CS Interview: Taraji P. Henson & Ed Helms on Coffee & Kareem
ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with Oscar nominee and Golden Globe winner Taraji P. Henson (Empire) and The Hangover alum Ed Helms to discuss their latest film, the Netflix action comedy Coffee & Kareem, which is now available for streaming. Check out the interview below!
In the raunchy, buddy-cop comedy Coffee & Kareem, twelve-year-old Kareem Manning hires a criminal to scare his mom’s new boyfriend, an inept Detroit police officer named James Coffee. However Kareem’s plan backfires, forcing Coffee and Kareem to team up in order to save themselves from Detroit’s most ruthless drug kingpin.
The film will star Helms as James Coffee, up-and-comer Terrence Little Gardenhigh (Speechless, Just Roll With It) as Kareem Manning and Academy Award-nominated actress Henson as Kareem’s mom. It will also feature Emmy nominee Betty Gilpin (Glow) and Andrew “King Bach” Bachelor (Meet the Blacks), RonReaco Lee (First Wives Club, Survivor’s Remorse), and David Alan Grier (In Living Color).
Michael Dowse (Stuber, Goon) directs Coffee & Kareem from a script written by Shane McCarthy, which was featured on the 2014 Blacklist. Helms and Mike Falbo will produce through their Pacific Electric Picture Co. banner. Executive producers include Sanford Nelson, Jordon Foss, Linden Nelson, and Don Foss.
In looking at their reason for joining the project, Helms describes the project as one “like a bullet shot out of a gun” with a script that “moves so fast” and gave him “so many hard belly laughs,” while Henson found excitement in starring in a comedy alongside Helms and having fun with the big action sequences, describing it “like being at the shooting range all day.”
“I think all of the action stuff for me is always fun when I read a script,” Helm said. “I’m like, ‘How are we going to shoot this?’ And the car chase stuff, that’s when you feel like you’re really making movies, you know, when you’re crashing cars and moving through traffic and all these crazy stunts. That stuff jumped off the page at me and I’m always excited to do that stuff. The whole thing just jumped out at me.”
“I just read that it was a comedy and Ed Helms was starring in it and I said yes, but then I read it, and it was Netflix,” Henson described. “You know, I haven’t worked with Netflix yet, and I wanted to be in business with Netflix. But the timing worked out with my schedule. I was looking for a comedy and I think Ed Helms is pretty funny and was nice to work with.”
When thinking on their co-star’s work, Henson and Helms had particular favorite projects from their extensive filmographies, with Henson loving The Office while Helms has loved the Emmy-nominated work of his co-star in the soon-to-conclude Fox hit series Empire.
“I got sucked into Empire for a little while, she’s just such a force of nature in that show,” Helms described. “It’s so cool to watch, she’s a legend. She’s pretty much out there. But I’d say more recently, Empire has been a lot of fun.”
In playing the supporting role as the titular kid’s mother, which she finds more enjoyment getting to support for a change versus “carrying every scene every day,” Henson was able to build a rapport with the titular Kareem, feeling that the young actor playing him was “a very accomplished professional.”
“He’s very funny and so good, and he was just blessed and honored to be there,” Henson said. “He kept saying it every day, and he worked his little butt off, and I just think he has a very bright future ahead of him. He’s a very funny kid, too.”
With the film being funded and heading to Netflix, Helms found it great that the cast and crew were able to “make it as funny as possible” with the knowledge that a bunch of people would see the movie, which he acknowledges is “not always the case with a theatrical release,” while also commenting on the fun billboard campaign that spawned from the marketing.
“We used old movie posters, Beverly Hills Cop and 48 Hours and Die Hard and Lethal Weapon,” Helms said. “I think those are the sort of tonal comparisons and kind of — and none of those movies have kids in them, so that’s part of what makes the billboards a bit cheeky and fun. But they are stylistically, they were very much the reference point. And I think Michael Dowse, the director, we talked a lot about those movies and that tone, Beverly Hills Cop and Lethal Weapon, good, hard action, but super funny.”
Helms found one of the best things about the script was the fact there was “no wasted space,” with every element and scene “driving the story forward” and referring to its Black List status before they were able to get their hands on the script to make it.
“It’s like a fun read because it’s a page turner and there’s just nothing gratuitous,” Helms said. “There’s not a lot of movies like that. I think most movies, especially comedies, you take sort of fun, episodic diversions for the sake of the joke, for the sake of the set piece or this or that. Even the big set pieces of action sequences in this movie drive the story forward, and everything is motivated from a genuine character traits and or flaws that we all have in the movie. It just feels in that very cool way that I think Beverly Hills Cop really stands out, the reason to me that is such a special movie, aside from the fact that it came out when I was a kid and it was part of what defined my childhood, it’s a very strange tone because it’s really broad, aggressive comedy mixed with very visceral violence. And that’s a very hard thing to pull off because you don’t want violence in these kinds of movies to be very dark and off-putting.”
While the budget didn’t offer Helms and his cast a lot of time to try plenty of riffing, but that as they shot scenes from different angles, they were give a little time to experiment, namely in scenes he describes as “really comedy forward and dialogue heavy.”
“There are a lot of things where we’ve got like 20 characters on screen all doing stuff, and then there’s a big explosion and you just have to get it right. There’s no time to mess around,” Helms said. I’ll tell you, one scene that comes to mind was the scene at the end where I get out of the car — or when I pull up to the car and have that negotiation over the loudspeaker. So that whole scene, I mean, Betty Gilpin is so funny. She’s such an incredible improviser. And we just did tons of back and forth on that and it was really hard to edit because there were just so many fun versions and avenues that we went down. But I think we wound up with the best version.”
Coffee & Kareem is available for streaming on Netflix now!