Some of the best action comedies are ones that are rooted in mistaken identities. From Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest to Shawn Levy’s Date Night, these films put their protagonists through hell all because of a simple misunderstanding of who they are and, more importantly, what they do.
Netflix’s The Man from Toronto continues this tradition with frazzled husband Kevin Hart being mistaken for a cool and calculated hitman played by Woody Harrelson. In a conversation with Digital Trends, the film’s director, Patrick Hughes, discusses working with the two disparate stars and his belief that all buddy action comedies are essentially platonic love stories.
Note: This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Digital Trends: How did your involvement with The Man from Toronto come about?
Patrick Hughes: I was doing postproduction on The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard in Bulgaria and I got a phone call from my agent saying that Kevin Hart had a project and he was interested to chat. I hit it off with him and we started developing it together and took it from there.
What was it like working with Kevin and Woody Harrelson?
Oh, they’re incredible. I mean, they’re both screen icons, but I think the thing that really sort of blew me away was just the chemistry that those two had. And you never quite know if you’re going to get it. It’s one of those things that it’s actually a little bit scary because, throughout preproduction, I was dealing with both of them individually. But it’s not until I had them on-screen together that I discovered their chemistry was amazing.
With Kevin and Woody, they really are sort of chalk and cheese in terms of personality dynamics. And I think that’s what makes the film so funny because Woody Harrelson is a mellow dude whereas Kevin is just like a crazed Energizer Bunny who doesn’t stop moving.
With The Man from Toronto and The Hitman’s Bodyguard movies, you seem to specialize now in action comedies. Why is that particular genre appealing?
I’ve always been a fan of the genre. When I was at film school, one of my short films was a black comedy that was centered around action. It’s just been a genre that’s appealed to me since day one, and I would certainly attribute it to the Coen Brothers’ Raising Arizona. I think I was about 10 years old when I watched it and that film really opened my eyes to blending comedy and action. It has dark subject matter, but at the same time, it’s absolutely hilarious. I think the seed was probably planted back then.
Do you have a favorite action comedy?
Oh, I would certainly say Midnight Run and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. The thing that really shines through with those films is the heart and soul. And I think that’s the trick with this genre is to make sure you have both because if you lose that aspect of it, it becomes farcical. With The Man from Toronto, there are some specific moments in there that keep it grounded. There is something genuine at stake when it comes to human growth. That’s what storytelling is all about, really.
You’ve said that every buddy movie is a sort of a love story. Why is that?
Well, if you look at the romance genre, it’s two people that shouldn’t get together. They aren’t right for each other. They will learn throughout the course of the story that they’re actually perfect for each other because what each of them has is something that the other is lacking. And the buddy action comedy is absolutely no different.
It’s always about two characters who are often forced together. Neither one of them want to be in a room with the other, but you’re forcing them on this journey together. That’s why Midnight Run is one of the greatest examples of the buddy action comedy because both Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin’s characters are handcuffed together. You can’t force people together any more than that!
With The Man from Toronto, you’ve got Kevin Hart, who talks too much and he’s lost control over his marriage and his life. Then you’ve got Woody’s character, who is all about control and he punches people in the face instead of talking to them. So what Kevin shows him is that instead of using physical ways to resolve conflict through acts of violence, Woody could talk about his emotions and feelings. With Kevin’s character, he learns from Woody that he needs to learn to stand up and create boundaries in his life and stand up for what he believes in and go after it.
Is there any chance of a Men from Toronto-versus-Hitman’s Bodyguard team-up movie with Woody and Kevin facing off against Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson?
Oh, I love it! I think that might be a picture I put together: a dirty crossover with the four of those bickering onscreen. That would be quite a handful.