For Kevin James, the comic star’s journey to the big screen has been part of a consistent journey. From a successful stand-up career, to the hit TV sitcom “King of Queens” then on the big screen co-starring opposite Adam Sandler in “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry” to his first starring role in the action comedy “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” which he co-wrote.
James was born April 26, 1965 and attended Cortland University where he played fullback on the football team while majoring in sports management. He realized after 3 years that this wasn’t the path for him, so after returning home, he decided to go back home and to break up the monotony of the summer, he joined a community theater.
During a play in which he had a comedic role, he so enjoyed the crowd reaction, that he joined his brother’s (comedian Gary Valentine) improv group. He began going to clubs with Gary and realized he, too, had the knack for comedy.
He has performed standup up for about 11 years and it was on the comedy circuit that he met Ray Romano. While Ray was getting a big break with his own sitcom, Kevin was getting recognition on “Star Search” (1983). After appearing on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” (1992), his big break came at the 1996 “Just for Laughs” Montreal Comedy Festival.
Afterward he landed a recurring role on “Everybody Loves Raymond” (1996 before starring in his own sitcom “The King of Queens” (1998). James is on a roll and in this exclusive interview with Paul Fischer the actor talks movies and comedy.
Question: Kevin, when you were writing Paul Blart: Mall Cop and then eventually began pitching it, was there any pressure on you to do something that was a little bit more hard core? Or was it always your intention to do a family-oriented comedy?
Kevin James: Well, you know, it was funny. When I thought of it originally, I just thought it would be funny to replace me in, like, a Die Hard movie, if it was just that intense and crazy, but instead of Bruce Willis, what if it was just a bigger guy, like me. You know, what if it was me? And as we went along, we realized we weren’t being vulgar in any way or anything. And it was no reason that we couldn’t be – you know, a PG movie, and get everybody, because everybody wanted to see this movie.
Question: Well, how hard is it for you to get that tone right when you’re writing something like that?
Kevin James: You know what? I was concerned, because I was like, ” Maybe we should go PG-13, and just really make it more intense,” and this and that. But as we wrote it, they said, ” You know what? You should write the movie, do it whatever it’s going to be, it’s going to be. Let’s do that.” And it just kind of felt like this was the most natural place for it. We were happy where it landed, and where it ended up.
Question: Now, when you create a character for yourself to play, how much of your own persona is consciously injected into the character through writing it?
Kevin James: I think I try to represent the everyman, and have people kind of see themselves in my character and kind of take the journey with me, you know? You can watc James Bond, or something like that – you know, or Jason Bourne – you know, these are things that most people would never do. They would never be involved with. So you can watch that, and enjoy that for that, but then there’s – you know, I like to take them with me, and go, ” I could be that guy.” And then have me do extraordinary things.
Question: When you’re writing it, did you say to yourself, ” You know, I would like it to be a kind of a fun, silly little action movie. What could I do, that would be really interesting for me to play on?” How did the idea of a security guard and those Segways come about?
Kevin James: I said exactly that. I go, ” How can I be funny” – you know, this was a movie, my first movie where I’m out there by myself, without Adam Sandler or Will Smith weighing me down. Those guys. [LAUGHTER] Sick of carrying them. No, so this movie was my first movie by myself. So I said, ” I really want to be confident in what I’m doing, and feel really connected to this character.” And I said, ” Where can I be the funniest,” I felt. And I felt like some kind of a uniform, or – where I’m like, an authoritative figure. So I was going to be almost like a CHIPS guy. Like, a highway patrol guy. And I thought that could be funny. You know, where I’m – with the swagger. And you walk up with all of the power. Then I thought it would be funny if I had less power. Like, I didn’t have that much authority. So we thought about mall cops.
Question: But he thinks he has authority.
Kevin James: Yes, exactly. And then I noticed that they ride these Segways, these personal transporters, which is the funniest vehicle, to me. You know, just to see that. I said, ” This is just a gift from God.” I go, ” Comedically, this is exactly what I want.” So we interviewed mall cops and talked to them, and they’re there’s two types. There’s the kind that just want to get through their shift. They don’t care about being a mall cop at all. They think it’s a joke, and they don’t care about it. They’re just trying to get through their shift with a magazine, or whatever, that kills time. And then there’s guys that we noticed – there were a contingency of these guys that really took their job very serious. And that’s what intrigued me. I was like, ” That’s the kind of character” – I loved that. The guy really cares about their job. He’s – it doesn’t matter. He tries to become a real cop, but that doesn’t work out. He’s fine being this. He wants to be the best mall cop he can be. And that’s great. That’s a great message. Sometimes he tries too hard, and gets in his own way. But again, he’s got – you know, no weapons. You know, there’s got to be respect for him, because he’s got to enforce the law. But he doesn’t have any weapons or authority. No one really listens to him. So, it’s difficult and I understand that.
