Kevin James talks MMA, Henry Winkler, 'Here Comes the Boom'

Kevin James and Henry Winkler
Kevin James and Henry Winkler
Photo via Sony Pictures

Actor Kevin James has produced, co-written, and starred in slap-stick comedies like Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Zookeeper, but for his new film, Here Comes the Boom, he wanted something a little more grown up. Co-written and produced by James, the film tells the story of Scott Voss (James), a high school biology teacher who has lost his passion for the classroom. When Voss finds out that budget cuts will force the school to eliminate the music program and teacher Marty Streb's (Henry Winkler) job, Voss decides that he will find a way to raise money himself. Niko, (MMA fighter Bas Rutten) introduces Voss to mixed martial arts (MMA), and agrees to train him to fight. As Voss works to save the music department, he finds that he is inspiring his otherwise apathetic students, and that he might have a shot at scoring a date with school nurse Bella (Salma Hayek).

For James,

Here Comes the Boom

is a passion project that he's wanted to complete for a long time.

"I've always wanted to do this," James says. "I've always been a fan of the UFC, and I've always wanted to make this type of movie where it'd be really inspirational."

Choosing a profession for his character was easy for James because of the profound influence previous teachers have had on his life.

"As far as teachers are concerned, I've had some great teachers in my past. In fact, one of them is named Mr. Betcher [the name of the school principal in the film]. He was such a great guy and influenced me in such a positive way that I still adhere to some of his principles to this day -- we're talking 30 years later. That's just to show you how a good teacher can influence somebody,"James says.

Kevin James and Henry Winkler
Kevin James and Henry Winkler
Photo via Sony Pictures

James enlisted friend, trainer, and professional MMA fighter Bas Rutten to help get him in shape and to star in the film. Living like a fighter meant eating a diet of greens (kale shakes were part of his daily routine) and training with professional fighters.

"I think he got the respect from all the [professional fighters on set] there," Rutten says. "He was persistent, constantly training, and doing what they do. It's not an easy life -- training two or three times a day, watching what you eat, getting an injury and then continuing to train every day two times a day for the next two months."

Working with real fighters helped get James ready for the film, but he had his fair share of injuries on set.

"They're professional athletes; they know how to move," James says. "I got hit in the movie a few times and, man, this is them holding back. They're not trying to kill me. But still, these guys are just a different level. You really realize that. No one knows more than me, even just acting with them. You realize, 'Wow, I don't belong here.'"

As a fan of UFC and MMA, James was able to meet a lot of fighters and hear their stories. It was important to James to show that in the film.

Kevin James talks MMA, Henry Winkler, 'Here Comes the Boom'
Kevin James, Bas Rutten, and Mark Munoz at Mall of America last week

"I wanted to show the human side of the fighting. That's what really made me want to do this movie," James says. "When I met Bas -- who was a professional fighter -- and I became a big fan of his, and was a fan of the UFC, and got to meet all these real-life fighters, it wasn't just the fighting that made me so inspired. It was what inspired them to do this, whether it be to put food on the table for their kids, or for their families to survive, or because they just love the sport. They were regular guys like me with a very unique, odd job that's something I would never do if I didn't have to."

Casting the film was fun for James and he had the opportunity to work with longtime friends on the project.

"I've known Bas for 15 years, I've known Salma for a long time -- maybe 10 years. I didn't really know Henry [Winkler] until doing this movie, but grew up with him as far as 'The Fonz.' It was like an instant comfort level. I knew all of the fighters that we had in the movie. Everybody was comfortable, and I think if everybody's in a comfortable place then you feel like you can do your best work. You're not worried about what people are going to say or judge. We just try things and have a good time doing it and I think that shows."

James still remembers the feeling he had after seeing his favorite movie for the first time, and he hopes that Here Comes the Boom has the same impact on moviegoers.

"My favorite movie of all time is [the original] Rocky," James says. "I can tell you the feeling I had coming out of the theater, and that stayed with me obviously to this day and will for the rest of my life. Believe it or not, that's the biggest reason I wanted Stallone in Zookeeper. I just wanted to question him on everything, and he was nice enough to do it. I just love that movie. If we can give you a fraction of the inspiration in this movie, I'd be happy."

In addition to being inspired, James wants audiences to have fun.

"I hope they feel moved and inspired and certainly not complacent; that they want to do better in life. That'd be fun," James says. "Most of all, I want them to have a good time and forget about their troubles and really enjoy laughter for a couple hours."

Here Comes the Boom opens in theaters Friday, October 12.

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