The hilarious new buddy comedy Ride Along shows what can happen when a fast-talking guy wants the blessing of his hot-tempered girlfriend’s brother, before asking her to marry him. Thinking he’s found the perfect solution to get rid of high school security guard Ben Barber (Kevin Hart), Atlanta PD Detective James Payton (Ice Cube) insists that he accompany him on a ride along that he must survive, in order to prove that he’s worthy of Angela (Tika Sumpter), but what ensues are a series of wild adventures that lead them straight to the most notorious criminal in the city.
At the film’s press day, director Tim Story and producer Will Packer spoke during this press conference about what attracts them to a particular story, how much improvising went on, telling a universal story with universal themes, making sure they did the unexpected, working with this cast, and that they are already developing an idea for the sequel. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
WILL PACKER: For me, I look at a project that has a story that’s gonna resonate, in some way. It doesn’t have to be about a message. It doesn’t have to have some underlying theme of overwhelming importance. But, I never want somebody to come out of one of my films and say, “Damn, I wasted an hour and a half of my life!” I’m trying to avoid that. At the same time, at this stage in my career, I look for films that have commercial viability. That’s a big component of it. As a producer, that’s part of my job. I’m looking for films that can resonate and hopefully have some level of critical importance, but also have commercial viability and can put butts in seats. At the end of the day, that is the name of the game. If you can find that perfect balance, then that’s the sweet spot. So, I’m looking at material with that in mind.
TIM STORY: For me, it’s more subjective. The one big test I have is if, after I read a script, I can remember and boil it down to a very specific thing. With Ride Along, it’s a little bit of, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” I’ve thought about, “Who’s going to be good enough for my sister?” I have a twin sister, and it was one of those same things, with her husband now. It was accessible, to me personally. And then, because I do like comedy, I like to laugh. If it makes me laugh because of the reality of it, and it’s not so much jokes, but it’s humorous because the human nature of the piece resonates with me, then I’ll do it.
How much improvising did you allow on this?
STORY: My style is to let them do their thing. I find that if we have a good base, being the script, which was the case with this movie, and as long as we keep chorus on telling the story, then I hope my actors will give me more than what’s on the page. You even come to the set with ideas that aren’t on the page, and sometimes push them in one direction more than the other. Kevin, as well as Cube, are just good, in the sense of knowing how to tell the story and giving us those little nuggets that you look for, that magic that you look for, and that happy mistakes. But at the same time, they don’t get off course from telling the story. So, I’m very open to that kind of stuff.
STORY: As we tooled the script for Kevin and Cube, the Training Day thing just came to us. The writers did a good job of infusing it in there. We paid homage, but at the same time, we were doing our own organic story. It’s just something that seemed funny to us, at the time. Hopefully, it works.
Tim, what’s your philosophy about being on the set and dealing with the cast and crew?
STORY: My philosophy is just that making a movie is difficult enough, and I just feel as if you should have a really good time when you do make films, whether it’s a drama or comedy. Obviously, my stuff has been more in the comedy realm, and I really believe that, if I’m laughing behind the camera, then I think the film will be funnier. When I first started, I had such a good time with making some of the films, that I didn’t know whether we were doing anything worthy, in front of the camera. But, I’ve learned that if you can keep it calm, and keep it fun and loose, I think that allows for ideas from the crew. I don’t care where an idea comes from, whether it’s the crew or my producer or the actors. I just want it to be fun. If that’s the case, I think you make a better movie.
Even though there’s a surge in films with African American leads right now, are those films still difficult to get made?
PACKER: It’s exciting to me that Ride Along is a movie that has two African American leads, but it’s even more exciting to me that it’s not a movie about two African American leads. They just happen to be African American. It’s a universal story. It’s a story about a guy in love with a girl, and he’s gotta get the approval of the overbearing, mean brother. That’s a universal theme. It’s tough to get any movie made, but unless it’s a movie about race or culture or ethnicity, it’s becoming less and less important who’s playing what. You see that on the big screen and the small screen, and I think that’s great. That’s exciting. I think that America is more diverse than ever before, and is continuing to become more diverse, and our content should and is reflecting that.
There are certain moments you have to hit, in a movie like this, but you also have to do things that people don’t expect. How did you approach making sure you hit those moments while you still keep people guessing?
