Photo: Sierra Cichonski
Who needs a red carpet when Lower Mayfair rolls out some oil-stained asphalt to welcome you?
That seemed to be the sentiment of Hollywood A-lister and hometown hero Kevin Hart as he greeted dozens of adoring fans outside the set of his latest film in Northeast Philly on Monday afternoon.
Hart had skipped the instantly notorious Oscars ceremony in L.A. on Sunday night to hang out on the 2800 block of Gilham St. for a couple of days, recording scenes for Untouchable, his forthcoming feature with Bryan Cranston and Nicole Kidman.
As local schools let out for the day, kids and adults stood several rows deep behind police tape at the end of the block, hoping for a glimpse of the diminutive comic and Central Intelligence star. During a break in shooting, Hart emerged from a nearby rowhome, walked to the end of the block, pulled out his cellphone and took selfies with the shrieking throng.
Moments later, the North Philly native and George Washington High alumnus retreated to a black limo van with tinted windows for his dramatic exit.
“I love Kevin Hart. He’s a ‘Philly-bound’ boy,” said Kristin Kilroy, a Rawle Street resident who accompanied her friend Sharon Kennedy and 10-year-old son Vinnie to the film set.
“I’ve been here almost 27 years and this is the first time this ever happened,” said Sierra Cichonski, who lives just down the block.
Local folks first got word of the big production on Feb. 17 when Feel Good Films Inc. distributed fliers in the neighborhood instructing residents to park their cars elsewhere on the appointed dates. In addition to Gilham, the film crew used portions of Magee Avenue, Brous Avenue and Hellerman Street to park its trailers and set up its equipment.
Some folks like Cichonski arrived prepared for a brush with stardom. She used a high-powered camera lens to snap more than 100 photos of Hart as he mingled around the house down the block where most of the action seemed to be taking place.
“I was here all morning,” Cichonski said. “You don’t see this too often in Mayfair.”
She’s a big fan of Hart’s stand-up act.
“I went to see him two years ago at Lincoln Financial Field. It was huge — sold out,” she said.
Khavon Walker, 14, and his pals played pickup basketball in the driveway behind the house where Hart was filming. There was surprisingly little security preventing them from walking past a tower-mounted spotlight behind the house. Earlier in the day, Walker used his cellphone to snap a photo of the actor.
“I was with my friend (Nicholas Wilcox). We were on the block and we saw him come out of his trailer and we took a picture of him,” Walker said.
When word spread to the staff of Renzi’s Pizzeria at Battersby Street and Harbison Avenue, they whipped up a couple of pizzas and some chicken wings for Hart. They shaped one of the pies like a heart. The shop owner, Renzi Wojtkowski, used a Sharpie to write “Welcome to Mayfair” inside the lid of the pizza box. Hart posed with the pizza for a photo and posted it on Instagram.
Hart texted appreciatively: “I love the (expletive) out of my fans … it’s all about the little things. Major thank you to the people of Mayfair #UntouchableFilm”
“This neighborhood is awesome,” said Renzi’s manager Jose “Poppie” Moreno. “If somebody is close, we try to welcome them. It’s our way of saying hello. He’s also great with his fans. He’s real good giving back to the community. Maybe he’ll shoot a lunch scene in here.”
Although the Northeast isn’t necessarily known for its glamour, the area has been home to several notable film shoots in recent years. Up Close & Personal (1996) starring Robert Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer, Steve Buscemi’s Animal Factory (2000) starring Willem Dafoe and Mickey Rourke and Law Abiding Citizen (2009) starring Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler were each filmed in part at the former Holmesburg Prison on Torresdale Avenue. Scenes from the 2005 film Annapolis starring James Franco were shot in Pennypack Park near Verree Road.
Filming in the Northeast has a surprisingly long history, too. The Pride of the Marines (1945) chronicles a Philly World War II vet as he struggles with the physical and emotional effects of his combat experience. It was filmed in Tacony.
Magee Street resident Alan Iavecchia isn’t old enough to remember that movie. But when he was a youngster, another big-name performer visited the neighborhood.
“When we were little, Sally Starr landed in the Acme parking lot with a helicopter. That was a big deal in the early sixties,” he said. ••
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Photo: Sierra Cichonski
Photo: Sierra Cichonski