Kevin James has perfected the art of playing the everyman: a flesh and bones Fred Flintstone or a more content Ralph Kramden, with the heart and soul of a leading man. His stand up comedy reflects the down to earth perspective of a guy who could be your best friend. James took that ball and ran with it for nine successful seasons playing Doug Heffernan on The King of Queens opposite the beautiful and sharp tongued Leah Remini. The sight of their characters together initially prompted knee jerk responses of, “How did that guy get her?” Five minutes into an episode would reveal the answer: a heart of gold and the charm of a giant teddy bear. James brought that lovable quality to the big screen, starring opposite Will Smith in Hitch, followed by I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry in which James’s character sees fit to legally marry Adam Sandler to retain his family’s pension plan after losing his wife.
On January 16th Kevin James releases his first starring big screen vehicle with the feature film Paul Blart: Mall Cop. In Paul Blart: Mall Cop, James plays the title role as a single suburban dad who takes a job as a mall security guard to make ends meet. Doing what he does best, James manages to make you root for the little guy. As a mall security guard, he takes his profession of keeping the mall safe as seriously as a soldier in battle on the front lines. Complete with uniform, mustache, and his Segway vehicle, Paul Blart is determined to take on a pack of criminals trying to terrorize the mall.
Co-written by Kevin James and Nick Bakay and produced alongside Adam Sandler, Paul Blart: Mall Cop is Kevin James’s labor of love and he hopes it gets mall security guards more respect.
PR.com (Allison Kugel): How did you come up with the name Paul Blart for this character, and why did you make him a mall cop?
Kevin James: Actually Nick Bakay, the writer with me, came up with that name. He just made it up and I cracked up at it, and it stuck. The profession I came up with by thinking, you know, when I knew I was doing a movie by myself without carrying Will Smith or Adam Sandler (laughs), once I was on my own I knew I had to make it as funny as it could be. I wanted people to be invested in the character and really take this journey with this guy, and I definitely wanted it to be a mall cop. Somebody whose authority is questioned all the time and he just tries to do the best he can at his job. When the chips are down… he eats them (laughs). No, he takes over and he does alright.
PR.com: But, you were never a mall security guard in your early days as a comedian…
Kevin James: I was not. But, I always respected them. They have a tough time. A lot of people don’t give them the respect.
PR.com: I was an auxiliary police officer.
Kevin James: Where?
PR.com: Plainview, Long Island.
Kevin James: Did you get a gun?
PR.com: No! I got handcuffs, a badge and a flashlight.
Kevin James: Handcuffs, a badge and a flashlight. I love that! How did the handcuffs come in? How does that work? You just make them slip them on?
PR.com: You know what, for me it was just like playing dress up. It was like Charlie’s Angels time for me. I came to work with makeup on and my hair all curled, and I got in trouble for not putting my hair up in my hat. The most action I ever had was directing traffic at The March of Dimes Parade, and guys would ask me to arrest them. I did it purely for kicks.
Kevin James: Did you enjoy it or were you like, “I’ve gotta get out of this?”
PR.com: I did enjoy it. Though my ego got deflated one time when I went to a comedy show and the comic asked me what I did. I said “I’m an auxiliary cop,” and he said, “Oh, you’re a rent-a-cop,” and he heckled me. So, I can relate to this character from that one moment of humility at that comedy show (laughs).
Kevin James: I certainly don’t want to make fun of mall cops. In fact, I want them to feel inspired by this guy (laughs), you know? And feel good about themselves. Maybe they’ll get a little bit more respect from everybody else in the mall.
PR.com: You love playing underdogs and average Joes. Is that what you seek out or is that what you’ve been cast in so far?
Kevin James: I like to play that. This is the only movie, really, that I haven’t been cast in and that I did myself. I created it, so I wanted this to be an underdog and somebody that the common folk can identify with. That was very important to me.
PR.com: Are you a self-effacing kind of guy in your real life?
Kevin James: Yeah. I like self-deprecating humor and stuff like that. We all have fun making fun of ourselves. In my group of friends we make fun of each other all the time, but we also make fun of ourselves and it’s nice. It’s endearing at times to be around guys like that.
PR.com: Tell me about your ongoing collaboration with Adam Sandler and how that’s been so far?
Kevin James: I’m just very, very fortunate with that, because Adam is such a great guy. Time and time again he’s turned out comedy giants, just blockbusters. For him to not only be able to put me in a movie, which he did already, but to give me this opportunity to really play my character, the one I want to play, I’m just so grateful to him. He really lent his expertise to it as well, about shaping the comedy and putting a little bit more heart [into it]. He helped with the editing, and he also helped with the soundtrack. He’s always got great soundtracks in his movies, and I’m glad he helped us with ours.
PR.com: How was Adam Sandler’s company, Happy Madison, instrumental in getting Paul Blart: Mall Cop made?
Kevin James: Oh God, more than you would know. I don’t think the movie was going to be made if he didn’t get involved. It was a tough time to make a movie. Todd Garner, who was a producer on the movie, was trying to get the movie made. Jeff Sussman, my manager, just said, “You’ve gotta make this happen.” He was the magic, Sussman. Everybody got in on this and we all said, “We’ve gotta make this movie!” And we did. It was a tough time because of the strike, too. We knew it was a solid idea, and Adam was very instrumental in saying, “You’re going to do this movie!” Because, [the studio] was like, “Well, maybe we’ll hold off on it, and we’ll see what happens after the strike.” But, he was like, “No, we’ve gotta do this!”
