Claire Folger
Nina Terrero
June 17, 2016 AT 12:00 PM EDT

When Dwayne Johnson was cast in the buddy comedy Central Intelligence, his attention immediately turned to the prospect of potential costars. Confirmed to play a former schlub-turned-sexy superspy Bob, all that remained was the matter of who would ramp up the funny as former big guy on campus turned boring accountant Calvin in the tale of two wildly different pals who reunite to save the world.

“As you can imagine, the studio had given me a list of 10 other actors, all big stars, all would have been great opposite me,” shares Johnson of a call he had with studio execs about casting. “We went through the entire list of guys, not just comedy stars, but all the biggest stars in the world. At the end of the call, I said ‘There’s one guy who has to play this role.’ There was a long silence and I said, ‘Kevin Hart.’”

So, what made Hart stand head and shoulders above the competition? Was it his proven ability to bring in major bucks at the box office? His social media savvy? His background in laugh-out-loud comedy, perhaps? Not exactly, says Johnson. Somewhat ironically, it was Hart’s height that tipped the odds in his favor. 

“I always worked off the visual first, and how we could grab the attention of the world, I felt, was us on the poster,” Johnson reveals. “I felt audiences would love to see that pairing.”

Claire Folger

 

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As for his part, Hart – who has made an impressive transition from stand-up comedy to major box-office star – was thrilled about appearing opposite such top talent. 

“D.J. is in an amazing place right now in his career, and to team up with him was a big deal for me,” Hart says. “I didn’t know this would happen. I didn’t know we’d find ourselves here, and I believe in timing. I believe everything happens when it’s supposed to.”

Central Intelligence opens in theaters on Friday. For more from Johnson and Hart, head to EW’s full Q&A with the duo from our Summer Movie Preview. 

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