Born and raised in St. Petersburg, Florida, Justin Hires always possessed the ability to make others laugh. While going to college at Clark Atlanta University, he was cast in two feature films: Stomp the Yard and The Gospel. Afterwards, he caught the eye of MTV, who saw his potential as an on-air personality through his work at a campus radio station and hired him as a video jockey for their college network, mtvU.
Upon receiving his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Mass Media—Radio, TV and Film, Hires moved to Hollywood, intent of pursuing a career as a comedian and an actor. He began working as a stand-up comic and landing multiple television and film roles, while also accumulating over 18 million views online for his comedic sketches. Some of his past credits include the comedy blockbuster 21 Jump Street, starring alongside Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, and appearing as a regular on the comedy sketch show Key and Peele. In addition to acting and comedy, Hires also has a passion for martial arts and possesses a black belt in karate, all of which have prepared him for his role as Detective James Carter in the upcoming CBS show Rush Hour, which is forecasted to be a television hit.
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to chat with this multi-talented actor, comedian and writer about his comedy idols, his approach to playing Detective Carter and his love for the show Breaking Bad. Keep reading to find out what Justin had to say!
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
My name is Justin Hires and I’m originally from St. Petersburg, Florida. I started acting in middle school really, but I went to a performing arts high school. Then, I went to college in Atlanta, and while I was in college, I did two feature films: Stomp the Yard and The Gospel, and I did comedy a little bit in college, but it wasn’t until I moved to L.A. in 2007 that I decided to make comedy a full-fledged profession and really pursue it. In ’07, I moved to L.A. and really started hitting the stand-up comedy circuit and started booking more films.
What inspired you to go into acting and comedy?
Ironically, with acting, it was actually martial arts films. I was big into Jean-Claude Van Damme and Bruce Lee movies, so that kind of made me want to get into acting. And in regards to comedy, it was watching Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence and Chris Tucker, specifically Chris Tucker in the movie Friday. That was literally one of the reasons that—I mean, when I saw Chris Tucker in Friday, I thought, “If I can be half as funny as that guy, I think I may have a career in comedy!” Also, I was always the funny kid in class. So, definitely when it comes to inspiration and how I started doing acting, it was martial arts films and watching Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence and Chris Tucker played a part in fostering my love of comedy.
So, let’s talk about your highly anticipated CBS show Rush Hour, which I’m very excited to see by the way. In what ways is the show going to be similar to the movie, and in what ways is it going to be different?
Well, as for similarities, there’s still going to be the funny black guy and the Asian guy that knows karate (laughs). That’s the foundation of the show. It’s about the pairing of this odd couple that come together to solve these cases, so that’s one of the similarities. The way it’s different is that it’s kind of a reboot of the movies, so this version is more of a younger version. We’re kind of younger, a little hipper—I mean, Chris Tucker was always hip—but we’re kind of a younger, hipper version of the movie. And I’m not doing a Chris Tucker impersonation; he’s not doing a Jackie Chan impersonation. We’re definitely bringing our own selves to these roles.
How did you prepare to play the role of Detective Carter?
Actually, the way I prepared was—I mean, I’ve always been a fan of the movie franchise from the beginning, so I didn’t have to go back and watch the films or anything like that. That was just something that was instilled in me because I always looked at Chris Tucker as a comedic influence. There was never anything particularly special that I had to research. However, after I shot the pilot, I did go back and watch like Lethal Weapon and Bad Boys and all those kind of buddy-cop pairings. I watched 48 Hours just to see if what I did in the pilot held up to what I saw in these movies that I grew up watching and loving. So I did watch those before we started doing the series just to get some extra comedy expertise.
You mentioned that both you and John Foo, who plays Lee, made sure not to just be a carbon copy of the characters that Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan played in the movies. How did you two go about making these two characters unique and different from the movie characters?