Question: Do you see yourself as being a romantic figure because this is also a love story?
Kevin James: Yes. This guy’s lonely. I don’t necessarily view myself as a romantic figure, but I wanted this guy to connect, and find love. And really feel that. That was part of what really drives him. I think in the beginning of the movie, he doesn’t believe in himself as much. He’s been hurt before and he kind of loses his faith in himself. Then he meets this woman, who starts off kind of liking him – and once he gets that, he kind of gets overzealous and blows it a little bit. But I think overall, his drive to be with her, and the connection, helps him become a better man.
Question: How were the physical preparations for this? And how tough was it to ride those things?
Kevin James: I wish I were in better shape when I was doing it. I realized right away, I go, ” Boy,” because I wanted to make this movie the most physical movie, physical thing I’ve ever done performing and by far, it was. So every day we realized – and then when it was getting laughs on the set, we realized we just wanted to keep going with that. And man, I was banged up and bruised up. But every day, we would look at those dailies and go, ” All right. We gotta keep doing it.” And it was – it was fun, and just rewarding. I knew we were getting what we wanted, and that’s what made me happy. So, it was demanding. It was very physical. And riding those Segways was tough. You gotta learn how to do that, you know? And I got over-confident, and I – when the dog was chasing me on one take, I hit the curb and fell down pretty hard. But, you know. You get back up.
Question: Was Adam always involved in this?
Kevin James: Yes. Sandler was the man who helped get it made. He helped produce. Every angle of it, he just had his fingerprints on it, and helped. He gave me my freedom to do what I wanted to do, but also, whenever I needed something, he helped me add more comedy to this, or heart to this. A little bit more heart here and also adding to editing, and the songs. You know, Sandler’s music has always been great. I love it, because it just connects you to a moment in time, and gives you certain feelings. And he’s just really like a savant, and I was happy to have him on board in this one.
Question: When you started out doing stand-up, did you imagine yourself in this position that you are now? You’ve gone from that world, to television, to now movies. Is this a journey that you were anticipating?
Kevin James: No. I would dream about being an astronaut, or a pro football player, the same way. I never thought it would happen that way. I have to say that I was kind of naive, every step of the way. And maybe that helped me, because doing stand-up, I never really had a specific goal of, ” I’ve got to do a sit-com. That’s my goal, that’s the only reason I’m doing stand-up.” I did stand-up because it was so much fun. I enjoyed what I was doing and TV came to me that way. You know, I got very fortunate with the TV show. And the fact that that ran for so long, I was very fortunate. There are so many obstacles in my life that I keep looking back and going, ” Man, you got by this.” And then the film career. Will gave me that gift, with Hitch and that honestly opened up doors, then meeting Sandler was another one who took it to another level, because he put me in a movie where I was above the title with him. So, you keep going this way and people were just kind of giving me hands up here and there, and it really helped me. Yeah. It’s surreal to me, for sure.
Question: How do you anticipate your journey to continue, at this point? What are you striving for?
Kevin James: I’m just striving, again, to do the best I can and for people to react positively about what I’m doing. You want to have a connection. What I like about what I’m trying to do is that connection with the audience with an everyday guy. I want them to relate through me, and identify with my characters and if I can do that and make `em laugh, make `em feel something, then that means a lot to me.
Question: Are you writing something at the moment?
Kevin James: We’re working on another movie now. And then there might be another movie with Adam. but we’re just really waiting to see how this does and hopefully we get a chance to do another one.
Question: Do you want to return to stand-up?
Kevin James: I continue with stand-up. I’ve never let go of it. I’ve always done it from time to time.
Question: What do you observe now as a stand-up comedian that you didn’t observe when you started out? I mean, what do you comment on now?
Kevin James: Well your life changes, so, I used to talk about things that happened in my life back then. And things aren’t that way now, but I still try to connect – my life, other than my career, hasn’t changed. I try to be the same person that I was growing up with my friends. And so I try to connect, the same way I do in film, in the movies, with the same things in stand-up. The things that they can relate to and it’s the small little things that make me laugh. So, those are the ones I want to have in common with everyone.