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Casting The Film
Kevin James, of course, is at the center of Here Comes the Boom. "Scott Voss is a guy who's lost his vigor for teaching a bit," he says. "He's just going through the motions and getting through his day. And he realizes, through a series of events, that he needs to do better. We're all trying to be a little better."

Things change for Scott when he is impressed by somebody who has that passion and drive. "That's Marty Streb, the music teacher, played by Henry Winkler," he says. "Seeing him, seeing how he is so into teaching and giving his all, acts as a catalyst."

The filmmakers surrounded James with a group of very funny actors who would also convey the heart of the story.

Salma Hayek joins the cast as Bella, the school nurse. "Bella is the nurse at the school when they get the news that they are going to lose one of their most amazing programs - the music program," she says. "They come together under Scott's leadership - she's going to be the nurse who patches him up after every fight."

"Kevin's character has been asking Bella out for years, but she's completely unattainable," says Garner.

"She has no interest in him whatsoever, because she thinks he's lazy and passionless," Hayek explains. "But then, he surprises her as he changes."

Garner continues, "Salma is smart and funny, and of course Kevin knew her from working with her on Grown Ups. She adds so much flavor and energy to the movie - when she's at the fight, rooting for Kevin's character, she's got fire."

"When Salma is on screen, there is never a dull moment. In one scene, she gives Scott some fighting pointers and it turns into one the funniest 'brawls' in the film. It left the set in shambles, broken lamps and all," laughs Coraci. "She's smart, she's funny, she's strong - Bella is the perfect counterpart to challenge Kevin's character, Scott."

Hayek enjoyed her experience on the movie - not only for the chance to re-team with James, but to learn a few moves from Bas Rutten. "I've never been much of an athlete - I'm quite coordinated and I have good genes for it, but I never exercised much in my life. Then I turned 40 and now I'll do any exercise. Bas was very complimentary. I have a deep admiration for martial arts - for the discipline of it. There's an art to it."

To play Marty Streb, the filmmakers called on an old friend. "In the movie, Scott isn't fighting for himself - he's doing it for the kids, the school, and the music teacher," Coraci explains. "We all felt that if that was the case, we needed to cast a guy that the audience would fall in love with from the first moment. Henry Winkler is that guy. He knows so well how to play comedy - he brings so much heart to the part and every day we were blown away by his effortless grace. This is my third movie with Henry, and every time he delivers the goods."

In playing the high school music teacher, Winkler got the chance to put his skills to the test. "I actually got to conduct the orchestra of Quincy High School in Massachusetts, where we shot a large part of the film," he says. "The kids were really committed to the scene. I love music and I got to conduct a wonderful piece written for the film, played by about 60 young people. In the scene, the kids needed to be playing brand new instruments - it's the end of the film and Scott has raised all the money that the program needs - and after filming, our producer, Todd Garner, announced that the company was donating the new instruments to the school's music. It was quite a moment."

Winkler has known James socially for a few years - they first met on the set of the Adam Sandler film Click, and would see him again around town. A few years later, James and Winkler shared the duties of speaking on behalf of Sandler at Sandler's Hollywood Walk of Fame star ceremony. That same afternoon, Winkler says, he got a call. "'Hi, it's Kevin. Would you like to be in my movie?' It turns out that we have a wonderful connection. Working with Kevin is like when you water ski on a lake, it's pure glass - not a ripple on the water."

Here Comes the Boom also had two real-life MMA trainers in its corner. James's friend and longtime trainer, Bas Rutten, takes on the role of Niko, who becomes Scott's friend and the one guy who could possibly train a high school biology teacher to become a MMA fighter. The part was written for Rutten. "If you tried to write that character and cast it without knowing the actor, it'd be impossible. Bas is the only person who could do it," says Garner. "He's amazingly funny, he has so much charisma, and he steals the show. And, of course, he's a legendary fighter, so the scenes he's in feel completely legit."

"Niko is a complicated character," says Rutten. "He's a likeable guy who missed the big time because he got a little crazy - he overdid it and he got hurt. Still, he's still a guy who sees the glass as half-full instead of half-empty - he tries to put a positive spin on everything in life."

Rutten has known James for a very long time. "I first came to the States 15 years ago, and within three months his people contacted me and asked if I could train him," says Rutten. "He always loved Mixed Martial Arts and was a big fan of UFC and Pancrase, which was an organization I used to fight for. I went to his apartment - at the time, a two-bedroom apartment he shared with his brother. Things are different now, but he's still the same guy."

Rutten says that his friend James may have taken some real-life inspiration from Rutten for Niko. "Niko is a guy from Holland - like me - who used to be a fighter - like me - and is studying to become a citizen, which I did a year before we filmed the movie. It was cool to read the script and see those similarities."

Rutten fought for six years, from 1993 until 2000, when injuries took their toll and he retired. Six years later, he would work through his various injuries - tendonitis, a lack of cartilage in his knees, a popped rib, a pulled groin - for a one-time comeback fight, which he won… with Kevin James in the corner. "I was yelling instructions to him: 'Leg kick! Leg kick!'" says James. "In the middle of the fight, Bas had to stop and look over and put up his hand - 'I got this.' I was thinking, 'Oh, yeah, he knows what he's doing.' Not only that, but I'm telling his opponent exactly what I want him to do, which is probably not effective. But it was fun, and Bas won anyway."

In the film, Scott is also trained by Mark DellaGrotte, who plays himself. DellaGrotte is a former Muay Thai kickboxer and now the owner and operator of Sityodtong Muay Thai Academy, where, as an MMA trainer, he has helped guide several fighters' careers. "They gave me the role of Mark DellaGrotte because they probably figured I couldn't mess it up," says the first-time actor. "They wanted me to dress like myself, act like myself, and talk like myself as I coached Kevin. They put it right into my comfort zone."

DellaGrotte was hit hard by the acting bug. "For a long time, I trained fighters, and like anything else, you lose passion, it becomes stale, and you look for something to reinvigorate yourself," he says. "I was looking to get into something different, and this opportunity came along. It really made me confident that if I were to pursue an acting career, I could pull it off."

"We were lucky to have Bas Rutten and Mark DellaGrotte in our movie," says Coraci. "These guys have lived the MMA life and achieved greatness. They are perfect examples of what MMA is all about. And then, there's the added bonus of knowing you have some of the toughest fighters on the planet watching your back."

Joining the cast is Charice, a rising music star who plays Malia, a student at the school who would be especially hard hit by the cancellation of the music program. Charice is an online singing sensation whose videos have millions of views worldwide.

"When Charice came into the audition, we gave her a song to sing that she had never heard before," says Coraci. "First time hearing the song, Charice sings it a capella. It was flawless. Between that song and her audition, there wasn't a dry eye in the room."

Says Charice, "I was prepared to sing a different song at the audition, but I listened to the new song, got the chorus and sang it. I remember thinking it was a bummer when I left, because I wanted the role so much. But, I guess I did OK, because they called me that afternoon and told me I got the part!"

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