'Getting old is a gift and sometimes we forget that'
Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart reunite on screen for Jumanji: The Next Level. The pair speak to Laura Harding to discuss friendship, ageing and why their fans will always come first
Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart are squabbling. But what else is new? Squabbling has long been a cornerstone of the high-profile friendship between the stand-up comedian and former wrestler, with the pair constantly exchanging verbal jabs in person and trading affectionate swipes on social media.
Today is no exception as the duo sit side by side in a London hotel and debate who looks older.
"You're looking at two guys who just embraced our youth, because we are so young," Johnson (47) jokes as he towers over 40-year old Hart.
At 5ft 4in, Hart appears to be about a third of the size of the hulking superstar, but the comedy juggernaut simply can't let this slide.
"I don't think you should say 'youth'," he tells Johnson sternly. "Because when people look at you, they know you're not young.
"I can embrace my youth, but for you, you're on the other side."
And we are off to the races as the pair trade friendly insults.
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"You're old as s***," Johnson retorts.
Hart descends into laughter. "They don't know my actual age, nobody knows," he jokes. "I've been pulling the old birth certificate swap for some years now."
"You've been running that gimmick for a long time, you've been in your 30s for a long time," Johnson replies.
And while this kind of jovial jostling is the trademark feature of their relationship, their friendship did take on a more serious tone earlier this year when Hart was involved in a serious car accident that left him badly injured.
He was a passenger in a vintage muscle car when the driver lost control, sped down an embankment and slammed into a tree near Malibu in September.
He suffered major back injuries and had to have intensive physical therapy.
"We were all worried about Kevin," Johnson says earnestly, "but, the truth is, the moment I heard that he had breath left in his body I knew he was resilient and a fighter and that he was going to come back."
And come back indeed he did, leaving Hart thankful simply to be alive.
"You have got to fall in love with life in general," he says now as he leans forward in his chair.
"We all understand that life is a constant progression, it doesn't stop, it's going to continue to go forward, so it's up to you to embrace the obstacles that may be presented to you and just try to become better on a day to day basis.
"Getting older is something that should be celebrated."
The subject of getting older is something that is unexpectedly addressed in the duo's new film Jumanji: The Next Level, a sequel to the 2017 box office hit Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, itself a reboot of the 1995 film starring Robin Williams.
While the first film saw the duo play the avatars of teenagers who end up in the game, this time they embody people later in life, namely characters portrayed by Danny DeVito and Danny Glover.
On this outing, their characters marvel at their limber hips and physical strength.
"Getting old is a gift," Johnson says philosophically, "Sometimes we forget that. But time just goes on and it's not going to stop so I think you can either embrace it or not embrace it."
And embrace it they do. The pair's mutual sense of fun loving has made them a huge hit with a global audience and they have appeared in a string of films together, including the Central Intelligence and the Jumanji movies, while Hart even makes an uncredited appearance in Johnson's Fast & Furious spin-off Hobbs & Shaw.
For all their physical differences, it is their commitment to making films that are enjoyed by audiences, rather than hustling for Oscars, that they have in common.
"That is what we do it for," Hart says. "You're looking at two entertainers that really understands the importance and value in having a fan.
"With both of our backgrounds, wrestling for DJ (as he calls Johnson) and stand-up comedy for me, we have dealt with live entertainment for so long and we have always had that personal connection to our fanbase.
"Now we are finding ways to maintain that personal connection through the box office side of entertainment.
"But if we ever lose sight of that, I think we lose sight of where we have come from and what gives us the opportunity to do what we do at the highest level."
Johnson nods enthusiastically.
"We do truly feel that audiences come first," he says.
"When you look at the stuff that we do, whether it's in TV or film, if you strip it all away, it always comes down to the audience, it comes down to the fans, the consumers, the customers, and we do want to make sure that we are creating a great experience for them.
"With Kevin and I, you won't find content or films where people go, 'Aah, you did that for you, that one was for you. The other five were for us, but that one was for you'.
"No, that is our therapy time, we will go see our therapist, we will work on our stuff on our own, that is not for the audience. So anything that we do is always audience first."
For all their squabbling, both men feel like they have grown because of the other.
"You have got to get better, you can't get worse," Hart says. "Everything gets better within time and I think I'm definitely learning a lot and learning how to be more polished and more professional.
"My business acumen is growing and of course that is from the big guy, the good leader he is."
They look at each other.
"We learn from each other," Johnson adds. "We truly do, we learn from each other."
And with that, the squabbling begins again.
Jumanji: The Next Level is in cinemas now