There are few comedians working today as prolific and successful as Kevin Hart. In fact, to call him only a comedian is leaving out the rest of his acting roles which have come to define his career in the 2010s and ’20s. With an extensive comedy resume on film, it’s become clear in recent years that the actor-producer is seeking to branch out. Kevin Hart’s latest film for Netflix, Lift, is just the next step in this trajectory.
Action comedy has been the name of the game for Hart with box office hits like Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Central Intelligence, and Ride Along, among many others. While his latest film for Netflix, Lift, still operates within a similarly comedic, buoyant realm, it is a marked departure in that Kevin Hart is not the center of the comedy. Rather, he is the straight man facing insurmountable odds with a motley crew of larger-than-life personalities he must hold together to cross the finish line.
Directed by F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton, The Fate of the Furious) and written by Daniel Kunka (12 Rounds), Lift sees Kevin Hart take on the role of Cyrus Whittaker, a master thief. We first meet Cyrus in the middle of a daring heist gone-wrong, gone-right by the skin of his teeth. Interpol agent Abby (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and her boss Huxley (Sam Worthington) soon recruit Cryrus to prevent a terrorist attack devised by corrupt billionaire Lars Jorgenson (Jean Reno). His job is to do what he does best: steal from the rich. And this latest scheme may be his craziest yet – a mid-air heist of not just gold bars from Jorgenson’s private vault being transported via plane, but the very plane itself.
Cyrus leads an international heist crew consisting of Denton (Vincent D’Onofrio), a master of disguise, expert pilot Camila (Úrsula Corberó), reliable safecracker Magnus (Billy Magnussen), skilled hacker Mi-Sun (Kim Yoon-ji), and trusted engineer Luke (Viveik Kalra). Lift marks a new height (literally) in not only Kevin Hart’s career as an action-comedy star, but also his production company HartBeat, run with longtime friend and producing partner Bryan Smiley. HartBeat’s website proclaims “We’re not in the subtle business.” This holds true in Netflix’s Lift, which is co-produced by none other than Matt Reeves (The Batman, War for the Planet of the Apes) through his own 6th & Idaho banner and Simon Kinberg (Dark Phoenix, The 355) through Kinberg Genre Films.
We spoke to Kevin Hart and Bryan Smiley about Lift, HartBeat, and their shared vision for a space in entertainment that is continuously evolving. There are many bright things on the horizon for HartBeat, the least of which are plans to step into both rom-com territory and more drama as Hart tells us below.
Exclusive Interview with Kevin Hart & Bryan Smiley for Lift on Netflix
Kevin, I was thinking back to the Reservoir Dogs moment that bookends your comedy special Laugh at My Pain and how it seems like there’s been an interest for you in the action-comedy space for a long time. I’m curious as to why that is and what interests you about combining action with comedy?
Kevin Hart: I think action comedies have always been fun. If you look at my entry into the theatrical space from the early days… my first movie was Paper Soldiers, which is this crazy, low-budget comedy, but the comedy took place as we were robbing houses, right? So, yes, although the action isn’t on the same scale, there’s this adventure attached to the comedy. Then you go on to Soul Plane and then you start getting into bigger movies like Ride Along, Central Intelligence, and Jumanji which all have adventure and comedy.
But then there’s another layer and tier, where it’s just the action. Action is something that I’ve always enjoyed, and I was like, “You know what? I’m going to do one!” One that puts me in a position to be the serious part of the action-heavy story and let the comedy happen around me. To put a reversal on it! It’s to have a performance that’s different from the things that I’ve done at the highest level and show my fanbase that here’s another space that I can play in and be just as good. I think it’s something that I’ll dabble in and out of because I just want to have fun doing the job that I love. I don’t want to get jaded. The best way to make sure that you don’t is to do as many new things as you can.
In that same sense, that gets me thinking about another creative partner and friend of yours, Dwayne Johnson, who recently signed on for an A24 movie and he talked about wanting to pursue something different outside of purely box office and shifting gears. What are you and Bryan looking for when you make your next movie?
Kevin Hart: Right now, the biggest thing that we’re talking about is the romantic comedy space. We want to tap into a romantic comedy that’s a little more like, I want to say where the comedy is the backdrop – it doesn’t have to be the focus point – with a sort of feeling and emotion along the lines of Sleepless in Seattle. It’s not that it’s not a romantic comedy, but there are personal moments in the movie that you can really hold onto. There’s a love story and a backdrop that people have resonated with forever, it’s an evergreen movie.
Something like that, I would love to have underneath my umbrella, if we can find and discover something new and fresh. From a creative space, we’re thinking about things that we can lean into. If there’s a continuation to the world of Lift, can that be prioritized? If there’s something in the space of adventure, can that be prioritized? We’re focusing on the things that we feel create the opportunity for expansion and global appeal.
Bryan Smiley: You know, so many things are cyclical in this business and we have not seen a really modern, cool, and dope romantic comedy. So, that’s something we are definitely searching aggressively for. We’re excited to find it.
There’s certainly an appetite for that right now, so that’s awesome. Bryan, I’m wondering what it was like working with other heavy hitter producers like Matt Reeves and Simon Kinberg and what it was like working as a collective on Lift?
Bryan Smiley: It was incredible. You could not have asked for a more collaborative producing team. Simon and Matt bring so much experience from these big 100 million dollar + movies that was great for us in this process. We really could not have had better partners for this project.
Kevin Hart: The value of those partners is that they really showed themselves to be true. When we had moments of like, “Wait, it’s going to be hard for us to do this thing” or “The studio’s expecting this, but we have to do this instead,” we were able to see everybody come to the table and work towards a solution. There weren’t any panics because there was a confidence of, “We’ll figure it out because that’s what we do. That’s what we’ve done.” I think for us, as the newer kids on the block in terms of participating in budgets like this, it was good for us to soak up a lot of that energy. Iron sharpens iron, and we were around a lot of good iron on this one.
You had the film Fatherhood also on Netflix, which was cool because we’re not always used to seeing you in roles that are dialed down and understated. Kevin, are you looking to do any strictly dramatic films?
Kevin Hart: Absolutely. I think what happens is that because of how we carry conversations, especially with social media, you miss the paper trail and examples of me going in this direction. We think about Fatherhood, The Upside, we think about True Story, right? My last four to five movies aside from Me Time have been examples of that. Right now, it’s me doing [Lift], but I’ve given you guys the breadcrumbs leading up to me doing the bigger play. So, yes, this is the direction that I’m going in.
You don’t just jump out the window and do it, you’ve got to give the world a proof of concept. Fight Night, which is what we’re about to do next, is going to be another example of a performance that’s completely different, grounded, and serious. This is where I’m playing and where I’m having fun. It’s not that I’m not going to do comedy, I’m just showing that there’s more. There’s more underneath the hood of the car of Kevin. That’s all.