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Martin Lawrence talks about the joys of partnering with Will Smith

It’s hard to be a bad boy when you have good intentions.

Such is the plight of Martin Lawrence, the comic-actor who grew up as one of six children in a poor Maryland family. His parents divorced when he was a little boy and his single mother of six kids worked several jobs including as a cashier at local department stores.

What did Lawrence do when he became successful with 1995’s “Bad Boys,” where he starred opposite Will Smith? Answer: It didn’t involve fast cars or personal bling.

“The first thing I did when I made some money was rebuild my mom’s house in North Carolina where she was living at the time. It was a real rundown place, but not anymore. I fixed it up,” he said in a proud voice. “Then, I got her a car. And then I figured enough with all the workmen fixing the old house. I bought her a new house in California.”

That moment when he handed his mother the keys to her new house defined success for Lawrence who now lives in Beverly Hills. “Buying her that house was a better feeling than buying my house. It was the best feeling ever,” he said.

Also bringing him joy is the third film in the series, “Bad Boys for Life” with Smith on Jan. 17, and an upcoming comedy tour.

Review-Journal: What is an ideal Sunday?

Martin Lawrence: Oh man, just put me in front of the TV. I love to watch football. The rest of the day is just sitting around with my family, eating some good food and talking. We’re laughing. A good Sunday is doing absolutely nothing with loved ones.

Before we talk about your new movie, few know how hard you had it growing up.

My family didn’t have any money, and I’m the fourth of six kids. It was all on my mom. We lived in government Section 8 housing. The miracle was my mom never gave up. She always found a way to put food on the table. Her mother was a big help and would bring us food when things got really bleak. Or she would buy us a new pair of pants, which was a victory. It was a struggle that still defines the American dream for many.

Once you got successful, why was rewarding your mom so important to you?

You can never really repay your parents for what they’ve done for you and sacrificed for you. When you do the littlest thing to make your mom comfortable, well, I call that a blessing from God.

You’re about to resume your role as Detective Marcus Burnett in the “Bad Boys” franchise.

It’s about Burnett and his partner, Detective Mike Lowrey, played by Will. I’m a police inspector, now facing my mid-life. My guy is older. He’s married. And he wants to retire. Mike is pulling him back in to team up again. I don’t want to be in the detective mix anymore, but something forces me to go back and support.

There hasn’t been a “Bad Boys” film since 2003. Why the long wait?

Will and I have been waiting. The fans have been waiting. I can’t leave the house without someone asking me when the next “Bad Boys” is coming out. I always had the same answer: We’re gonna do it as soon as the script is right. I don’t sugar coat nothing. You get the real from me. The truth is that the script was never right in the past, so Will and I said, “We’ll wait until someone gets it right.” It took this long to find a great plot, but it was worth the wait. You don’t want to rush good work even if it takes over a decade.

What did it feel like to step back on the set with Will?

I just love Will, and we always stayed in touch over the years as good friends. So, it was such a joy to walk on that set each day for the new movie and just be with each other again. I’d look across the room and there was my friend. It felt good. It even felt good when you had a long day of dialogue because there was Will making me laugh between takes.

How tough is it to do stunts at age 54?

I did get a little hurt. It was near the last couple of days of shooting in Miami. We did this major running scene and I’m racing along, going as fast as possible, and I pulled a thigh muscle. I had to sit it out a bit, but it was OK since we were almost wrapped. It’s hard to be a bad boy when you’re middle aged.

Do you remember the first time you met Will?

I had a party at my house so many years ago and Will was there. It was when Will and Jada first started dating each other, and she was there, too. We talked for a little bit and it just felt natural. We made each other laugh. You can feel the chemistry. When I had to pick someone to star with me in the first “Bad Boys,” I picked Will. I did wonder: Could two sitcom stars, which is what we were at the time, carry a big movie? The answer was yes.

When did you first know you were funny?

I always loved to make people laugh. My mother and my grandmother were all funny. My brothers and sisters were funny, too. I was also always a huge fan of Richard Pryor. I thought that the way to get into acting was to start like he did as a stand-up comedian. I also studied Eddie Murphy and remain a lifelong fan.

You’ve done so many comedy tours. Ever perform in Vegas?

Oh yeah, I love performing in Vegas because the crowds really want to have a good time. These days, I mostly enjoy myself when I go to Vegas. I’m the one who always has a good time.

What do you make of being half a century old?

I thank God that I feel good. I got a gut, but I hide it with sweats! That’s why sweats were made!

You’re going on a comedy tour this year.

I’ll take the young, superstar comics of tomorrow to the arenas and we’ll have a great time. Live comedy never gets old. Believe me, when you hear the applause, you honestly feel like you’re 19 and doing it for the first time. When I hear that laughter, I’m not just living life. I’m loving life.

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