As the comedy heist film Lift touches down on Netflix, its star Kevin Hart vows to return to Northern Ireland to film future movies, and perform comedy gigs.
In the movie, which was partly filmed in Belfast and other locations across the north in 2022, the US comedian and actor leads a team of skilled international thieves who attempt to steal 500 million dollars’ worth of gold at 40,000 miles high.
“Filming in Belfast was amazing, mainly because of the warm welcome I received from the people. Not only did I get to shoot there, but at the same time work on my comedy.
“Movies are being shot more and more out there. You have an amazing production helm and the landscape that comes with being in Ireland is amazing.
“I will be back there not just for movies, but for stand-up as well. I’ve a big fanbase there that I want to stay tuned to,” he told me over Zoom.
In Netflix’s first big release of the year, Hart plays Cyrus Whitaker, a master thief with a conscious who “robes from the rich”. He is wooed by his ex-girlfriend and the FBI to pull off an impossible heist with his international crew on a 777 passenger flight from London to Zurich.
Lift effectively blends humour and live action and demonstrates Hart’s versatility by moving away from his goofy antics to becoming a poised, precision action hero.
“Taking on the role of an action hero and heist boss like Cyrus has been a non-stop thrill ride for me,” said the star, who also produces Lift.
“I’ve worked really hard to get to this space of leading man. As a movie star you want to switch it up when and where you can.
“Starting from stand-up comedy and getting to comedy movies and now action thriller are really cool steps. So I hope that I can continue going in this direction and hopefully we get to a part two,” he teases about a possible Lift sequel.
The trademarks of the genre – a slick ensemble of criminals, impossible odds, and an evil target in ruthless banker and terrorist Lars Jorgensen, played by Jean Reno– are all present in Lift, but it isn’t your stereotypical heist movie.
There is the futuristic stealth jet, the speedboat chase amidst the Venice canals, the opulent setting of the Venice art auction and the creative target of the non-fungible token (NFT) digital art, which combine to give the movie a glamorous, high-tech and contemporary feel.
“It’s a big movie; it’s a big production. So we wanted to make sure that we had the bells and whistles. We wanted to create a larger than life idea and the heist taking place at 40,000 feet was huge.
“Teaming up with F. Gary Gray, who’s directed some of my all-time favourite action movies (The Italian Job, Men In Black: International), and working with this unbelievable ensemble cast in the most incredible locations elevated the whole experience to another level.
“With Gary, being a lover of aviation, we were able to really play into the world of the plane, the stealth, the modulars.
“And we thought the bad guy being asked to be good from the good guys, there was a nice light play,” adds the 44-year-old.
The star-studded action flick also includes Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Loki), Vincent D’Onofrio (Daredevil), Billy Magnussen (Game Night), K-pop star Yun Jee Kim, Úrsula Corberó (Money Heist), Jacob Batalon (Spider-Man: No Way Home) andSam Worthington (Avatar: The Way of Water).
Peaky Blinders actor Paul Anderson and Game of Thrones and Outlander star Burn Gorman star as Lars’ Irish ‘hitmen’ Cormac and Declan who try to take on Cyrus and his team mid-flight.
Filming took place in London, the Italian Alps, Adriatic coast and Venice, but it was Northern Ireland that stole Hart’s heart and whose excellent filming studios and locations were prominently used.
Many of the film’s interior scenes were built at the film’s principal production base at Harbour Studios, including Cyrus’s apartment, various parts of the interior of the airplane, the Brussels Flight Center and Heathrow Airport security.
I will be back there not just for movies, but for stand-up as well.
Filming also took place at Loop Studios and Titanic Studios, with Belfast’s Crown Bar providing the perfect location for a gang of professional thief’s to plan a heist.
Scenes involving the preparation of the heist by Cyrus’ crew took place at the transformed WW2 military airplane hangar on the retired military base in Ballykelly, Co Derry,
The Lift production team also shot scenes at Belfast’s Titanic Hotel, Ulster University, Bangor’s. Ward Park, Ardglass Harbour and Whitehead Railway Station.
The US comedian spent a few months based just outside Belfast, at the Culloden Hotel during filming, and was spotted enjoying Guinness and meals with his family in the city.
“We did some sightseeing. I did a lot of jogging around Ireland and took in some of the amazing landscape,” said Hart, who had to keep fit for the demands of the stunt work during filming.
“The nightlife and the partying I didn’t do, but we definitely hit some pubs and ate at some really good restaurants,” he adds.
Whilst one of the busiest actors in Hollywood at the moment, Hart says he will never stray away from the world of comedy
During his time filming in Ireland he got fully involved in the Irish comedy circuit, performing three surprise stand-up shows including Lavery’s Comedy Club and the Limelight, as well as gigs in Dublin.
“You can’t come here and not show love to the people that basically built the comedy scene. I was missing the stage, so it became my entertainment. To work with those guys was a very, very big deal,” adds Hart, who shared the stage with the likes of Shane Todd and Colin Geddis.
You could say Hart has a fascination with airplanes. First there was his 2004 film Soul Plane, then in the action comedy Central Intelligence where he helps his friend Dwayne Johnson’s character steal a plane, and in the 2019 Jumanji sequel he is thrown off a light aircraft over a desert. He is also filming a remake of the classic comedy Planes, Trains and Automobiles with Will Smith.
Before our chat was over I couldn’t resist asking Kevin if he ever flew a plane himself?
“No, and that’s good for everybody,” he laughs. The best flight that I’ve ever been on, is the one I’m enjoying now and that’s Lift.
“Send my love to all the amazing people in Northern Ireland. I can’t wait to come back and see you guys,” adds Hart who is next set to star in the video-game movie Borderlands alongside Cate Blanchett, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Jack Black.