If you want to make a new Jumanji adventure pop onto Hollywood's radar, you make sure to cast not just Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, but Kevin Hart, too. The combination of the world's biggest action star with the world's biggest comedy star is a killer, but it's just two parts of an ensemble cast led by director Jake Kasdan, hoping to recapture some of the spirit and adventure of Jumanji in a not-quite-sequel, definitely not a prequel, legacy-honoring follow-up Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. But Hart is making it clear from the beginning that even if this new film connects to the original Jumanji, they've set the bar high enough to ensure this story stands on its own.
While visiting the set, we had the chance to speak with the cast and crew, learning that a big secret from the first Jumanji will be revealed, the first confirmed Star Wars Easter Egg, and of course, how the comedic minds on set intend to honor Jumanji and its late star Robin Williams. But Hart drives home the point that the purpose of Welcome to the Jungle isn't to capitalize on what came before. No, the production spent too much time getting their own story and positive message in the perfect place to worry about repeating the previous film's moral.
What can you tell us about your character?
What can I tell you about my character... I play a small guy in a different world that’s the complete opposite of the high school version of who this individual really is. But I think what's amazing is that who he is on one side is completely different from the person that he’s forced to be on another side. With every movie that you do, you always want to make sure there’s an inside message, something that people can walk away and take from the film. I think we put a lot of small innuendoes in here that people will be able to kind of wink at and understand and agree with. You want to switch up what you can. You want to be different and separate yourself from other things that have been done. I think in this case, we’re doing so with all of the characters, including myself.
Are you having fun with Strength being your weakness?
I mean, so far so good. You’ve got to find different humor. With the small persona of 'Fridge,' that’s one note, so we wanted to find different things. In this particular case, Fridge is a bully. My character’s a bully in this world, he’s forced to be a bully in a different statue. Without speed, without strength, a guy who’s allergic to eating cake, it’s a bunch of weird shit that we gave him, but it works, because we grounded it to where it made sense.
How are you enjoying bouncing off Jack Black?
Jack is great man. Jack is amazing.
Is there improv?
Yeah. They let us improv and they let us play. But you’re looking at two polished, committed actors. So we don’t take it too far off the page. When we do, it goes right back to the page, because it’s a ping pong. You never take your person and put him in a place where it’s so hard to bring him back to the material at hand. We both understand that. It’s basically throwing alley-oops for each other where we can to help their characters win in a situation.
With Dwayne, how is your chemistry similar to what you guys had already built together, and how do you go off in different directions?
Look, there’s chemistry, plain and simple. We’re good friends. We’re both professionals. We’re all about the project. How can we make the project better? It’s not about us as individuals or what star stands out the most. It’s about the movie. So for us, it was just getting the script right. How do we make the material right? Do our characters have an arc? Do our characters have a purpose? Do our characters have a reason to be rooted for or not rooted for? That’s the depth that we go through.
When you have somebody that puts just as much time into a project off camera that they do on camera, it says a lot about that individual. In this case, it’s something that we both did. We worked on the script for months before, and we got here two weeks before to do rehearsals, and more stuff just to make sure that the chemistry is there, and it is.
Were you a fan of the original movie?
Yeah. I’m a fan of Robin Williams. I think that’s an important thing to bring up, because people think that this is a remake of the original Jumanji, and it’s not. It’s a continuation. You don’t touch what’s great and try to redo it. You just have to understand that there’s a generation that has no idea what Jumanji is, and that’s the generation of today, the social media generation, the younger generation. They don’t know. So having that game and that world continue, but to fit this mold, it’s a unique idea, and it’s something that we felt that we could bring a lot of light to. So in no way, shape or form are we disrespecting, or reshaping, or reforming the original Jumanji. This has nothing to do. It’s a continuation.
What’s your stunt work like been?
Stunt work? So far, nothing. I think it starts actually tomorrow and next week. That’s when I start running. It’s a lot of running. A lot of running through the jungle. They put us in a real jungle, which is fun. It’s bittersweet, but I don’t complain. I love it. This is what I chose to do. So you lay in the bed that was made for you. This is it. Just a different environment than what I’m used to.
You mentioned working with The Rock and how you guys put a lot of time and effort into it. What is it like working with someone who’s matching your intensity versus someone who isn't?
Umm... I mean when you say matching my intensity, I don’t think that’s fair, because there’s different levels of intensity. There’s different ways to approach a day. My approach is my approach. His approach is his approach. Jack’s approach is his approach. Nick’s approach is his approach, and Karen’s is hers. You know? I think people focus differently. Some people need that push and that boost in a way that only they can define.
Mine is a 5am boost that I need to give myself so that I feel like I’ve got an advantage on myself. As long I feel like I’m working on me at all times, I’m happy. I think the day that I stop doing that is the day that I’ve lost sight of reality and what got me to where I am. But Dwayne does have an amazing approach to his life, to his day, to his career as well. You’re just looking at two guys who just aren’t content with where they are in their career.