Rob Hardy has been telling “amazing stories” for years now. His name may not immediately ring a bell but for the past 15 years, he’s undoubtedly produced films that have brought African-American audiences to the box office.
Hardy previously worked side-by-side with another powerhouse producer, Will Packer, on their production company, Rainforest Films. The duo has produced more than a dozen films including Think Like a Man, Stomp the Yard, This Christmas, The Gospel and Trois. Since dissolving their production company, Hardy has transitioned into directing TV shows and has worked with nearly every big-name black producer who’s in the business today including Mara Brock Akil (Being Mary Jane), Lee Daniels (Empire) and Courtney Kemp-Agboh (Power).
At a standing-room-only event at Minton’s in Harlem, N.Y., Hardy talked about his life in his one-man show, Rob Hardy’s Amazing Stories. In the show, which travels to Los Angeles in March, he talks about his childhood (he moved around from Nashville to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic to Philadelphia), making his first film at a boarding school in Philly, partnering with Packer and his road ahead in Hollywood. The Root talked to Hardy about how his upbringing molded him into the man he is today, his biggest successes so far and the legacy he hopes to leave.
How do you think your upbringing has affected your success in Hollywood?
My upbringing has impacted me a lot because my parents always raised me to look out for other people. My dad always taught me that if you go and make a lot of money and you just go and get some big house and that’s all, then you have wasted your opportunity. So I have always been interested in other people and interested in seeing people collectively, especially people of color, do well.
You’ve lived in Nashville, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic as well as Philadelphia and Atlanta. What were the lessons you took from each place in your journey that you still carry today?
In Nashville, I learned a lot about community as far as black upward mobility and the fact that that is possible and expected as far as achievement. In Santo Domingo, I learned about enjoying yourself and being able to make the most of what you have and have fun doing it. In Philly, I learned that you gotta be tough and you gotta stand up and speak your mind. In Atlanta, I learned that all things are possible.
What about your HBCU experience? How did that impact your life?
The HBCU experience taught me that you have your own network. You don’t have to aspire to be someone else. It doesn’t have to be Harvard; it could be Howard. You just have to trust it and embrace who you are.
Who has influenced you the most? And what has been the mark that they’ve left on your career?
It was my parents because they always, through example, taught me to work hard and to aspire to be great. My dad was tough on me, but the lesson was always about our people and it’s about more than just you. The older I got, the more I would hear that. When I became a dad, that had a lot of influence on how I would interact with my own kids.
You mentioned your mother was a sharecropper. How do you feel like her life has impacted your drive?
My mom basically was somebody that was self-motivated and used education to be her way. My mom was also somebody who was very poor and then always wound up being the one black person in the room but was always still able to look out for others. My dad worked at black hospitals and he was always in a black environment. He always hung out with dudes from Africa. So all my godparents are Nigerian. That was the difference between her and my dad, and I was just able to become comfortable.
There’s not a lot of black people in television. A lot of times, you may be the only one. And it’s no big deal, but if you’re not accustomed to dealing with that and still being comfortable with yourself, for some people that can be intimidating.
Speaking of television, you transitioned from film to TV. You have worked with a lot of shows produced by African Americans. Why do you think it’s important to collaborate with other black directors?
That’s who I am. And that’s who we are. I do a lot of different types of shows and a lot of them are big. You don’t necessarily get rewarded for doing those shows, but I don’t care. I’m black and that’s what I watch and that’s what I respond to. I just did Being Mary Jane, Power, Empire. That’s important to me. It’s a different look than just doing the white shows—which is all good and I love it and I don’t want that to change. However, I also want to do this, too. I don’t have to allow anybody to dictate what comes natural to me. I’m going to go do my superhero shows because me and my kids can talk about that. I’m going to do my medical-procedure show or a dark drama. Then I’m going to come and do black-ish because my homeboy created that.
What would you say has been some of your biggest successes so far?
When I first did Chocolate City at Florida A&M University and I stood on the stage and we had a real premiere,and our parents were there. When Trois did well at movie theaters. When The Gospel was the first movie that we had done to crack the top five. And when Stomp the Yard was No. 1 [at the box office] two weeks in a row. And when Think Like a Man came out. Those were all big moments for me.
In television, it was when I did The Flash, and my son was telling all of his friends in school that my daddy does a superhero show. When I went to pick him up, all they wanted to know was about The Flash and that was the biggest thing ever.
What are some of the biggest financial lessons you learned while running a production company?
If you’re going to run a company and you want it to be successful, find a way to inspire your coworkers. Then you get everybody to do their best. Anybody can get a job, but if you have an opportunity to be heard and to make something and be a part of something that lives and breathes, the experience is better and the outcome is better.
What about advice for other storytellers? What would you tell them that you wish someone would’ve told you?
Don’t wait to tell your story. Don’t wait for experience and knowledge and connections. You be the hookup. Don’t look for the hookup. When you figure out a way to be your own hookup, then everybody will come to you.
In 25 years from now, what do you want to be your legacy?
I want to be able to look at the industry and see the names of people that I put there. When you look at Spike Lee and you look at the credits for all his old movies, I see nothing but filmmakers and executives who work today. That’s what a legacy is.