Kevin James has taken on some majorly funny films over the years starring in Zookeeper, Grown Ups and Paul Blart: Mall Cop. But the 47-year-old actor shows a whole different side of himself in Here Comes The Boom and he took the punches to prove it. James shines as Scott Voss, a middle-aged biology teacher who gets ripped from a state of apathy after budget cuts threaten to end the high school’s music program. Henry Winkler, who steals many comedic scenes as music teacher Marty Streb, represents the grim reality for many Americans these days facing layoffs due to economic woes.
“The challenge of selling this movie to people is no one believes Kevin James could really be a UFC guy,” James said at a press junket with Salma Hayek at Mandarin Oriental, Miami Oct. 8. “What they don’t know is I worked out really hard to make it as believable as possible. I got knocked down a couple times which will be on the DVDs when they come out. We wanted it to be sloppy fighting. I didn’t want every technique to land and look so perfect like an old karate or Kung fu movie.”
Although the fighting scenes with trained MMA fighters were designed to look realistic, which was James’s goal, sometimes it got a little too authentic for the actor. “We set up the fighting scenes to be loose which was not good because you’re telling these trained fighters who are conditioned to hit ‘OK, just miss me a little bit,’” James recalled. “And sometimes they forget. I got tagged a bunch of times. The worst part was when I hit them and I was so apologetic and they didn’t even feel it. It was kind of scary.”
As a fan of UFC since it's start in 1993, James was always interested in the sport, but getting the UFC to give their stamp of approval on the film came with one prerequisite. “The UFC gave us their blessing and they’ve never given their name out. They were concerned about not making it Paul Blart in the ring. And I understood that,” James said. “We started 14 months out. I got professional fighters and trainers and they came in and we trained. I changed my diet. I was drinking greens and I hated it. I was doing two to three workouts a day. We were fighting, sparring, running lifting—everything. It was tough because I’m literally 20 years older than these fighters. My recovery time was not like theirs. They were ready to go the next day and I was still sore.”
James, who was a running back on his high school football team in real life and spent a year training on his school’s wrestling team, actually utilized some of the skills he acquired as a kid. “My intention with this movie was to blow people away with the fight scenes and make it look realistic. It was pretty intense and fun and about getting people rooting for you again,” James said. “My favorite movie of all time is Rocky. I was kind of doing an homage in a way to that movie and bringing comedy into it. Comedy is tough to do when you’re fighting, but it felt like a good blend.”
Another challenge James felt he faced with the film was getting audience members to believe sexy actress Hayek could be his love interest. As good friends in real life, Hayek admitted out of all the leading men she’s smooched on screen, kissing James made her the most nervous.
“He’s a really good friend of mine and our children are best friends since they’re one. There are constant play dates with our kids and I’m friends with his wife Steffiana,” Hayek mentioned. “It’s completely different once you become a circle of friends and you’re playing every day on the set. I’m saying ‘What? I’ve got to kiss Shea’s father?’ I was nervous for our kids walking in. I didn’t want to traumatize them.”
Once the kissing scene got out of the way, Hayek was anxious to get down to the true message of the film. “This film talks about very interesting subjects like immigration and the American school system losing programs that are so incredible for the soul,” Hayek emphasized. “Children are under so much pressure right now. There’s so much they have to deal with now and for them to have to go to school and deal with nothing but boring subjects, it’s like going to jail. It’s terrible for them. It’s very important to create a healthy learning environment in American schools.”
While the film clearly promotes the positive message of fighting for what you believe in no matter what the cost is, both James and Hayek were proud to reveal they had teachers in their own lives who inspired them in an epic way.
“I had a teacher, Mr. Betcher, who I named the principal’s name in the movie, and he was a great teacher. He was my eighth grade social studies teacher and he was a football coach,” James said. “ I had many teachers that were great, positive role models and taught me to be a good person and stand up and be a good man. A lot of the principals they taught me still affect how I act sometimes and it’s 30 years later. You think school ends when it ends, but it doesn’t.”
Hayek also couldn’t help gushing over a teacher who made a difference in her life while she growing up in Mexico. “There was one teacher who taught me English. She was very important to me,” Hayek said. “I was the teacher’s pet and she taught English in a different way. She would teach us about art and provoked our minds. She told me I was special and that I would do great things with my life. It really had such an effect on me. This was third or fourth grade. I’m still in touch with her and she lives in Boston now.”
Contact Joanie Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her tweets at Twitter.com/joaniecox.