By Joseph McCabe
Think Like a Man was the kind of film one sees far too infrequently in these tentpole-heavy, designer-blockbuster days – a surprise hit. Budgeted at just $12 million, director Tim Story and writers Keith Marryman and David A. Newman’s loose adaptation of funnyman Steve Harvey’s faux advice book “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man” earned $96 million, toppling The Hunger Games’ four-week reign atop the box office. A sequel appears to be a no-brainer.
When ComingSoon.net spoke to director Tim Story, producer Will Packer and their cast at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, where Think Like a Man Too is in the midst of shooting, comedy mogul Packer told us a follow-up film does not come without risk.
“It makes a lot of sense from a studio standpoint,” said the exec, “and as a producer I don’t mind saying it. The studio stands to gain – the first one was a success, why wouldn’t you make the second one? Even [for] myself as a producer, it’s about exploiting a brand that we already have. But [the cast], they’re putting themselves back out there. They created a character that their fans fell in love with one way or another. Now they’re putting those characters back out there. That’s tough to do. That’s a big risk. That’s a professional risk. But each and every one of those actors out there I will honestly say accepted the challenge and accepted it head on and said, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s go back to the well, and I will give you everything that I got.’ In some fashion I had a conversation along those lines with each of them.”
That cast — Kevin Hart, Terrence Jenkins, Regina Hall, Jerry Ferrara, Gabrielle Union, Michael Ealy, Taraji P. Henson, Romany Malco, Meagan Good, Gary Owen — is here today, joined by a prominent addition, Bridesmaids’ Wendy McLendon-Covey as Tish, the wife of Owen’s nerd-with-a-heart-of-gold Bennett. The ensemble has just finished a scene on the casino floor, by the front steps of Caesar’s Colosseum. Bennett has won a slot machine’s jackpot, an act which immediately sends Hart’s crazed Cedric tearing after him, claiming Bennett won with Cedric’s money. Tish defends her husband, security arrives on the scene, and carefully orchestrated chaos ensues.
“Sequels are usually lose-lose propositions,” continues Packer, when asked how the experience of producing Think Like a Man Too has compared producing its predecessor. “You already have an audience that liked the first movie, that’s invested in it. That’s the only reason a sequel conversation even comes up. So you really can only disappoint your fans. The cool thing about this one though is that we entered into a tough proposition the first time because it was a beloved book. The book had done very, very well, and it had a built-in fan base, and here we were trying to do a cinematic [adaptation]. That’s tough [because] it was a book that didn’t have any narrative, any characters. We went about creating the characters – that was really the tough part. So then to come back and do a sequel when we already had characters that had resonated with people… That people had connected with it. It was a challenge, but it was a fun challenge. It was very different from the first one.”
Other newcomers joining the Think Like a Man universe in the sequel include veteran star Kelsey Grammer and Adam Brody. “We kind of did something that was really special in the first one,” says Story. “We were able to make a lot of cameos seem organic to the storytelling, but at the same time give you a wow factor. So this time around I told Will he had to up it, and he came through. We have a lot of great guys, like Kelsey, who was just a last-minute [addition]. He was my first choice, and our producer made it happen. [Between] that and having Floyd Mayweather Jr., we just got a lot of great cameos. It’s become our thing to have these great cameos but at the same time make them an organic part of the story.”
“The truth is that since the [first film] it’s [been] like a family,” laughs Packer. “Within each family you’ve got all these personalities. So [Kevin], he’s like the resident gambler. He gambles a lot anyway. Michael Ealy, he’s like the resident player. He teases the women. Any particular weekend we would be down here anyway. So I told Tim, ‘You know what? Let’s just film it. Let’s just shoot this [expletive]. Kevin’s gonna be spending too much money. Michael’s gonna be looking at girls with those eyes. Let’s shoot this [expletive] and we’ll call it a sequel!’ And the studio fell for it. So that’s kind of what happened.”
As for the film’s plot, which finds the couples in Vegas celebrating two of their friends’ nuptials, Packer explains, “We got them together in the first one. This one is about them coming to Sin City for a wedding. You got the bachelor and bachelorette parties. It’s about those same relationships that we saw form so well in the first one – can they survive against the backdrop of Vegas? We all know that it’s one thing to live in LA, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, whatever with your significant other – but it’s another to go and drop that relationship in the middle of Las Vegas, international iconic city of sin. Will it survive? We have a lot of fun answering that question.”
Having completed their filming for the moment, the cast takes some time to explain why they wanted to participate in the sequel.
“I wasn’t in the first one,” says McLendon-Covey, “but for selfish reasons I wanted there to be a second one, because I wasn’t done watching these characters. You have to see these relationships through to the end.”
“At the time we made the first,” says Ealy, “I’d never had more fun or sex making a movie. So that was enough for me to come back… On a serious note though, I will say the one thing I love about going to 2 from 1 is that it’s believable. Of course it’s the job of an actor – you want to make it believable and relatable – but in part 1 I believed every single relationship. I saw that couple before. I can relate with Zeke and Mya, and it’s the same with everybody in the cast. I know people like that, or I’ve been that person. So to see it now track these relationships and where they’re going, I think that is something that [we] all have a need for and want. Because relationship movies, they can be cheesy and they can be corny. Nobody wants to address realistic situations. I think that’s what they addressed here, and the writers, the director, and the producers have done a great job.”
