I had the pleasure of spending about a hour with Kevin James last week, first as part of a roundtable interview and then for a few minute one-on-one, where he seemed to not even mind that he had to give me some of the same answers he'd said 10 minutes earlier. James is tireless in his enthusiasm for Paul Blart: Mall Cop, a movie he specifically made for everyone-- even his young kids-- to enjoy.
James wrote the screenplay, produced the film and plays the title character, a mall security guard who takes his job very seriously, despite not necessarily being all that good at it. His will and strength are tested, though, when the mall is taken over by some thugs, who are also holding his daughter and his crush hostage. James said the idea behind the movie was to make Die Hard, except starring a guy like him, not like Bruce Willis. Read below for his stories about the first time he met his stunt guy, learning to ride a Segway, and the challenges of his life, post-The King of Queens.
You are known for playing the everyman very well. Where does that come from?
From this body. Not everybody's got to look like Will Smith out there. I try to connect with the everyday, every guy. What was exciting about this was bringing them on a journey with me, so they could see themselves in my character.
Did you use a stunt coordinator?
My original stunt man, the guy that doubled for me on The King of Queens all 9 seasons, the first day of practicing a stunt got hurt, and really hurt his knee, and couldn't do it. So we had to find somebody quick. And we ended up finding this guy, Jeff Gibson, who looked just like me-- I thought. This was heartbreaking-- he takes off 40 pounds of padding, and he's actually in great shape. But I did most of them. I hate heights, but I tried to do as much as I could.
Did you always intend this as a PG family movie?
We just thought that me in a real Die Hard movie would be funny. Then as we went along, we thought, you know what, it can be a family movie. I want to get everybody to go, and kids to be psyched to see it.
What kind of training did you do for riding the Segway? We did a promotion for The King of Queens, and they came in and taught me how to use it. I remember it being such a funny vehicle, I thought it would be great for this, and then I found out that mall cops actually use these in a lot of malls. It takes a little bit of practice. I was very nervous, because you have to really trust it. You've got to be careful when your body weight's heavy. I got very confident, I could whip around on it.
There were a lot of moments in it that are very sad, and you really feel for this guy.
How did you make sure it wasn't too sad?
I knew it wasn't going to be sad overall. You want to set up this guy where you honestly feel for him. It's a guy who's just trying in life, he's trying so hard that sometimes he just can't get out of his way. We wanted to build it so you really root for him, and you do. Even if he accidentally wins, by default, if he can thwart these guys and just kick butt. And people were rooting for him.
Did you take liberties with what actual mall cops do?
Everything was real. I had on my belt everything that they would carry on their belt. They might have more. But nothing weapon-wise-- they're not allowed sticks, or guns. They have a radio, and that's almost it.
You're working with Jayma Mays and Keir O'Donnell, who are both up and comers. Did you have advice for them?
No, no, it wasn't like advising either way. We case them because they were just great, real characters that we thought they could play. I'd seen Jayma in Epic Movie. She was the first woman we auditioned for my love interest, and she was just the greatest. Keir was the first too, and also Stephen Rannazzisi. We saw them right away, and loved them. They would add stuff to it, and I would use them for that.
When you decided to make this PG, were there any jokes you had to give up on?
When we first started, the idea was Die Hard in a mall would be funny. if it was real, and it was scary, and if it was just me. Almost an R-rated version, but now me. As we went along, we were like, well, we don't need anything vulgar, we don't need that stuff. I just want it to feel real. The longer we went along with it, the more we were like 'This is just a fun movie for everybody.' So we made it for everybody, where kids could enjoy, but parents wouldn't be bored out of their mind. [At first] I was very adamant, I don't want to be restricted as far as what I want to do. It organically just went where it was. There was nothing we really had to lose, so it wasn't like we had to take out any bad scenes or anything.
Do you think you get that general audience sensibility from being on TV a long time?
It helps, because that's probably where my core audience is. Also having two daughters now, I want them to see and be proud of what I do.
What's been the hardest part about leaving the show?
The hardest part about leaving the show behind is not working with Leah and Jerry every day. They become your family, and the whole cast and crew and writers. i just miss them. You do it for 9 years, and you see them more than your actual family. That was a little hard. But we keep in touch all the time. The other thing is just a live audience reaction is fun in a sitcom. You get that immediate reaction. Film you have to trust a little more. Also we shot this like a year ago. You have to wait such a long time, and you bring it along, and you hope people are going to like. By the time it comes out, you're just exhausted from it all.
What's it like working with Adam Sandler as a producer as opposed to a co-star?
It's totally the same. We're like best buds, and it was just great having his knowledge and his experience on this thing. He's done it for years. Just to have him help me make this movie was an incredible bonus.