We interviewed actor Kevin James, who has starred in a lot of our favorite movies, such as “Zookeeper” and “Paul Blart, Mall Cop,” when he was in Manhattan recently.
What is the best thing about being a famous actor?
I guess you have a platform you can kind of tell your stories, and you get a big audience to come and see it. So if you can tell a good story and connect with people, and people can enjoy your movies, you can reach a lot of people. That’s what’s nice about that. You can reach a lot of people.
You’ve gone from stand-up to sitcom to movies. Has moving from one medium to another been difficult? Did you find one easier than the other?
I started in stand-up comedy, and being a shy kid going into stand-up, that was actually kind of difficult for me to do. But I conquered that and went into it and said I want to try it, anyway. So once I started doing that, I love doing stand-up comedy, and I still do it to this day. I enjoy that so much. Then, it kind of progressed going into TV, and TV was fun, too, because it was in front of a live audience. We shot for nine years, and any time you tell a joke on the show and the immediate reaction from that audience, you can judge whether the joke is working or not working. But when I graduated to films and started doing movies, you don’t always know because people . . . can’t laugh behind the cameras because it’ll ruin the tape. There’s no laugh track in a movie. It was always scary for me to do movies because I didn’t know if things were going to be funny or not, and the only way you can tell is after you film the movie and you put it together and try it out in a movie theater. Once you put it in a movie theater, you can see the reaction from the people.
Did you enjoy writing a part of the movie “Zookeeper?” Would you write a movie that you’re not acting in?
Sure. I enjoy writing. I like it very much, and it depends on the story. It’s always about the story. If you can write a good story and it’s not necessarily with you in mind or somebody else in mind, I would definitely do that. I might enjoy that, in some aspects, more, but I always like getting in there and playing parts, too, and acting.
Who is the favorite character you ever played?
This one, I’m going to say . This one is. I love all of them, but I enjoyed playing this guy the most, because he felt the closest to who I was growing up, and I needed help meeting people and kind of talking to people. So definitely this guy.
How similar do you think you are to the characters you have played in your movies and TV shows?
I think I’m very similar. I think that’s what makes my characters unique to me is that there’s always going to be a part of me in each character that I play. I want to be able to do that. . . . I know when I was coming up in life, I wasn’t the greatest with meeting people. I was kind of shy, and I was a guy that I would be rooting for today if I saw this kid. I would want them to come out of their shell, or to try and do different things and try to be a good person and this and that. And I would kind of push them in that direction. You try to play characters that you root for and that you want to win.
As a Long Island native, where are some of your favorite places to visit when you were home?
Oh, all the food places. I go to La Scala, the pizzeria in Commack, I used to go all over the place. I like going back to my high school, which is Ward Melville High, and just driving by that and seeing all the places I grew up, all the baseball fields I played Little League on, the parks that I played and going to Smith’s Point, the beach. There’s so many great places on Long Island that I love. I’m hopefully going to move back there.
We know that you were born as Kevin George Knipfing and changed your name to Kevin James. How did you come up with that name? Where did James come from?
James came when I was taking Kung Fu and karate. I was taking martial arts when I was younger. I had a good friend, and he was my teacher, and his name was James Robinson. So when I was doing stand-up comedy, I would have kept my name Knipfing, but when I was doing stand-up comedy, they couldn’t pronounce it right. They would say Knipfing or different versions of it, and every time they brought me up, it was always so hard to pronounce for them. So I just went with an easy name. I just picked my buddy, James. His name.