For Kevin Hart, the social media outrage over his past homophobic remarks that resurfaced after he was named host of the 91st Academy Awards wasn’t an attempt to right a wrong for the LGBTQ community — it was “a malicious attack” to end his career.
The comedian, 39, sat down with Ellen DeGeneres this week for a candid discussion about the controversy, airing on her syndicated daytime talk show on Friday.
It’s the first time Hart has given an interview about the topic since he announced he was stepping down from his role as Oscars host on Dec. 6, a mere two days after being given the job. During those days, previous homophobic comments Hart made had reemerged online, leading the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to ask the actor for an apology. But as he told DeGeneres, Hart had already apologized for his words.
“It was an attack,” Hart told DeGeneres. “This wasn’t an accident, this wasn’t a coincidence. It wasn’t a coincidence that the day after I received the job, that tweets just somehow manifested from 2008. I don’t know who follows me or who doesn’t, but I’m on social media every single day. I have over 40,000 tweets. To go through 40,000 tweets to get back to 2008? That’s an attack. That’s a malicious attack on my character.”
“That’s an attack to end me. That’s not an attack to end the Oscars, that’s an attack to end me,” he continued. “This was to destroy me. This was to end all partnerships, all brand relationships, all investment opportunities, studio relationships, my production company and the people who work underneath me. This was to damage the lives that had been invested in me. It’s bigger than just the Oscars. It’s about the individuals who are out there now that are finding success in damage. They’re finding success in damaging your ‘celebrity.’ “
DeGeneres understood, but encouraged Hart, “You can’t let them destroy you and they can’t destroy you because you have too much talent. No one can do that.”
The host also told Hart that she had been actively campaigning for him to get his job back, calling the Academy on his behalf. “They were like, ‘Oh my god, we want him to host. We feel like that maybe he misunderstood or it was handled wrong or maybe we said the wrong thing but we want him to host. Whatever we can do we would be thrilled,’ ” she recounted.
“As a gay person, I am sensitive to all of that,” DeGeneres, 60, added, of the outcry over his remarks. “And I talked to you about this and you’ve already expressed that it’s not being educated on the subject — not realizing how dangerous those words are, not realizing how many kids are killed for being gay or beaten up every day. You have grown. you have apologized. You’re apologizing again. Don’t let those people win. Host the Oscars.”
Hart didn’t give DeGeneres a definitive answer as to what he would do, but he seemed reluctant. “If you go back and I don’t have a word and I don’t have a bond and I don’t have anything to stand on, I’m now going back into the place where the people who came after me want me to go,” Hart told DeGeneres on Friday’s show. “Somebody has to take a stand against the ‘trolls.’ You have to.”
Still, the Night School star later said he would reassess his decision to walk away from the hosting job. “This is a conversation I needed to have, I’m glad that I had it here, and I’m glad that it was as authentic and real as I could have hoped that it would be,” he said. “So let me assess, just to sit in this space and really think, and you and I will talk before anything else.”
Also during the sit-down, Hart walked DeGeneres through the controversy in real-time.
He said that getting the job to host the Oscars in the first place was an “unreal” moment in his life.
But soon people began resurfacing previous tweets Hart had written in which he used anti-gay slang, under the hashtag #OscarsSoHomophobic. A clip from Hart’s 2010 comedy special Seriously Funny in which he made a homophobic joke was also sent around — Hart admitting in the video, “One of my biggest fears is my son growing up and being gay. That’s a fear. Keep in mind, I’m not homophobic. Be happy. Do what you want to do. But me, as a heterosexual male, if I can prevent my son from being gay, I will.”
At first, Hart tried to ignore it — telling DeGeneres, “It’s 10 years old. This is stuff I’ve addressed, I’ve talked about this. This isn’t new. I’ve addressed it, I’ve apologized for it. I’m not going to pay it any mind. Because if you feed into that stuff, you only add more fuel to the fire.”
By the next day though, he saw that “the fire was angry” and that the headlines about his remarks didn’t address the fact that he had previously apologized.
“The headlines are, ‘Kevin Hart refuses to apologize for homophobic tweets from the past.’ The word ‘again’ was left out,” Hart said on Ellen. “Everybody took those headlines and ran with it.”
“I know who I am. I know I don’t have a homophobic bone in my body. I know I’ve addressed it, I know I’ve apologized. I know that within my apologies, I’ve taken 10 years to put my apology to work. I’ve yet to go back to that version of the immature comedian that once was. I’ve moved on. I’m cultured. I’m manufactured. I’m a guy that understands now. I look at life through a different lens and because of it, I live life in a different way.”
He continued, “I had to address it and apologize and say I understand what those words do and how they hurt. I understand why people would be upset, which is why I made the choice to not use them anymore. I don’t joke like that anymore because that was wrong. That was a guy who was just looking for laughs and I don’t do that anymore.”
Hart previously addressed the comments in a 2015 Rolling Stone interview, saying that the stand-up bit was “about my fear,” and noting, “I wouldn’t tell that joke today, because when I said it, the times weren’t as sensitive as they are now. I think we love to make big deals out of things that aren’t necessarily big deals, because we can. These things become public spectacle.”
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Of his decision to initially not apologize last year and leave the awards show instead, Hart told DeGeneres that it was made out of respect for the stars attending the Oscars.
“The Oscars is no longer about Kevin Hart getting on that stage and taking an intense night where people are so uptight and making it loose and fun. … Now all of a sudden it’s a little darker. … The conversation is about Kevin Hart’s tweets from 10 years ago, and homophobia. I don’t want to step on that stage and make that night about me and my past when you have people who have worked hard to step on that stage for the first time and receive an award.”
“I’m now taking away from all those moments because the night is focused on something else right now. Because I saw it like that, I said I would much rather step down and apologize again while stepping down,” he added.
Hart’s sit down with DeGeneres comes as PEOPLE exclusively revealed that the Academy is open to having Hart host this year.
“There has been a steady stream of buzz that things might work out between Kevin and the Academy,” the source told PEOPLE. “The Academy never really axed him — they wanted him to apologize — he wouldn’t, and then he was the one to drop out.”
“Everyone has noticed that it’s not like the Academy just pivoted to someone else; Kevin is clearly well aware that the job is still wide open. But meanwhile, he has needed to do his own clean-up work in terms of his image after all of this,” the insider continued.
The source explained Hart is now “making the rounds,” apologizing publicly on a number of talk shows, including Ellen. “It’s all they ever wanted him to do, and he’s doing it in spades. So now he should be able to come back on his own terms,” the source told PEOPLE.
The actor is also expected to appear on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
“It all hinges on how well he does these apologies,” the insider explained. “In the end, if the shows are good, it’s pretty much his to take again, if he wants it.”