Friday, January 13, 2012

Interview: Kali Hawk — Taking Over Hollywood, One Blockbuster at a Time

Hollywood's next up-and-comer has a little bit of everything. As a model, she is gorgeous; as a comedian, she is hilarious; as a scholar, she was accepted at the prestigious New York arts university SUNY Purchase at the age of 15; and as an actress, she is definitely keeping up and holding her own with the big boys. She has had feature roles in "Couples Retreat," "Get Him to the Greek," "Bridesmaids" and the upcoming "We the Peeples." As if that weren't enough, she is set to guest-star in a multi-episode story arc in the hit Fox comedy "New Girl."

Twenty-five-year-old Kali Hawk is definitely one to watch — and if you're like me, you already like what you see. I had the chance to chat with this down-to-earth, humble and super-sweet gal recently, and was thrilled to learn of all of the new projects she has on the horizon. I'll tell ya, this kid's going places!

Celebrity Extra: "Couples Retreat" — with Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Kristen Bell and Jon Favreau — was your first major motion-picture role. Tell me how that all came about for you.

Kali Hawk: It came about in a very normal way — I simply auditioned for this role. I wanted to work with Vince Vaughn and I wanted to be in a movie with all the other people who were attached to it, so I just went for it. When I looked at the character description (of Trudy) and the scene that they had given me for the audition, I just tried to imagine how I could do it in the most interesting way that would help me stand out, because I really hadn’t done very much before then. I just tried to be as fearless as I could with the choices that I made in the room while I was auditioning, and luckily it was just weird enough to stand out and help push me forward. (Watch a clip here.)

CE: What was it like working with all of those high-caliber actors for your first major role? Were you intimidated or excited? A little of both?

KH: It was really exciting to me. You know how people say you should bring your A game? I feel like, for me, I didn’t really know what that meant until I was surrounded by a bunch of A-list people. The heat was definitely on to try to measure up to the opportunity that I had been given. I didn’t want to take anything for granted, and I didn’t want anyone to reconsider, thinking: “Hey! Really? Is this the best person?”

Everyone was so encouraging and just so kind, which sometimes you don’t know what to expect, especially if you haven’t really done any big movies like that. It was intimidating at first, but once I saw how nice everyone was and how encouraging they were, it just became sheer excitement the whole way through.

CE: It also didn't hurt things that you got to film it in paradise!

KH: Yeah! I know a lot of people who go to Bora Bora and they just keep going back. I definitely want to go back again and again. Just experience all that wonder — I mean, everything is just sparkly there. The sand is sparkly, the water is sparkly, the fish are sparkly, everything is sparkly, the waiters are sparkly. Everything is just glistening with yummy goodness. It was very much like a vacation being there. (Watch clip here.)

I actually remember having a moment with Jason Bateman where I had seen the movie "Hancock" about six months before I had gone out for "Couple’s Retreat," and I remember when he came on the screen I just thought: “Man, I love Jason Bateman. I just love everything he does. When he’s on the screen, he just has this warmth that just comes through. I hope one day I get to be in a movie with Jason Bateman.” And then we’re sitting in our little chairs with our names on them on the beach in Bora Bora, and I’m telling him this story and he goes, “Wow! And that’s how it happens. It’s cool that I get to sit here and have you tell me this story.” He’s such a nice guy.

CE: Next up, you got to star with even more superstars in "Get Him to the Greek." Tell me about that set experience. That looked like it had to have been a lot of fun.

KH: We definitely had a lot of fun, and of course Jonah Hill is a master improviser. He’s always making everybody crack up. He’s kind of like his own brand of intelligence and wit combined. He puts those two things together in a way that no one else is really doing. It’s just fun to be around him. And Russell (Brand) started out as a stand-up comic. So he knows how to bring the funny, definitely, but he also knew how to bring the drama for this movie. When I finally got to see the whole thing put together, I was really impressed with his dramatic acting. It will be interesting to see what he does next. (Watch a clip here.)

CE: And you worked very closely with P. Diddy — what was he like?

KH: Oh my God, he’s so focused. It definitely set an example for us to just really appreciate what we were doing because, as you know, he’s a music mogul, but he’s stepping into acting. He’s branching out, so it’s really one of those cases where someone is in the throes of new opportunities. I got to see just how much he appreciates it, how much care and attention he gives to it. It really inspired me to give that much more focus to my work.

