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Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson talk high school and bullying

The stars of "Central Intelligence" think you need to have some rough patches as a kid to build character.
Kevin Hart Dwayne JohnsonCentral Intelligence

With “Central Intelligence,” the question of high school is bound to come up. In the action-comedy, Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson play former high schoolers who reunite 20 years after graduation. Hart’s Calvin was the most popular kid in school; he wound up a bored office drone. Johnson’s Bob, meanwhile, was a bullied kid who turned into a muscled super-spy.

Hart’s story about the good old days is nice; Johnson’s is not.

“I was a popular kid. You guys can tell I was a really cool guy,” Hart says. “I wasn’t the best student, but I was a people person. I was the one who got along with any and everybody. There was no segregation, from the athletes to the non-athletes, to the people into education to the people who played hooky. To get embraced by everybody was a good feeling. It kept me out of fights. The funny guy stops the fights and makes people want to laugh about it. Everyone walks away saying, ‘Kevin is right.’”

Johnson’s stories aren’t so rosy. He was a troubled youth, arrested multiple times before he was 16.

“I spent a lot of time trying to get back on the right track,” Johnson explains. “It wasn’t until I got involved with sports and athletics that I had a focus.”

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It’s not unusual to talk about deeper stuff when talking “Central Intelligence,” which is on one hand a silly blockbuster (and one where Johnson gets to play the goofier character, prone to unicorn tees and creep-silly actions). On the other it deals with things like fear of failure, fear of aging, even bullying.

“I believe in the whole anti-bullying thing,” Hart says, then adds, “As a kid I think you need a bit of drama. I don’t like the people who are trying to make these kids’ lives perfect. You have to go through something. You need to build character. Within situations that make you feel uncomfortable come life lessons.

“I have two kids myself. I’m hoping my son gets into some stuff at a young age and comes to me. Then I’ll say, ‘Hey, man, figure it out!’” Hart continues. “You’ve got to figure it out when you’re on your own. You don’t want the kid to be 18 and he’s approached with his first fight and he’s like, ‘Dad! She hit me in the back of the head!’ I don’t want to shelter my kids. You can’t stop these things from happening. You can communicate. Just make sure people understand their self-worth and their value.”

Johnson recalls being bullied in junior high. He talks about an incident when was 11. He was at summer camp and had been bullied by this one kid. Johnson finally had enough and he gave him a good punch, then ran all the way home. But his mom didn’t just comfort him.

“She drove me back to summer camp, made me find him and made me basically work it out with him,” Johnson remembers. “The moral of her story was: ‘You’re going to get into these situations. But don’t you ever run from anybody. Stand up for yourself and communicate.’”

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But parental advice doesn’t always work out. Hart remembers a time he watched his dad lose a fight while trying to teach an important lesson.

“My dad said, ‘You don’t let nobody push you around. You handle yourself at all times, be a man,’” Hart says, chuckling. “And he got into it with this guy. Me and my brother were in the car. This guy hit my dad with two of the hardest punches I’ve ever seen in my life. It was so fast: pat-pat! The guy even said something like, ‘I didn’t want to do this in front of your kids!’ My dad got back into the car, closed the door and started driving. It was just quiet. We were like, ‘Guess he’s not going to say something about it. Let’s just act like he won in a couple days.'

“The lesson I learned here was to duck,” Hart adds.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

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