Life comes at you fast, which is certainly the case for Kevin Hart’s character Teddy in the new Will Packer-produced comedy, Night School. Teddy is a high school dropout, whose charisma and impressive salesman abilities have allowed him to create a precariously built life of luxury with the woman of his dreams, Lisa (Megalyn Echikunwoke). However, his world crumbles under his feet when he finds himself out of a job without a degree or any other skills to fall back on.
Determined to keep up the facade of his luxe lifestyle, Teddy turns to a night school class and a no-nonsense teacher named Carrie (Tiffany Haddish) — with the hopes of finally earning his GED. With electrifying chemistry between Hart and Haddish and a fantastic supporting cast that includes Romany Malco, Keith David and Insecure’s Yvonne Orji, it’s clear that after Think Like A Man, Ride Along and The Wedding Ringer, the Hart/Packer machine is just getting the ball rolling.
Shortly before Night School’s premiere at Urbanworld 2018, Shadow and Act sat down to chat with Packer, the film’s director Malcolm D. Lee, Hart, and Haddish. After many years of friendship, the actors were finally able to work together on a film, something they talked about extensively when they were coming up through the comedy clubs of Los Angeles.
Hart and Packer had been working on the concept for Night School for quite some time, but the final script came together just as the frenzy surrounding Girls Trip was kicking into high gear.
“Kevin and I were developing [Night School],” Packer revealed. “This is his first time producing a movie, so he and I produced it together. This is our seventh movie together, but we did not have a director. Malcolm and I had just finished Girls Trip, and I showed Kevin an early cut of the film. He loved it and said, ‘Let’s go get Malcolm Lee.'”
Lee, however, had other plans. The Best Man director was ready to take a much-needed vacation.
“I called Malcolm Lee, and he had just finished Girls Trip,” Packer told Shadow and Act. “It hadn’t even come out. So he was just a couple weeks removed from having done it. The brotha was tired. He actually turned me down the first time I asked. He didn’t want to have all this fun that we’re having right now. He said, ‘I need a little time. I need a break.'”
“Ultimately, as it happens with men who have amazing wives, his wife looked at him and said, ‘You sure you’re going to turn this down? Will Packer’s going to pay you what? And you what?’ I think she very nicely made him think about it again. And, then I got a second call,” Packer said.
Though he had been looking forward to some time off, Lee ultimately decided that Night School was too good of an opportunity to turn down.
“It was a pretty quick second call,” the Roll Bounce director chuckled. “I had a very busy 2016, 2017. I wanted to take a rest and enjoy the roll out of Girls Trip. I think I had gotten started on some other movies, and then I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to spend the summer with my kids.'”
“But then Will said, ‘Hey. Come on. Let’s come aboard!’ Lee said. “It was the first time working with Kevin; I’d love to that again. It was the right choice to have made.”
For Hart, there was no other choice for Carrie than his good friend Tiffany Haddish.
“Everything happens when it’s supposed to. Tiff and I have known each other for a long time, and we worked with each other on my show Real Husbands of Hollywood,” Hart said. “As she’s grown in the business and learned more in the business, the opportunities have gotten bigger. When I got in a position to where I could help provide opportunities, it was so dope to be able to come to her at the prime and height of her career. To have her involved was a big deal,” the Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle actor revealed.
The Oath actress had no qualms about saying yes to Night School, especially because the relationship between Carrie and Teddy was so different from her real-life relationship with Hart.
“I got to teach [Kevin] and be kind of the authoritative figure,” Haddish said slyly. “He’s taught me so much. I really found it exciting and exhilarating. There was no hard part when it came to working together — except that he’s on his phone all the time.”
Even though she was initially annoyed by Hart ’s dependence on his cell phone, The Last O.G. actress learned a little bit about that as well. “I asked him about it, and he showed me he was conducting business,” she explained. “I learned so much, and now I’m picking up those same habits. But I’m a little bit better with it, because I’m a girl. He’s so good at conducting business just on that little phone. I think it’s so amazing what he does.”
With 20 years of experience under his belt, director Lee is a master of both comedy and drama. And with two powerhouses like Haddish and Hart on set, he knew he simply had to trust his actors.
“I think for me it’s always when you direct the ensemble comedies, you want to cast really funny people,” Lee said. “No matter how good the script is, they’re going to be in the moment, and they’re going to come up with stuff, and their style of comedy is going to elevate the whole game of what was happening on set. Kevin’s been in the game a long time; he’s a veteran. Tiffany’s got that raw talent and has also really worked on her acting ability.”
“Night School is a very different role for her than Girls Trip. I welcome all of the improvs because we have to have it,” Lee explained. “You can’t just do what’s all on the page and hope that it’s going to work. If that’s your only choice in the editing room, and you show it to a test audience, and they don’t like it, you have no place to go.”
Although Night School ‘s release is just getting underway, this hasn’t stopped Packer and Lee from looking to the future and thinking about their next cinematic adventure together.
“Malcolm, I brought you Night School,” Packer joked. “You know, what you got for me, brother? I’m just thinking that it feels like quid pro quo. We haven’t missed yet.”
“I would like to try something together with Will. We are developing some things,” Lee added. “We are talking about a sequel to Girls Trip — maybe some other things around that genre. It would be great to find the right thing with Will because he’s a great partner. He’s very supportive of the entire crew and me. We’re batting a thousand.”
Though Haddish and Hart will be teaming up once more in 2019’s The Secret Life of Pets 2, the Nobody’s Fool actress has a clear vision in mind for the next time they do a live-action film.
“I already told Kevin, I’mma be in that next movie with him and the Rock,” Haddish joked. “I would write it for him. I’m gonna write a period piece in the realm of the Billy Dee Williams story.”
Hart loves the challenge of figuring out the next joke and the next project. With at least six announced films coming up, he’s definitely ready to team up with Haddish again.
“I think the hardest part is when you do something like this, and you know how good it is figuring out what the next thing is going to be, because you instantly put the pressure on yourself,” ” Hart told Shadow and Act. “Right now, I’m like you — so what is the next Hart/Haddish film? What’s the next thing that we do that we develop? That’s a priority. I gotta figure that thing out and be able to come to her with what I think she’ll go, ‘Oh my god, so dope! This is going be great.'”
YouTube | Universal Pictures UK
Night School opens in theaters Friday, Sept. 28, 2018.
Aramide A. Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, read her blog at www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami.