain Underpants must come to their rescue. Before you can say “Tra-la-la,” he is on the case.
In addition to Hart, the voice cast includes Ed Helms (Principal Krupp/Captain Underpants), Nick Kroll (Professor Poopypants) and Thomas Middleditch (Harold). The animated action comedy id directed by David Soren, who previously directed 2013’s animated adventure “Turbo.”
Dressed in a white hoodie and black pants for an interview, Hart, 37, spoke about voicing the grade school character and recalled his own days as a prankster back in his native Philadelphia.
Q: What did you think of the film when you saw it?
Hart: I remember watching it and being like “More Kevin.” I said that and we fixed that. I tried to change the name to “Kevin Underpants” but nobody else bought it.
Q: That was originally going to be your stage name?
Hart: Yeah, Kevin Underpants.
Q: How much like your character were you in fourth grade?
Hart: Yes, it’s an animated kids’ movie, but you want to make sure you are grounding the performance to a certain level of believability within all the fun. You pull from the things you do in life and yes, as a kid I was a prankster. I was pretty much always in trouble because I didn’t want to stop laughing. I loved laughing in school and making other people laugh and, in school that’s the worst thing you can do in the class is be the funny guy because then nobody is focusing. Everybody is passing around letters or pulling chairs from underneath the teacher … or was that just me? But, I really was very much like my character, and I think that’s cool. I loved the relationship the characters had because in school, the close friends you have are very important; that friend that you open up to, that you are talking to on a different level on a day to day basic. You’re confiding at a young age. That’s dope to me. I think that’s something kids can relate to. They are going to pull away from this film saying, “I get that. I lived that. I am that.”
Q: There is the friendship of George and Harold at the center of the film and Kevin, you had said you had sort of a Harold in your life. Can you talk about that? Is he still in your life?
Hart: (deadpan) No. I’m the guy who makes it and stops talking to people. Let’s just clear that up. No, I had a friend named Kyle when I was coming up and you couldn’t separate us. He was my right-hand guy and till this day, when I go back to Philadelphia, he comes out to shows and supports and we speak but we’re not as close as we used to be. But, at school, I wasn’t in trouble without him. He wasn’t in trouble without me. It’s amazing when you get in trouble with somebody all the time because it’s hard to punish two people on the same level. We were very good kids. We just liked to have fun. We were very much fun pranksters though. Our trouble wasn’t malicious. It was just (passing) notes and doing mean stuff to girls that you liked sometimes. That was real big, if I liked a girl and she didn’t like me back that meant we’re gonna pull your chair out from under you—all cool stuff.
Q: Was it difficult to find the voice for George?
Hart: Kind of. (deadpan) I have a very deep voice so to find that inner child was tough. I’ve been doing action comedies for a long time.
Q: The title of this movie indicates it’s “The First Epic Adventure,” so will there be more of these?
Hart: We would love this to go on. It’s an actor’s dream to be a part of any animation franchise that can live on. Everything is set up perfectly so we’re hoping people go out and respond to the movie but the following that “Captain Underpants” has is huge so the movie potential could be endless but it’s a business so let’s hope people respond and show up at the box office.
Q: You do a little singing in the movie. Were you into that?
Hart: I was actually really uncomfortable with the singing. I was like to David (Soren, the director), “Are you sure?” And he said, “Yeah, it’s going to be great.” And I said, “I don’t think you understand, I just don’t do it. This is where the character falls apart.”
Q: The film is about being true to yourself and having faith despite the odds. As a comedian, can you talk about rising above all the “no’s” in your career to keep going?
Hart: When you look at success, you look at the people who get to a “successful position” in life, those are people who became comfortable with the word “no.” People who aren’t comfortable with the word “no” and allow themselves to turn around or backpedal from whatever their dreams or goals were, because the word “no” keeps getting thrown at you. Those are the people that, nine times out of ten, don’t make it. The people that do survive are the ones who can shrug it off and that let it roll off their backs because they understand that eventually that word “yes” is going to come and when it does come, I’m going to be prepared for what’s after it because there should be a mountain of “yes’s” to make up for the mountain of “no’s” I’ve gotten past. Ultimately, the strong survive and the weak don’t. For me, it’s that simple, so my advice is to stay true to your dreams regardless of what you’re told and what people may feel. Nobody knows you better than you.
Q: This film comes out the same Friday as the live-action “Wonder Woman.” Are you worried about that?
Hart: There is no following behind “Wonder Woman.” It’ll be fine.