ATLANTA -- Kevin James rolls himself into the interview room, looks a bit sheepish and is apologetic about his current physical state.
The 47-year-old comic actor is in a wheelchair this day, the day that he’s to talk about his starring role in "Here Comes The Boom," a film he wrote and co-produced and is a love letter of sorts to all things mixed martial arts. And yes, he says, it would be so much cooler if he were in a wheelchair because of some on-set injury in a movie where an average-do-gooding-teacher enters the ring to kick some butt and earn money for his students.
Instead, James laughs, this is just one of things that happens when you get older. Playbook chats with James.
Wow. You’re in a wheelchair. You shot this a while ago, but is this related to what you did in the film?
"Once a year my back will go out and it’ll be … it’s like a sciatic thing and it’s the smallest thing. Like I could be leaning over the sink to brush my teeth in a weird way and it happens. So this happened today getting into a town car. I wish I could use it, like, ‘Yeah, I sacrificed for my part!’"
Why MMA? Are you a big fan?
"Yes! Back in '93 I saw my first UFC fight and just became enamored by it then. I’ve also been able to meet all these fighters over the last decade or two. I’ve been into it for like 20 years now. Wow."
You’re making me feel old.
"Yes, I know. Look at me! I’m the one in the wheelchair with a bad back. Just put an afghan over me. No, but what got interesting to me was that these professional fighters aren’t just these gladiators that are in the ring. They’re family people on the outside, they’re just like you and me, they just have a really odd job. But they’re the most incredibly trained athletes, and they’re all friends among each other in the community. They hug afterwards and they’re friends. To see what these guys go through and what inspires them to actually do that, to get into a cage and fight like that, risking their lives, was what was interesting to me. I wanted to make a movie about that and try to tie it into the teaching aspect of it, because I had some very cool teachers back in my past. We definitely tried to keep it as real as possible."
What was your training process like?
"I hit 284, which is basically where I’m at now again, which is horrible that I got back up again! I knew I was doing this movie so I had to start making that push to really get in shape and make it believable. So we started with greens and a lot of drinking these green shakes and things like that and really cleaning up my diet, and we started light running and working out and training and technique. We had the access to bring UFC fighters in, whether we were traveling, whether I was doing stand-up or promoting a movie, we would set up in a hotel and just go, ‘All right, put these gloves on!’ And we would just go and start working out so my movement would look like I kind of knew what I was doing and it just grew. Then there was strength training and working out and tightening up my body, which was brutal. It never got tight, tight, but it got closer."
Did you do your own stunts?
"Yeah, pretty much. In this movie, it was very little that I didn’t do! I had great people around me, like Jason Lambert, who’s a UFC fighter, he’s my stand-in, and he worked with me and we worked through it. He showed me everything, but I had to do it. That was important to me, because I think people really check out a lot of times when you go, ‘It’s not him.’"
You made a big deal about your character’s ring entrance song – it’s the title of the movie. Why’d you pick the P.O.D. song?
"We picked 'Here Comes the Boom' by P.O.D. because I watch all these fighters and how they come on and the intimidation and all that part of it. One of the things we wanted to do -- and I think we did in a good way -- is show the common man – and woman – what it’s like to be backstage at a UFC event and come through and have that experience. A big part of it is how much the music influences people. It can hype you up, it can bring you down."
So if you were going to go into the ring for real, what would you entrance song be?
"I think I would go with 'Jimmy Cracked Corn.'"
Really? Why is that?
"Because I don’t care! And I don’t think I could out-psych the other opponent at this point, so I would try to confuse him. He’d be like, ‘What?! What is this?! He must have something up his sleeve or something weird going on!’ So I’d put a weird song on."