Hart is hot to handle

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First Posted: 1/18/2015

This time last year, North Philly native, Kevin Hart, was proving his marquee muscle by steering “Ride Along” to a sizeable $130 million in box-office profits.

For the rest of 2014, Hart popped up in supporting roles in the ensemble comedies “About Last Night,” “Think Like a Man Too” and “Top Five.”

Now, in 2015, Hart has become a full-fledged leading man. He’s front and center for a couple of laughfests, including “Get Hard” (opening March 27), which teams him up with Will Ferrell, and the now-playing “Wedding Ringer,” co-starring “Book of Mormon’s” Josh Gad.

Hart continues his big-screen spree in 2016 when he partners with Dwayne Johnson for “Central Intelligence,” re-teams with Ice Cube for “Ride Along 2” and lends his voice to a pair of animated films: “Captain Underpants” and a still-untitled project from “Despicable Me” helmer Chris Renaud.

Needless to say, it’s a good time to be Kevin Hart.

“Right now, I’m in love with all the opportunities that I’m getting,” says the actor, who’ll host “Saturday Night Live” on Jan. 17, and continues to star on BET’s “The Real Husbands of Hollywood.”

“I’m in love with all the blessings. I’m doing what I love to do, and I’m supported by people who believe in me. What could be better than that?” he said.

Hart prides himself on being as much of a businessman as a performer so he’s more than happy to help promote his movies. During a recent pitstop in Philadelphia, he spent the day beating the drum for “The Wedding Ringer.”

In the comedy, Hart plays Jimmy, a best-man-for-hire employed by a friendless groom (Gad) desperate to impress his fiancé (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting) and her family (Ken Howard, Mimi Rogers).

Even though the movie gives Hart the chance to once again demonstrate his skills as a worldclass motormouth, the actor sees the character as something of a departure for him.

“I think Jimmy was a great role for me because it allowed me to show a number of different levels at the same time,” says Hart, 35. “He’s conniving and a con man but [deep down], he’s really a good guy.

“And , in the end, he discovers that the [friendship] he was giving to others was something that he needed as much as anyone else.”

Hart can relate to Jimmy’s desire to make everyone around him feel good. Recently, the comic found out his nephew was being teased at school because no one believed he was related to Hart.

Not long afterwards, the actor showed up at the schoolyard with a fleet of limos. “It made me look cool,” said Hart. “But it made my nephew look cooler.”

Key to the success of “The Wedding Ringer” is Hart’s chemistry with Gad. Hart said he knew the odd-couple sparks would fly as soon as he and Gad sat down for their first meeting.

“We didn’t talk about the movie but about our kids,” recalls Hart, who has a daughter Heaven, 9, and son Hendrix, 7, with his ex-wife.

“We were there for three hours. I knew we’d get along. When you do a movie like this, and you’re working 14 to 15-hour days, if you don’t get along [with your co-stars], it’s [awful]. Josh and I got along great, and we had nothing but good days.”

Hart has long insisted that he owes a good deal of success to growing up in Philadelphia.

“I am the person I am because of Philly,” said the actor. “Take Philly away and I don’t think I would have such thick skin, or that I’d have the drive that I do. Philly taught me everything I know.”

In both his stand-up act and in interviews, Hart credits much of his success to his mother Nancy who worked as a systems analyst at the University of Pennsylvania before her death from cancer in 2006.

When Kevin was eight, Nancy kicked his dad, Henry, out of the house for being a cocaine addict. Even though Nancy worked to support Kevin and his brother Robert, she still did everything in her power to make sure they had plenty of extracurricular activities to keep them out of trouble.

“My mom was the most amazing woman in the world,” Hart said. “ She not only worked a number of jobs to support us but she stuck to her guns about making sure I was always busy, and didn’t have time to hang out on the streets.”

For as long as he can remember, Hart was the family cut-up and the perennial class clown.

“I’ve always been the center of attention,” he explained. “It’s in my blood. I’ve never been anything else but that. So it’s good that I get to do what I do for a living.”

A turning point for the youngster came in 1983 when he discovered the concert movie “Eddie Murphy: Delirious.” Almost immediately, Hart knew he wanted to try his hand at stand-up comedy but he wasn’t sure how to realize his dream.

After high school, he briefly attended college, at his mom’s insistence. But he dropped out, and wound up selling shoes at City Sports. It was only after his co-workers pushed Hart to attend amateur night at the Philly comedy club the Laff House that the comic worked up enough nerve to jump onstage.

“I was awful back then,” recalls Hart. “I tried my best but I was telling jokes that I thought people wanted to hear, and that’s never good.”

Even though his first outings were disastrous, Hart still had his mom on his side. She agreed to pay his rent for a year while he tried to make it as a comedian.

After checking out some stand-up shows in New York, Hart learned an important lesson about letting it all hang out.

“My comedy [got good] when I realized that I could be me onstage,” said Hart, who routinely finds humor in the darkest corners of his personal life.

As Hart’s comedy evolved, he quickly landed an agent and started taking meetings in L.A. A number of failed series later, Hart made his movie debut in “Soul Plane,” which promptly crashed and burned at the box-office.

“I was in actor’s jail,” he once said of this period of his life. “I couldn’t get a job, you know?”

Inspired by Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld, Hart kept plugging away.

“I could always see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “I had a dream, and I was very, very driven.”

Hart knew that a concert movie could be successful at the box-office even when others had their doubts so he decided to finance one with his own money.

In 2013, the low-budget stand-up film “Let Me Explain” went on to earn $32 million at the box-office, making Hart a rich man.

At the moment, the sky seems to be the limit for the actor, who’s hoping to slowly expand his reach behind comedies and animated films.

“I want to do dramas too,” he said. “Of course I do. But I have to be patient. I’m hopefully going to be starting something in late summer that’s more dramatic. The thing is I never want to stop pushing the envelope.”