Kevin Hart needs a nap. But he’s spent much of the New Year on a wild ride—literally and figuratively. The pint-sized comedic actor had a new film to promote this week—Ride Along—and my God, did he promote it. Dude was here, there and everywhere—handing out specialty doughnuts to officers in Atlanta, cracking up journalists at press junkets in Atlanta, posing on red carpets, gracing just about every daytime talk show in New York and whooping it up with the people at ESPN.

But that nap… oh that’s real. He needs one. And he’s due.

The good news is that all of his work wasn’t in vain: the film had a massive opening weekend—it’s on pace to collect $48 million dollars by the end of Monday.

If that ain’t a shot in the arm to Hollywood, we don’t know what is. A film (that is for all intents and purposes a Black film) nabbing that kind of scrilla? Oh yes. That franchise Hart is hoping for with this project is all but green-lit.

We talk with Hart about his plans to take over the world.

EBONY: Years ago, you and I talking about your quick moments in large films. Fast-forward, and you have leading man status. Talk about that transition.

Kevin Hart: It’s about being ready for what has arrived. You know, I’m in a position now where I’m getting offers, and like you said, it’s that leading man stature. So right now, it’s about making sure every opportunity that’s presented to me is the right opportunity and not just a financial opportunity. You know? You want to continue to progress, and quality is better than quantity.

So I was in a position where I was faced with a lot of good projects, quality, from Ride Along to About Last Night, Think Like a Man Too to Wedding Ringer. I’m about to do a movie with Will Ferrell called Big Heart. These are all quality projects. So I feel that overall, the time in the past where I didn’t have big roles and I was doing the small cameos did nothing to prepare me for this moment.

EBONY: When you were working to get to the level of recognition that you have now, what nugget was keeping you hanging in there?

KH: Everybody wants to be famous, but nobody wants to do the work. I live by that. You grind hard so you can play hard. At the end of the day, you put all the work in, and eventually it’ll pay off. It could be in a year, it could be in 30 years. Eventually, your hard work will pay off. It’s just the nature of what you do. You get out of something what you put in it. It’s coming from a realistic perspective. I’ve spent 18-plus years in the business, and my last three is where it’s been crazy and successful. But it’s a lot of time.

EBONY: Are you eyeballing projects differently now because you have this level of success?

KH: It’s about the longevity. And with Ride Along, it’s a possible franchise, and that was definitely something we spoke about before we even started it. You need to show the most. So there’s a project that I have up and coming, I feel like it shows growth in me as an actor and me as a comedian. You can see that I’m constantly getting better, constantly evolving. The same way in stand-up comedy; I’ve shown that I can do it within my acting career too. So it’ll just be pushing myself and pushing the envelope moving forward.

EBONY: Along with the idea of pushing the envelope, are you going to follow that traditional narrative of really funny guys who want to take a dramatic turn?

KH: Of course. At some point in time, you definitely have to go drama. Not to say that you’re going drama just because everybody else does it. You do it to challenge yourself. You do it because, naturally, in the profession of acting, you want to show growth. You want to say that you take the craft seriously. It’s not something you’re doing just to do. You’re doing it because you want to be better, you want to be somebody that’s in the conversation when you talk about good actors.

EBONY: Talk to me about this new role as a leading man. You don’t necessarily come in the package we’re used to seeing in leading men. But perhaps you’re redefining it?

KH: The quote-unquote “description” of a leading man was once your tall, handsome man with the build of whatever, almost a trophy to some degree. I think now it’s about making a leading man what you want a leading man to be. In this day, you can’t deny talent. You look at Jonah Hill, you look at Zach Galifianakis, you look at myself. There are so many that I could go through. You’re looking at people whose talent can’t be denied.

For me at the end of the day, I have a fan base. My fan base has been loyal to me, they’ve grown with me, and my fan base supports me. So for what you thought a leading man should be, I can beg to differ about numbers and stats, showing that my numbers are just as good as leading [man] numbers of getting people to come out and see me, from touring, from just the response that I get.

From what I’ve done, it shows that, hey, I am capable of being this guy. I am capable of holding the quote-unquote “title” of leading man. Leading man just means people want to see you and assume that you can hold a film, carry a movie.

EBONY: Jonah Hill is a great example, because he made such a sharp turn—he was just nominated again for an Oscar. People are taking him seriously as an actor, but it wasn’t easy for him. Are you anticipating that being a challenge for you as well?

KH: Of course it’s a challenge. You know, you have to wait for an opportunity. It’s not something you can rush and try to get. Jonah has done some great projects, man, from Moneyball to Wolf of Wall Street. Jonah had some great movies out there to start with, where he’s constantly elevated himself. But he had material that was elevated as well.

Something will come along where I can possibly do that. Until then, I’m going to keep grinding, keep working out. But it’s a challenge, not in a competitive nature of “I gotta do what Jonah’s doing, I gotta do it quick.” It’s a challenge in saying, “Wow, man, a friend [did it]. I’m proud of another comedic actor.” I’m proud of Jamie Foxx. I’m proud of these guys who pushed the envelope in that world. I want to be ready when the opportunity presents itself.

EBONY: But you’re never going to abandon comedy, right?

KH: Oh, hell no. There’s no way.

EBONY: Ice Cube went on about how you’re one of the most professional actors he’s ever worked with. What would you say about him?

KH: I would say Cube is a professional. He’s been around as long as he’s been around, and he’s maintained relevancy. You’re looking at a guy who went from being AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted and a gangsta rapper to somehow flipping that into acting, and being the poster child for family movies at one point, to his own production company! This guy has done it all and he’s done it his way.

So with that being said, it’s not a coincidence. You talk to those guys, you want to be a sponge and just soak up information. And the way he approaches his workday is as professional as anybody else does it. I guarantee it. We bonded from day one. Our chemistry was amazing, and Tim Story did a great job of putting us together.

EBONY: A year ago, you were preparing yourself for 2014 and all of these back-to-back films coming out. What will we be talking about next year? How do you hope will life have changed?

KH: Well, I don’t want anything to change, I just want it to get better. The same thing I did in 2013 is what I’m trying to do in 2014, which is continue to improve, continue to shock people. You know, I have several projects coming up between 2014 and 2015, and hopefully by 2015, I’ll have another hour of stand-up material where I’ll be able to go on the road and tour again. I mean, I don’t plan on stopping any time soon. I’m 34, I’m young. So I’ve got a lot of gas left in this tank, man. A lot of gas.