STORY: It’s as simple as asking ourselves how to do it differently. There’s a structure to these movies. It’s not like we’re completely reworking the wheel. But, we also take those moments and have a lot of fun doing that. We’ll sit in the room with the writers and say, “How do we do it differently?” We’ll go through all kinds of films and say, “They did it this way. They did it that way. Even though that is a structural point that we must hit, or a plot point that we must hit, what’s another way for it to come out?” The first stuff that comes out, we go, “Okay, we’ll put a pin in that. There’s that way to do it. Now, what else?” We’ll just keep asking ourselves, “What else?” Sometimes it really gives you an opportunity to do something different. It’s that specific. We literally have to just ask ourselves, “How do we do it differently? What haven’t we seen before?” That’s what’s interesting.
Will, you’ve really been helping Kevin Hart shape his acting career, having done some very diverse films with him. What do you see in him, and how do you know when you come across a character that he’s right for?
PACKER: I’ve gotten to know him really well because we have such a great working relationship. I’ve got a good sense of his skill set, and I know when I read material that he will just nail and what he’ll gravitate to. Kevin has been around for awhile, and a new audience is discovering him now. In comedy, like a lot of things, it’s all about timing. I think that he’s honed his style of comedy and it’s at a different place. He’s sharper than he’s ever been. But, his style of comedy is resonating more now with audiences than it ever has before. It’s a really good time for him. For somebody like him, who works as hard as he does, I’m so happy for everything that’s coming to him because he deserves it. He deserves all of the success, and he will continue to be successful. There will be people that are funnier than him, and there will be a time when people will say, “Oh, he’s not that funny anymore,” but nobody will outwork him. That’s one thing that he has, and that’s one thing that he knows, and that’s one thing that will continue to buoy him, throughout his career.
PACKER: I had worked with Tika before. I have some familiarity with her, and I like her a lot. I think that she’s a real up-and-coming talent. She’s getting an opportunity to do a variety of things. She had a really good year, in terms of the movies and TV shows that she was in. I think she’s somebody that is on the cusp, and I think she could potentially break out. I saw potential in her and pushed for her, and Tim was open to it. And she came in and rocked it.
STORY: I was introduced to her by Will. She did a small part in Think Like A Man and I thought, “This girl has got something.” So, when we started thinking about who to cast for this movie, her name came up and it was like, “Wow, a fresh face.” You look for when you can put that fresh face in a role and give them a shot, and Kevin was definitely up for it, so it worked out great with her.
What was it like to work with Laurence Fishburne?
STORY: It was a dream come true. As soon as we started and the script came to be what it was, we knew that there was going to be this role that somebody would have to take up almost 3/5 of the way through the movie, or even the last 1/4. So, you knew whoever that was had to walk on screen and basically just command, immediately. It’s Morpheus! It’s Laurence! I like to call him Sir Laurence. He was the first choice, and luckily, he said yes. It was a dream come true. He did the voice for Silver Surfer in Fantastic Four, so I was familiar with working with him before, but I had never worked with him in front of the camera. So, it was definitely a dream come true.
With the writers already working on a sequel, where would you like to take the story?
STORY: There’s definitely an idea. If we do another one, there’s no way in the world that I’m not doing it. I can’t give away much, but we do have an idea that’s being worked on, in the event that the audience votes that we can come back and do this again. In two weeks, we’ll know.
PACKER: There’s nothing more exciting than to have a project that you like and that you’re proud of, and you’re waiting for that validation and for the world to see it and say, “You know what? That was pretty damn funny!” You want people to go see it by the hoards. And for there to be talk of the possibility of continuing the journey and the ride, if you will, with these characters that we spent so much time honing, and executing this film on all levels, is super exciting. I’ve never been in the position where that conversation is a serious conversation before the movie even comes out. On one side of it, that’s so great because you’ve got such great potential. The other side of that is that there’s a level of pressure. Now, that clearly means that there’s an expectation level, from the studio side, potentially from the audience’s side, and from our side. It’s always better if you can keep the bar low, and then exceed the expectation. When it’s high, that makes the job even tougher. But, I think we’re up for the challenge. We’re ready.
Ride Along opens in theaters on January 17th.