For “Think Like a Man,” which opens this weekend, Tim Story returned to thinking like a comedy director after a stint in the superhero world.
The two “Fantastic Four” films may be the Story films that the most people have seen around the world, but the filmmaker it was the raucous ensemble character comedy “Barbershop” that first put him on the Hollywood map in 2002. Now Story returns to that territory, wrapped in the romantic comedy genre, with “Think Like a Man,” based on comedian Steve Harvey’s bestselling 2009 advice book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think About Love, Relationships, Intimacy, and Commitment.
“I'm home with this film,” Story tells PopcornBiz. “I fell so much in love with this genre, again, that it just reminded me. So, there's a part of me that if I could really write my future it would probably be just doing a bunch of these and make them smart, put heart in there and laughs.”
Lately Hollywood’s been trying to make movies out of these non-narrative dating bestsellers, but “Think Like a Man” is the first on that's worked on its own merits. How did you figure out how to translate to the screen?
Well, look, I have to put a lot on the screenwriters and Will Packer, the producer, and Clint Culpepper, in that they just figured out the characters. When the book did spell out who these characters were, since we knew about what type of women were being described it was like, 'Why don't we just put the opposite of what they would be attracted to, but give them the opposite so that there's a complete conflict of who they're getting with?' So because there's no narrative in the book, I think it was just taking the characters and thinking about conflict in terms of film, just going to what's the best drama and what's the most complex and seeing what happened. I think that's the rule.
Was there a conscious path you wanted to avoid with this movie?
Look, at the end of the day I do know that you're going into this genre and that it's going to be what it is. Most of the time people do end up together and you kind of know that's going to happen. I wanted to do was just keep you guessing on what was going to happen. I just tried to keep the conflict up as much as possible. I just never wanted anyone to settle into, like, 'I know what's going to happen,' and so that's the only thing. Then of course I just felt like I wanted it to be funny. I was hoping that I could make it funny enough where you're not just caught up with them being in love, out of love. I was just hoping I could bring some comedic chops to it and keep you guessing when something was going to happen. Kevin Hart is the kind of guy that you want on your team because he can always throw a curveball at it. So, in terms of avoiding things I just wanted to avoid the boredom of knowing exactly what was going to happen.
You get to reunite with your "Barbershop" pal Michael Ealy in this movie.
I was hoping that everyone was good with having Michael Ealy. He's not just one of my favorite actors. He's one of my greatest friends and it's our second movie together. We've been trying to work together forever and we finally got one that we could do together. Michael is just such an amazing actor and I had always told him, like, he's just going to get better as he gets older, when he starts to look more and more like a man. When I brought him into 'Barbershop' it was like, 'The kid, the kid, the kid.' But now he's got some scruff on his face and he's starting to look more and more like an older man, a leading man. So I was just hoping for him and sometimes your prayers get answered. I would do every movie with him if I could. He's just that good, and just one of my best friends in the world.
And how about the rest of the cast?
Heaven. Honestly, I knew most of them, whether we'd done a film together before – like me and Taraji [P. Henson], had done another film together. I'd done a portion of Kevin Hart's 'Laugh At My Pain,' and then of course Michael Ealy. So I knew a lot of the guys, and then I knew the other guys socially, just from being out and knowing each other. But it was pure heaven because this cast, they're just so good. Especially in this genre of black films - and I don't like to consider the movie a black film, but to be candid, it is a movie where most of the roles are for African Americans – the actors have said ‘You just don't get that many roles that have a lot of depth to it,’ where they have something to play in layers and all of this stuff. I knew that they could do it, and it's great when it comes together. I just knew that this cast was going to kick ass.
Can you talk about working with Steve Harvey and his role in the film – how you figured out how to integrate him, as the real-life author of the book, into the movie?
He was kind of like the Godfather. You kiss the ring and he says, 'Don't --- up.' We went out and made it and then when we brought it back to him and showed him about 30 minutes of it when we were shooting his portion of the stuff and he was laughing out loud. He told us, 'Look, I don't laugh – I'm a comedian. I see the jokes coming. It's rare that I laugh at something and I was literally laughing.' You kind of go, 'Whew! The Godfather is pleased!' So he really has just been a confidant from afar: patting you on the back and saying, 'Go for it.' He basically said, 'Look, I love what the blueprint is. Guys, just go and do your thing.' So it was that quiet cheering from afar.
What did Kevin Hart’s ad-libs bring to his scenes?
We just said, 'Look, you should come to the door and interrupt the situation in some way.' And on the take he did that and we just went, 'What the f--k? Are you serious?' It was funny and he's just that guy. Working with comedians, comedians are quite brilliant just because with their perspective on things and the fact that they read so much, when you do say 'Hey, I need something here,' you would hear them just start to go, 'Okay, what happened in the middle of the night,' and they just go through this list. Then they pull something out and then they go with that, like, 'Okay, perfect.' Then they do it and you go, 'You just pulled that out of your brain?'