Well, as a comedian, I think the best comedians have their own voice. Luckily, I’ve been doing stand-up comedy for a strong eight years, and when you’ve been doing comedy for that long, the good ones at least develop their own comedic voice. And that’s something that I’ve been able to do. So, even though I looked up to Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, Chris Rock, Chappelle—even though I look up to all these guys, I have my own brand of comedy, my own delivery, my own take on things, so all of that helps me not do a Chris Tucker impression, because I’m bringing Justin Hires’s comedy to Detective Carter, not Chris Tucker’s comedy to Detective Carter. I can’t speak on John and what he’s done because he has his own process. But when it comes to me, that’s how I made it my own and that’s where it stems from: stand-up comedy every night for eight years straight and really developing my own comedic voice.
That’s really awesome! And I just wanted to tell you that I’ve watched YouTube videos of your stand-up comedy, and you are hilarious, so I’m really looking forward to the show!
Thank you so much! I really appreciate that. Yeah, I used to make a lot of YouTube videos. I think it’s cool because nowadays comedians and other entertainers have a platform where they can get their work out there. When you’re not on TV or in films and not working on anything, between YouTube and Vine, comedians and young artists in general always have a platform to show their work and develop their work. I’m glad I did though because it definitely helped me with directing and producing and learning how to put projects together. And then, when people see Rush Hour, they can go back on YouTube and see where I started from and be like, “Wow, he went from doing a Vine video to now being one of the leads on a CBS series.”
It was actually crazy because, originally, I was attached to another show on another network, and I wasn’t even allowed for contract reasons to even audition for Rush Hour, but they couldn’t find anyone. They auditioned a lot of people and a lot of people tested for the role, but they just didn’t find what they were looking for. So, the last audition that they set up for the series—literally, the last audition that they set up—they had about ten of us go to audition and I waited until they were like, “Ok, we’ll see Justin” because they couldn’t find anybody else. And I had a great audition and they made me do my call-back on tape. And, I was actually in Texas about to perform with my friend; I was on the road featuring for another comedian named Affion Crockett, and I was doing the SXSW weekend and I get a phone call from my agent and my manager said that “they want to fly you back out to test for Rush Hour.” So basically, last-minute, I flew back to L.A. to do my audition with John Foo—he was already cast—and I tested with John Foo and I got hired that day. So that was basically they audition process. It was a last-minute thing and literally, I went from booking the show Friday night to shooting the pilot that next Tuesday, so it was a very quick turnaround. I booked it on Friday, we had a table read on Monday and we started shooting it on Tuesday. So, yeah, it was crazy, but in a very good way!
How would you describe the dynamic between Detective Carter and Lee?
Basically, I’m unorthodox when it comes to solving cases. I’m one of those “by any means necessary” and “whatever we have to do that’s legal or somewhat legal, I’m willing to take those matters and take those risks. The Lee character is more by the books; he wants to follow the rules and wants to do things the correct way, and I’m just like, “Man, forget all of that! Throw that out of the window; we should do whatever we need to do to solve the case.” The comedy dynamic is: I’m loud, I’m fast-talking, arrogant—only on the show (laughs). I’m loud and fast-talking in real life, but I’m not arrogant, or at least I don’t think (laughs). Who knows! But on the show, my character is loud, fast-talking, arrogant and cocky. Then, you have this Lee character who is more quiet and more of an introvert. He’s more of an observer. I’m one of those “Leap first, Look second” whereas Lee is more like “Let me look at everything first before I act.” So, that’s kind of the comedy dynamic. The funny thing is though, I’ll say these wild, crazy things on the show and the lead character has these funny one-liner sort of things that kind of put me in my place or tell me to calm down or something like that. So, it makes for a very, very funny combination between the two of us.
Did you and John Foo find it pretty easy to establish that dynamic?