As for where their characters are heading this time around, the actors give us some clues.
“Zeke’s past keeps rearing it’s ugly head,” adds Malco, “so we’re kind of at odds with that. In terms of the level of opportunity, there’s constant pressures, and we feel that we’re not seeing eye to eye.”
“For most of the couples in the sequel it’s all about the maturation process in the relationship,” says Ealy. “Dom and [Taraji P. Henson’s] Lauren are independently confronted with challenges to the relationship that they’re forced to work out individually.”
“Lauren is softer,” adds Henson. “You see a side that’s not insensitive. But she’s still powerful, just softer.”
“I don’t really think that my story’s the same as theirs,” says Hart about his wild-card narrator. “I’m more of the guy who’s driving what’s going on. But as far as [La La Anthony’s] Sonia, our relationship is in and out. We were getting a divorce, it just hasn’t happened yet. So it’s an evolving situation that’s never ended.”
“For Jeremy and Kristen,” says Ferrara, “you left off with us when she basically wanted a ring and he manned up and they got married. Now there’s not really a new set of problems, but a new set of marital issues and the next step after marriage, dealing with family and trying to make that happen.”
“We watched Michael grow,” says Jenkins of the original Think Like a Man. “I think he’s broken a lot of the mama’s boy tendencies. But my mom’s still very much involved. She’s still very controlling… What I will say is that one of the funnest parts about this film is getting to see characters interact that never got a chance to do so in the first one. Even for us guys… We haven’t seen a lot of the stuff the girls are filming. So I’m excited to see the dailies with Meagan and Reggie and Wendy together.”
“I wanted to see who I was married to,” laughs Owen. “Because in the first one I had a whole other visual in my head than [Wendy]. I thought she was gonna be an Asian. So it shocked me when they gave me a white lady. I was like, ‘Oh, in the first one I had an Asian wife. Now she’s white…’”
McLendon-Covey laughs. “In the course of this movie they kind of shake the snow globe of their marriage.”
When asked what aspects of their characters they most identify with, the cast offers their thoughts.
“With Cedric,” replies Hart, “I can say [it’s] the whole misinterpretation thing. He takes things and runs with it. I do that in real life. I assume that things will go a certain way and I’ll plan things accordingly to how I think it should be. With Cedric that’s the whole thing in this movie – with me being the best man. It’s because I assumed I was the choice from a conversation we were having. I was never truly picked to be the best man. But nobody had the heart to tell me. So they let me run with that mistake. That happens a lot to me.”
“Bennet’s the guy that I wish I was more like,” answers Owen, “as far as being unselfish. Because he definitely puts his wife and kids before himself. In this line of work, you have people telling you, ‘Oh, you’re great.’ You can get self-centered. When I watched the first one I was like, ‘Okay, I can really take that from Bennett, and put my kids before other stuff.’ You can get caught up. Your son’s got a basketball game and you got Superbowl tickets. You’d like to go to the Superbowl, but it is what it is.”
As for what they hope audiences will take away from their characters’ stories this time around…
“In the first one there’s a lot of mind games and courtship and things like that,” says Ealy. “It’s fun to get to know somebody and see if you have a true connection. In this particular film the connection is there, the hard part is figuring out how to stay there. That’s where the real work begins, once you’re actually in the relationship in order to really stay with them for a long time.”
“Michael is a guy that’s just really in love, and really tries the best to make good decisions, says Jenkins. “I wish honestly I could be more like him. I wish I could find what my character has found and really be as focused as he is. A lot of our characters [are] good guys. We make a lot of questionable decisions in this film, but the core of all of it is that we’re really good guys. We really do love all of the women in this ensemble.”
“In part 1 you’re jumping into a man’s mind,” explains Hart, “and you’re finally seeing a man’s point of view on relationships and how to handle them. But the fact that it’s dealt with in a group of men is unique and it’s original. In this one it’s just been escalated, because you get to see the women actually interact within a group and do the same thing that the men were doing in part 1.”
Says Story of his social-media and fan-friendly cast, many of whom introduced midnight screenings upon the first film’s release: “They’re like sisters and brothers. We just have a lot of fun. You can see how we are in this room. That’s how we are all the time. That’s how they are all the time. When we are not filming or on set or even back in LA, we hang out. We hang out a lot in Vegas doing things I probably shouldn’t say. But we’re truly a family. It’s like hanging out with your brothers and sisters.”
Except perhaps for Hart and Packer, who has produced several of the comic’s films. “The thing about Kevin,” says a deadpan Packer, “is it’s not gonna last much longer. I can pretty much tell you that. We’re all just trying to ride that horse as long as we can. A lot of partying. A lotta lotta going on. There probably won’t be a part 3 with Kevin. I’m putting it out there. It’s fun now, though.”
Fans are thus advised to catch Hart while they still can when Think Like a Man Too opens on June 20.