MALCOLM D. LEE’S ‘NIGHT SCHOOL’ BRINGS TOGETHER THE POTENT COMBO OF KEVIN HART AND TIFFANY HADDISH
Starring Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish, “Night School” follows a class of misfits determined to get their GEDs. “It is very funny, and of course, the two stars on it could not be hotter right now,” said Orr. “Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish are just as hot as it gets in comedy and entertainment, period, around the world.”
When Kevin Hart came up with the idea for “Night School,” he conceived of it as an adult version of John Hughes’ classic “The Breakfast Club.” “The idea came from me just thinking about how funny it would be to place adults back in a high school-like atmosphere,” said Hart, who co-wrote and stars in the ilm. “What made ‘The Breakfast Club’ so special was that it only focused on those ive characters (so) you really got to dive into each one of their stories.”
Rather than group detention, “Night School” bands together a disparate class of seven students seeking to pass the GED exam. The motley group includes Teddy (Hart), a schmoozing sweet-talker whose recent career change demands a high school diploma or equivalent; Jalen (Romany Malco), recently unemployed due to advancing technology and still touchy about it; Big Mac (Rob Riggle), a dad seeking to inspire his teenage son to inish high school; and Theresa (Mary Lynn Rajskub), a hardworking mom going back to school to gain some independence from her domineering husband. Al Madrigal (who plays Luis, a Mexican immigrant with a personal vendetta against Teddy), Anne Winters (as Mila, who was given a choice between night school and juvie) and Fat Joe (as Bobby, an inmate who Skypes into class from prison) round out the cast.
“The movie is about a diverse group of underdogs who are looking for a second chance. None of their lives have gone the way that they thought they were going to go,” said producer Will Packer. “We wanted to make sure it was a really diverse group of folks from various backgrounds and perspectives.” While inding the right ensemble could make or break the ilm, Packer remembers the casting process as relatively seamless. “It wasn’t an extensive audition process,” he said. “We kind of knew who we wanted. These were established comedians for the most part. We wanted to go after some of the best in the business and folks that could do a variety of things.” “We wanted to go funny,” agreed Hart. “And we wanted people that could improv. People that could bring the material on the page to life and add a new lavour to it.”
In fact, improvisation skills were instrumental in deciding whom to hire. “You can’t have a movie like this and not (improv),” said Hart. “That’s why I went after Tiffany Haddish (who plays Carrie, the night school instructor), that’s why I went after Romany Malco. That’s why we offered it to Rob Riggle. Some people just got offers because we knew what they could do.” And though the ilm’s promotional push has focused on stars Hart and Haddish, the night school classmates (as well as other supporting characters) provide some of the biggest laughs.
Coming off the breakout success of “Girls Trip,” Lee (and Haddish) had experienced irst-hand what a difference one movie can make in an actor ’s career. And the director jumped at the chance to work on a project that gave even more opportunities for supporting players to make their mark. “I would say they’re all scene stealers in their own right,” Lee said of his “Night School” cast. “And for me, it’s always great to put great comedians, actors, improv people in the arena together. They can play with one another and go with their different styles of comedy and you get something magical when that happens.”
The ilmmakers credit each of the actors for finding idiosyncrasies in their characters that added texture to their stories and simultaneously dialed up the humour. “Some of it was in the script, and some of it we found as the actors started performing and really started to become their characters,” said Packer. “Romany is a good example. We had Jalen written on the page as this character who doesn’t trust technology and what Romany did was just ratchet it up a notch. He made him this cerebral conspiracy theorist which was a really, really funny way to go with that character.” Between Al and Romany, I feel they both steal the movie.”
The ilm’s strong cast extends beyond the classroom as well, with Ben Schwartz as Teddy’s longtime friend, Megalyn Echikunwoke as Teddy’s high-powered iancee, Yvonne Orji as her protective friend and Keith David and Bresha Webb playing Teddy’s father and sister. “Saturday Night Live” veteran Taran Killam, who plays the school’s strict principal and Teddy’s former high school rival Stewart, also contributes some of the most memorable jokes of the ilm. “The whole idea behind the principal was that he was such a fan of ‘Lean On Me,’” said Hart. “I said the funniest thing in the world is to have a white guy that embraces Joe Clark. So that’s where the bat came from, that’s where the ‘I’m going to whip this school into shape’ perspective on education came from.”
Having established himself as one of Hollywood’s few remaining bankable comedy stars with hits including “Central Intelligence,” “Ride Along” and “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” there’s no doubting that “Night School” is a Kevin Hart vehicle. But the star acknowledges that allowing others a turn in the spotlight only served the movie overall. “You want people to have the conidence to be the best version of themselves,” said Hart. “So we established a high level of comfort from the beginning. We wanted to give everybody moments to score, which is why I can openly say I’m not the funniest person in this movie. I’m the straight guy for the most part.”
Tiffany Haddish, (left), and Kevin Hart in a scene from ‘Night School.’
Malcolm D. Lee