You know, I think so. Fortunately, when we did the testing together—when I came to do my final audition and I had to do it with John because, like I said, he was already cast—he allowed me to play with the characters. When I had lines or if I wanted to improv, he allowed me to improv and kind of get some jokes off. And luckily, we did kind of develop that chemistry very quickly. For us, I’m a natural extrovert; he’s a natural introvert. That’s in our regular personal life. It’s almost like the perfect casting because neither one of us have to go too far from the character to get to where we need to be onscreen. So that chemistry, that dynamic between the two of us is true to real life and it’s true to the show. I’m the loud one; he’s the quiet one. I’m the one out front talking to everybody and he’s the one just quietly observing. So that’s kind of how it is with that. It was a natural—It was a very smooth and natural fit for the both of us.
What was your favorite scene to film in the pilot?
I actually have some funny scenes with Page Kennedy—he plays my cousin Gerald on the show. But we had a couple scenes where we got to interact in the pilot and those were really funny. And even throughout the series, people will see more and more of his character, because he’s kind of like an instrument of comic relief. In the show, there’s still times when I have to be serious to solve these cases, At the end of the day, people’s lives are in danger and we’re trying to save people’s lives. We’re trying to figure out what’s going on in these situations, so there’s times where I have to be more dramatic. The funny thing about the character Gerald is that he gets to come in and just be the comedy relief, pure just “be funny” scenes. So all of his scenes are really funny and people are going to see that more and more. So definitely in the pilot, the scenes between myself and Page Kennedy were some of the highlights, just because I’m a comedian and we got to just riff and have some super fun on set.
Are you doing most of your own stunts on the show?
I am! I would say that I do about 80%, if not 85%-90% of my own stunts. I do all my own fight scene sequences. There’s only a couple—I think there’s only 2-3 stunts that I didn’t do, because CBS and Warner Brothers are like “No, I don’t think so. We’ve got thirteen episodes to do; we’ll hire somebody.” But for the most part, I do actually get to do my own stunts, which I’m really proud of. Like I said, one of the reasons that I got into acting was martial arts, and I’m actually a black belt in karate. So this is all perfect for me. Between me starting out wanting to do karate and wanting to do comedy, everything just kind of came full-circle for this project.
So, what can viewers expect from the show’s first season?
I think they can expect a lot of action, a lot of comedy and a lot of heart. I think that’s something that’s really great about the show, especially in the first few episodes; those are really heartfelt episodes. You really get to see who these characters are. You get to understand why they do the things that they do, and I think that’s important. When a show has heart, it gives the audience a reason to come back and root for these characters. Nowadays, there are so many other shows and so many things online that you could view, so you want to give the audience something that they want to invest their time and energy in. I think with these characters and this show that the audience is going to want to do that and be happy that they did. But definitely, viewers can expect a lot of action, a lot of comedy and a lot of heart, and I’m very proud of what we’re doing every day. Every day on set, I say that we’ve got some great stuff on-screen, and I think the audience is really going to appreciate it.
That’s so awesome to hear, and I can’t wait to see it!
Yeah, I just got an email saying that the first cut for all of the episodes so far are great. We’re shooting episode seven right now. But I’ve heard that episode—I’ve already seen the pilot—but that from episodes 2-6, we’re looking great, which is very encouraging to hear.
Alright, so this is my last question for you, and it’s always a fun question to ask. What are some of the shows that you are a nerd about or that you’re crazy about?
The show that I’m still a nerd about now is Saturday Night Live because I’m a comedian, and if I wasn’t on Rush Hour, I’d want to be a cast member on Saturday Night Live. So, that’s still a show that I’m a nerd about. Probably of all time, it would be Breaking Bad. I’ve literally seen every episode of Breaking Bad and I think that it’s the greatest drama ever created for television. So, that’s definitely my all-time favorite show. Also, there’s the sitcom Martin starring Martin Lawrence; that’s my favorite sitcom of all time. I mean, that’s in my trailer right now on set at Rush Hour. I have all the seasons in my trailer. Martin Lawrence was my favorite comedian growing up and I’ve had the chance to meet him a few times—very nice guy—so, yeah, Saturday Night Live, Breaking Bad, Martin; those would be my top three.
Rush Hour is slated to premiere in January 2016. You can also follow Justin on: