MIAMI -- Kevin James took some hits in his latest role. Really.
In "Here Comes the Boom," the comedian/actor plays Scott Voss, a biology teacher who becomes his high school’s hero. When budget cuts lead to the possible demise of the music program and its teacher (Henry Winkler), James turns to mixed martial arts fighting to raise money.
James, speaking from the Man darin Oriental Hotel-Miami, said making this film -- he shares producing credits -- was a "passion project."
"I wrestled in high school and was always into sports. I had great teachers too. Kids are dealing with programs getting cut today. So I wanted to combine all of this with the crazy world of mixed martial arts with music and comedy. I was excited to get it done and do it."
Normally beefy, the former "King of Queens" star had to change up his fitness routine and diet.
"It took 14 months, and it was brutal," James relayed. "I started eating greens and working out with pro fighters, sometimes two to three times a day."
The Long Island native, who idolized "Rocky" growing up, wants concerned parents to know this isn’t a violent movie, but an inspirational one.
"This is a comedy that shows you the world through my eyes, as an everyday guy. Fighting is more of a metaphor for the obstacles you have in your life. This is what you have to do become a champion. We need to see how far this character would go to sacrifice for his friends."
James, 47, had quite an education during the shoot, working with actual UFC (Ultimate Fighting Champ ionship) professionals.
"You realize these guys who people envision as gladiators beating up on (each other) are great family men putting food on the table for their kids. It’s amazing to see how they treat each other, all the camaraderie. It’s a very unique job Š one that I wouldn’t want to do."
The chemistry on the set was great. James bonded with Winkler almost immediately.
"He was the only person I hadn’t met. I knew him from ‘Night Shift’ and, of course, as the Fonz," said the father of three. "He’s the catalyst who turns everything, the guy you instantly root for. He’s the nicest guy I’ve ever met. What you see is what you get. The real deal."
And James had already worked with Salma Hayek in "Grown Ups" and its upcoming sequel. "In Here Comes the Boom," the Latina beauty plays the school nurse and Scott’s love interest.
"Salma is incredible. She’s smart, a really good actress and so funny, which is what a lot of people don’t get to see. And word is out that she’s a little bit attractive." Insert laugh track.
James had his doubts that the audience would believe his on-screen romance with such a bombshell.
"She was like, I want to do this (part). And I was like, I’m going to face all these questions: How would we ever be together?’ We have to ugly you up!’ We tried everything. We took her makeup off, dressed her down. Nothing worked! It’s impossible."
Facing all those steely opponents in the Octagon was nothing compared to the body slam James received from Hayek during one (play ful) scene.
"She kneed me downstairs so hard. She’s strong and feisty! I don’t know what she eats, but she’s solid. It’s not all cushy. She’s built like a truck and like a badger if you corner her."