PR.com: Did you follow around any mall security guards when you were writing this movie, or while you were making the movie?
Kevin James: Yeah, we did ride-alongs with them (laughs). It was kind of interesting what they go through. They all basically had a mustache, I’ve gotta be honest. That’s why I went with the mustache, which was home grown, and the real deal, by the way.
Kevin James: Yes. That’s all me. Pretty impressive, huh?
PR.com: It looks fake. Is that a compliment or an insult? I don’t know (laughs).
Kevin James: I don’t know how to take that. I’m going to take it in the best possible way. But, yeah, we wanted it to be real so we followed them and talked to them. It’s so funny because there were two types of security guards. There was the kind that was just killing time and didn’t want to be there, and they thought their job was a joke. Then there were the guys who were very, very serious and who took their job and their responsibility very seriously. That’s what we wanted to really show in this movie.
PR.com: Do they typically ride around in little go carts?
Kevin James: A lot of them have these Segways, and they use them. Each mall will have a couple of Segways, and I know that the security guards all want to use them, so they go in shifts and they share them. That was fun to see, and just to see anybody on that vehicle is funny.
PR.com: I thought that was your idea.
Kevin James: No, they really do that. Once I saw that, I was like, “Thank you God! What a great comedic vehicle!”
PR.com: How is the Segway to ride on?
Kevin James: Scary at first, but once you get used to it you really start to get confident. Then I got overly confident, and I hit a curb and ate it hard.
PR.com: Those things were supposed to take over New York City and become a huge thing, and they never caught on.
Kevin James: It never happened. They are pretty wild, but you do look goofy [on it].
PR.com: I know that you’re a native of Long Island, as am I, and you live in Los Angeles now. What do you miss most about Long Island or New York in general?
Kevin James: Pizza! Every deli. I miss The Post, I miss Newsday, I miss The Daily News… I miss it all. I miss 10/10 Wins. I miss driving on the parkway and the expressway. All of it, I really do miss it. I don’t miss the traffic, and I don’t miss the constant cold weather, but other than that, I really do miss it. I miss the people, most of all. That energy is kind of not there in LA, and it’s tough.
PR.com: Do you ever go to Mulberry Street Pizzeria in Beverly Hills?
Kevin James: Yup. And, there’s another one in Encino or Tarzana that I go to.
PR.com: For some reason when I’m there it makes me feel like I’m in New York. I sit there and read The Post, and it works for me (laughs).
Kevin James: It feels like the closest you can get, I know.
PR.com: Which comedians are your favorites, and which comedian inspired you to start doing stand up?
Kevin James: The comedian that inspired me to start was Robert Klein. I saw a bunch of his HBO specials. I loved him, and at that point it just made me want to pursue comedy. I loved everybody at the time, all the favorites: George Carlin and Pryor and all those guys, but it was definitely Robert Klein that really influenced me.
PR.com: Do you ever feel inhibited when you write comedic bits for stand up, or even in writing a movie? Do you tend to censor yourself for fear of offending anyone, or do you just go with it?
Kevin James: I do. None of my stuff is geared towards hurting anybody. There are things where you say, “Well, why would I do that if I don’t want to hurt somebody’s feelings?” It’s not to be so vanilla and down the middle, like, “Oh I don’t want to do this or that,” but it really is the basis of my comedy. Growing up I never really had the dark childhood that a lot of comedy guys need to draw material from. I had a pretty good upbringing and a fun family. I had things like Little League, and good humor and that’s it… and I ate Carvel ice cream; a lot of food.
PR.com: (Laughs) I Wikipedia’d you and I Googled you and I was like, “Ok, this guy has no skeletons in his closet. He’s just a happy guy.”
Kevin James: Exactly. I mean, I’m certainly not perfect. I definitely got in trouble in my day in college, going crazy and having fun and drinking with my buddies. You grow up and you find what life’s really about. Now I’ve got kids too, it’s amazing.
PR.com: Do you ever plan to venture into drama, or do you think you’ll stick with comedic roles?
Kevin James: Richie Minervini just wrote a script that I’m looking at now to see if it might be a dramatic thing I might get into. It’s all up in the air. If it’s a good story then that’s the main thing for me; that it’s something I can connect with. It’s not like I put on my list of things to do that I have to do a dramatic role, but if it’s the right one, then sure.
PR. com: I could totally see you taking the underdog character and exploring the darker side of that in a more dramatic role.
Kevin James: It would be fun to do that, to not be so nice. But, it would have to be the right thing.
PR.com: What’s coming up next for you?
Kevin James: Next, I’m working on a couple of projects where I play a Zookeeper which would put me in another uniform and turn off a lot of people (laughs). I don’t know why I wear uniforms all the time. Another one is with Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider and David Spade. We’re doing a movie where we are childhood friends and circumstances bring us back together in life, later on. We have our own families and we all kind of go on a vacation together.
PR.com: It seems like you kind of use your body type like a prop. At this juncture in your career would you be afraid to lose weight and get yourself in great shape? Do you think that it would hinder your career and the niche you’ve made for yourself?
Kevin James: I’m coming down now from when I even shot [Paul Blart: Mall Cop]. I let my body go where it is, and I don’t think I’ll ever be 120lbs. I’m not that guy, for sure. But, I go with where my body is at, wherever it takes me. If I have to adapt and change my comedy a little bit… I mean it certainly has helped me and makes things funnier in some ways, but I’ll find another way to be funny.
“Paul Blart: Mall Cop” opens in wide release on Friday, January 16, 2009. Go to paulblartmallcop.com or moviefone.com for trailer and showtimes.