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Arts

Kam Williams
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Photos courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Kevin James was born on April 26, 1965 in Mineola, N.Y., but raised in Stony Brook, Long Island, where he excelled at both wrestling and football. In college, he majored in sports management while playing fullback on the football team, but dropped out after three years to pursue a stand-up career.

James got his big break when he landed a recurring role on his pal Ray Romano’s sitcom, “Everybody Loves Raymond.” In 1998, he parlayed those appearances into his own hit sitcom, “The King of Queens,” which went on to enjoy a nine-year run.

James has made just as a big a splash on the big screen, starting with a memorable feature film debut opposite Will Smith in the romantic comedy, “Hitch.”

Since then, the versatile funnyman has starred in “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry,” “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” “Grown Ups,” “Zookeeper” and “Hotel Transylvania.”

James and his wife, actress Steffiana De La Cruz, live in L.A. with their three children. Here, he talks about his new film, Here Comes the Boom.

I really enjoyed “Here Comes the Boom.” It’s a very entertaining family film. What inspired you to write it?

I’m glad you liked it! Basically, I’ve always been interested in the mixed martial arts, and I had some ideas about how to show the sport in a different light. But I also wanted to give some props to all the great teachers who had helped me and served as very positive role models when I was growing up, especially since they continue to influence me to this day, so many years later. I wanted to show how much of a difference a teacher can make in a child’s life by putting them on the right path.  

Was there one teacher in particular you’d like to give a shout out to?

Yes, Mr. Betcher. I named the principal in the film after him. He was a great teacher, but I had a bunch of them who were fantastic, I really did, who were cool with me, supportive and taught me to be a good man. That’s important. You don’t realize the effect it will have.

What do you want the audience to take away from “Here Comes the Boom?”

Because it’s a comedy, I primarily want people to escape, have fun and really enjoy themselves for a couple hours. But, secondarily, it does have an inspirational message about the amazing effect that one can have on others when you start becoming the better version of yourself. We all become complacent at some point in our lives, and sometimes it takes the inspiration of others to get going again. In the case of this movie, I not only help Henry Winkler’s character save his job, but my actions uplift the students and other people around me. It sort of pays it forward.      

You wear many hats as an actor, comedian, writer and producer. Which do you enjoy the most, and which is the most challenging?

They’re all challenging when you’re wearing them simultaneously. They’re all rewarding and can be kinda scary. And the responsibility becomes that much greater, obviously. But I surround myself with great people who keep me in check, which is important. For instance, they’ll always help me to get to that place where I need to be, if I’m not doing what I need to be doing in a certain scene, creatively. Then I have some other people in my life like my makeup lady who’s the worst, but then she has a tough job, too. [Laughs]   

What other types of roles do you see yourself playing?

It all depends on the story. It always has. It’s not like I say, “I have to do another comedy next,” or “I have to do a drama next.” Wherever the story takes me and whatever moves me in a fresh direction. I like to let it just happen.  

Would you say this film used mixed martial arts as a metaphor for school reform?

Absolutely! It’s a metaphor for any obstacle you might have in your life. This is not to say that taking up mixed martial arts will solve your problems. [Chuckles] It’s not that at all. Rather, it’s used to show how far my character, Scott Voss, would go for a friend. He’s willing to lay down his life. There’s no greater gift than that.  

Did you do most of your own stunts?

Yes, I did all my fight stunts in the movie. We wanted it to look real. I had a great stunt guy that worked with me, Jason Lambert. He helped me every step of the way, setting up all the fight sequences.     

It looks like you really took a beating making this film.

[Laughs] I did, actually. I took a real crazy beatdown, but I wanted it to look realistic, because I think people really appreciate the difference.

I guess that as a former wrestler and football player you could handle the physical contact.

Yeah, I’ve always been an athlete and enjoyed sports. I just got out of shape when I switched vocations to stand-up comedy. But I’ve always, always loved getting physical, whether in my movies or playing sports growing up. I just love physical humor, so I kind of tied it all together here.     

When was the last time you had a good laugh?

Oh, man, we laugh all the time. Honestly, we literally laughed on our way down here today. We were crying in the car. It’s important to surround yourself with friends that you can make fun of and have fun hanging out with. Life is a quick ride, and there’s nothing better than a good laugh.  

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

Food, I guess, but I don’t even feel that guilty about it anymore. That’s the sad part.  

What is your favorite dish to cook?

I don’t cook that much, but when I do prepare something, I make it extremely spicy, whatever it is, even if it’s just Kraft macaroni and cheese out of the box, which I love. I have to add hot sauce to it.  

What was the best business decision you ever made, and what was the worst?

My best, I guess, was to believe in myself and to invest in myself, and to get into stand-up which was a scary move, because it involved giving up the conventional route of going to college to pursue what I really wanted to do. I went down that road blindly on faith, and it worked out for me. I think it was God-inspired. And one of my worst decisions was ignoring a buddy who suggested I invest in Apple.

When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

It depends on what time of day it is. If it’s after lunch, I see a tremendous shadow. [Laughs] Seriously, I see someone who is doing his best to get better and better.  

What is your earliest childhood memory?

My first meal, and I was still inside my mother’s tummy. [Laughs] I can’t remember anything from last week, so I don’t think I’m remembering anything in utero.  

How did your first big heartbreak impact you?

Musically, because music got me through it, and music has helped me with other every aspect of my life as well.  

What was the last song you listened to?  

I had a little Neil Diamond going on, although I’m generally all over the joint, because I can go from that to the craziest music.  

What was the last book you read?

“Clifford, the Big Red Dog.” It was a good one. He ends up finding his way home and eating some cupcakes.