Me Time Director John Hamburg Talks Wild Animal Scenes, Kevin Hart

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke to Me Time writer and director John Hamburg about the upcoming Kevin Hart and Mark Wahlberg comedy. The film premieres on Netflix on August 26.

“When a stay-at-home dad finds himself with some ‘me time’ for the first time in years while his wife and kids are away, he reconnects with his former best friend for a wild weekend that nearly upends his life,” reads the logline.

Tyler Treese: You and Kevin Hart both had writing credits on Night School. What kind of working relationship did you have prior to this?

John Hamburg: I met Kevin many years ago on a show called Undeclared, which Judd Apatow created, and I was directing some episodes and Kevin was a guest star. He was just at the beginning of what would become an extraordinary career and I just thought this guy was unbelievable. Then I liked him so much, I cast him in a small part in my movie Along Came Polly. [I] severely underutilized his talents, but I tried to get the best people I could. Then we kind of reconnected on his movie, Night School. I did a rewrite on it towards the end, right when they were about to begin production. So we kind of rejoined there. When I finished the first draft of Me Time, it was like, “who do we want to play the role of Sonny?”

And it was just like, “Kevin Hart. If we can get Kevin, I think we have a movie.” So we texted each other, texted him, he wanted to do the movie, and I revised the movie. He’s so funny and such a huge talent, but a great writer in addition. So we would have these long conversations over the phone, and I would just be writing everything he said down. Then I rewrote the script with Kevin in mind, and then it took off from there.

You have such a great duo here for the two main actors. So how did you get Mark Wahlberg onboard?

I didn’t know Mark. We had a lot of mutual friends, but we hadn’t met or worked together. We sent his team the script and it got through his agent and manager. They liked it and passed it on to Mark. I know he and Kevin wanted to work together for a number of years. Mark just loved the character of Huck. I think it felt different from other stuff he had done but related in the way that he could nail it. He and I had a great phone conversation and next thing you know, Mark came on board. So it’s not always that smooth, I promise, but this one was just kind of the confluence of he had the time, he had the slot in his schedule, and he wanted to do it. And we were off to the races.

You spoke about rewriting the script to fit Kevin. I think something he’s really displayed the past couple of years is how versatile of an actor he is and that he can pull off dramatic scenes just as well as comedy. So as a director, how great was it knowing that he could nail anywhere you took that script?

Kevin is a brilliant, dramatic actor. There’s people that can just do comedy, but he’s shown he can do more than that. This movie … I wanted to kind of combine both things. He’s obviously going to be funny and it’s a comedy, for sure, but he’s playing a grounded character. He’s dealing with family issues and pushing his son away and pushing his wife away, pushing his best friend away. These are real things and I just wanted it to feel real. Kevin has the ability to do that. So he’s such a rare type of talent who is explosively funny but can play grounded as well. Doesn’t have to try too hard to be funny.

Sonny’s storyline, like you mentioned, has him pushing his family away. It speaks to how difficult it is to balance work and life commitment. What made you want to explore that theme throughout the film?

I think for me, having a young kid, wanting to work at a high level but also be there for my family … I think I had those challenges along with … I witnessed so many other people figuring it out and figuring out if you have a family and both people are working, or if you choose not to have a family and you still have issues with what kind of time you have, how are you going to balance everything? It’s not just about being a parent. I think everybody can relate to that. My personal way in was the idea of trying to balance work and family and be there for not only my daughter, but my aging parents at the time, and this and that. So it sort of spoke to me personally. And of course, you kind of weave those themes subtly into the body of a big laugh-out-loud comedy, but they are important themes to me.

I’ve got to ask you about the animals in this film because there are some great ones here. The mountain lion cub, was that a real mountain lion or was that all CGI?

So no, the cubs were real. There’s a little CGI with them, but for the most part, you are seeing Kevin holding a cub. We weren’t sure — we heard that Kevin didn’t like animals. I’m not saying dogs and cats, but like … listen, I wouldn’t want to hold a mountain lion cub unless I knew it wasn’t going to bite my face off. But Kevin was an awesome sport. He went for it and he had to hold that thing and they’re squirming and they have sharp teeth. So the, the lion was primarily CGI, but the cubs are probably 80% real.

Were the turtles the real deal?

Combination. A lot real, and then we literally had a 3D printed tortoise that … when Kevin’s giving CPR to the tortoise, that’s not real, I did not want him to get some kind of awful disease from kissing a tortoise. So that is a prop, but the rest of them were real. We had quite a few tortoises on the set and none of them got run over by an actual Kia.

It was so great seeing John Amos in the film and he is still just so funny. What was it like working with a real certified legend?

Great. I mean, he shows up to set and … to see for not only myself but so many people who had grown up with his TV and movie work … just the level of respect we all had for him because he he’s an icon and has had such an amazing career. He is just such a sweet person. You don’t know what he’s going to be like, because sometimes he plays these sort of tough, gruff characters, but he’s a sweetheart. And really funny! Still has it. There’s a lot of improv in his moments and he was up for it. Kevin, too, came to the set. It’s a phone scene he has with him initially and sometimes actors will do that off the set, but Kevin drove down to the set because he wanted to be there in-person with John and it was just really cool to behold.

We’re just a few years away from Along Came Polly turning 20. Looking back, how do you view that film and what it did for your career?

I loved making the movie. It was my first studio movie as writer-director. I’d written on Meet the Parents and Zoolander, but that was a big one for me. It came out — like many comedies, didn’t get good reviews, but we felt like we had something. So you kind of just have faith. Then it did really well at the box office around the world and helped to kind of establish me, I would say, not just as a writer of these sort of mainstream comedies, but as a writer-director. It did a lot for me and it’s been a lot of fun. You never know what projects are going to have staying power, but it’s been fun to over the years have people, not everybody, but there’s a group of people that the movie has stayed with and that’s been really gratifying.

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