CE: And now, of course, I have to ask you about your experience working on "Bridemaids," which was by far my favorite motion-picture comedy of 2011.

KH: It was the best! Every time you choose to work on something, you’re choosing to give your time to strangers, essentially, because even though you’ve seen some of the people on screen, you don’t know what it’s going to be like to spend three months with them, 12 to 16 hours a day, five days a week. When this movie came up, I knew that I loved Kristen Wiig, and when I read the script, it was just so good. It was one of those things where you knew it was going to be something special. I knew it even in my limited time of reading scripts and getting to partake in these movies.

Kristen is very hands-on — she actually co-wrote the script with Annie Mumolo — and so it just really felt like a labor of love, like everyone was really invested and really committed to making it the very best, and making it an opportunity for these women to shine. Even though it was a starring vehicle for Kristen, great attention was paid to giving everyone their chance at the funny. Everyone’s character needed to make an impression, and everyone needed to be memorable and lovable. You have to walk away from this story feeling like you never wanted it to end, and that is how it felt when we were making it.

I’ve actually had people come up to me at a red-carpet event or after an event, hoards of kids will be like: “Oh my God! Kahlua! Can I take a picture?” And I’m like, “How do ... I’m not even in that movie for all of it.” I just love everything about that movie.

CE: Tell me about your new movie, Tyler Perry's "We the Peeples," which is scheduled to be released March 29.

KH: It’s about a family — our last name is Peeples — and we are kind of uptight. Our father rules the roost with a bit of an iron fist. He has very tough standards for us all, and as children of his, we’re always trying to reach and to pass those standards to try to gain his favor. Kerry Washington, who plays my sister, she’s Grace Peeples. She is in love with Craig Robinson's character, and he’s not necessarily on the same level financially or professionally as we are in the Peeples family, so she is reluctant to introduce him into the family. But once the introductions finally happen, it’s an understatement to say that hilarity ensues, but a lot of crazy stuff happens.

I play Gloria Peoples, and I’ve definitely got a few secrets, like everyone else in the family. I don’t want to give anything away, but this movie is all about learning to make peace with yourself so you can relax and enjoy life without having to keep holding onto that veneer and holding it in place all the time.

CE: And now I've recently learned you have a guest-starring role on my favorite TV comedy, "New Girl"!

KH: Oh yes, yes! It was one of those things where everything lined up. I’m good friends with one of the series regulars, Jake Johnson, who plays Nick. When the chance came up for something that I could do on the show, my name got tossed around. I jumped at the chance, because there were so many people attached to it either that I knew or that I have loved from afar and have wanted to work with.

Of course, Zooey Deschanel is awesome. She’s super funny and super cool, and she’s really unique. I definitely applaud that; I want to work with people who are innovators. To me, that’s what it’s about: People who are not afraid to take chances, who are consumed with the pursuit of excellence just for excellence's sake — not for anything glorious.

CE: Can you give me any hint about your character and what you'll be doing on the show?

KH: I can tell you that I play a love interest for Winston, who is played by Lamorne Morris. I’m someone from his past who resurfaces. It’s very interesting to see how that goes because, as we all know, sometimes when you reach back and try to recapture the past, it’s not exactly the same as it was. It’s just not the same as you remember it.

CE: When will your shows air?

KH: My first episodes will air between Jan. 17 and Feb. 14. You'll just have to tune in!

CE: Oh, I definitely will!

KH: It's so wild, because as you're asking me about each project I've done so far in my career, I feel really lucky to have gotten to work on so many good projects in a row and with so many good people. I just feel really lucky. I know everybody says that. But you’re really taking a chance with any project you take on. Anytime you say yes to something that you think is great, it's just your opinion. You don’t really know what’s going to happen. You don’t know how it’s going to be received by the people.

In the case of "New Girl," it’s a hit show already, so it’s not that much of a chance I’m taking, but in general, every time you step out and try something, each opportunity is a new chance to try your luck. So when it works out well, you have to thank the movie gods and thank the acting gods for giving you that success and for allowing you to continue. At least that’s how I look at it.

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