Goes From Hip Hop to Hijinks
by Brad Balfour
Who would have thought that when Ice Cube appeared as a member of the original Los Angeles gangster rappers NWA that he would end up doing such a goofy and utterly cute yet pathetic comedy Are We There Yet? Yet as the hardcore star went from music to film, he's has proven to be versatile and broad-ranging skills, a grown-up now, and a survivor, not just another disgruntled ghetto youth.
When you made it big, you showed that people can come from something as extreme as the gangster roots, and then grow, and that there’s a positive afterlife. Do you feel that’s something you’ve accomplished?
What I wanted to show is that everybody who comes from the gangster life — they want what that man in the suburbs wants. Nice family. Nice house. Nice cars. Bills paid. Kids in school. Food on the table. Nothing more. Nobody’s trying to be Scarface out here. Everybody just wants to be comfortable. People always wonder, “You came from all this hard stuff, but now you ain’t pumpin’ that as much? That hardcore image.” Because now my family’s comfortable. I have things that I haven’t had. Now I’m speaking for the people who can’t speak for themselves. From my point of view, yeah, I’m not “in the hood” no more, doing all that stuff, but I’ve got people there. I got family there. Most of my roots are there. I can’t separate myself from that. But as far as the gangster in the hood, the dude that’s in the penitentiary, the dope dealer goes? All they want is to be comfortable. Nice house. Family. No more, no less. That’s really what this shows. If you give anybody the chance, they can always make a decent human being out of themselves. It’s the people that don’t have a chance, that we look down at like they’re monsters or they’re animals or that they want something different than the rest of us. That they don’t want to be like us. That’s not true. They want to be just like everybody else.
Do you ever feel you were in the crosshairs, instead of just the spotlight?
No, never. It’s a small price to pay for where I’ve come from and where I am. It’s like, please.
An easy call, right?
Yeah. I’ve dealt with a lot harder shit than reporters coming down on me. You know what I mean? That’s kind of easy to deal with. I know who I am. I know what I’m about.
When you started out, people felt that NWA were West Coast heirs of Public Enemy — doing important rap that was saying something real to people. Now a lot of hip-hop has gotten too much into the blingage, and not as much into real culture. What are your thoughts on that?
Do you feel that sometimes you need to get back to music just to keep your head fresh after you’ve been doing so much acting?
It’s always fun. You know what I mean? I used to push my career. Try and come out every year with a record. And then I’m like, “Man, I got seven albums out, and I’m like 27, 28.” So I say, “Yo, it’s time to slow this thing down a little bit, and kind of spread it out.” And the movies picked up. It’s just a thing where I go from one project to the next, and really don’t think about it as much, as far as, “Damn I’m going back and forth.” Or, “Damn, I need to do a record.”
After you’ve done such heavy music, did you do the comedy to show that you can laugh at yourself, and not take yourself too seriously?
Not really. I’ve never really taken myself too serious. That’s everybody else, listening to the music or whatever. I’ve always said what I’ve felt, said what I thought was right, but I’ve always had a comedic bone. Take Friday. If you remember, all this bad shit is happening on this neighborhood. You’re dealing with dope smoking, drug dealers, drive-by shooters, and neighborhood crackheads, but it’s looked at in a funny tone. It ain’t looked at as a Menace II Society or Boyz N the Hood. My records have always done that. For every hardcore record I’ve had, I’ve had a “Nappy Dug Out.” Something that has a little sense of humor to it. This is just a good role at the right time. Barbershop and Barbershop 2 kind of set the stage for a movie like this because I had usually done R-rated comedies. And Barbershop was a PG-13 comedy. And here goes a PG comedy. I’m testing the boundaries. Also, I’m doing something for my youngest fans. Out of my whole career, I’ve never done anything specifically for them. This is the opportunity to do all of that and to show that the music is separate. I’m not trying to turn into Eddie Murphy, and just do kids movies the rest of my career. I’m going to still do a wide variety of movies, as well as do hardcore rap.
Even in your comedies, you have a certain seriousness, a dramatic tone. Do you shoot for that intentionally?
I just think that’s the best way for me to pull it off. I’m not a comedian, so there are things that I wouldn’t even try. But when I can make the situation right, and make things funny — organically in a way — then it just comes off better. For some reason, that’s usually the tone of the guys that I’m playing. I’m usually playing the guy that’s going through all this stuff. All these crazy people are interacting with a guy who, hopefully, the audience sees as sane.
What drew you to doing Are We There Yet?
Adam Sandler had this project at first and he couldn’t do it. So Revolution [the production company] asked if my company would acquire the script, and sort of tailor-made it for me. We looked at and said, yeah, and made our notes on what changes needed to be made, and just started putting it together.
The sports memorabilia that your character Nick sells and collects, does that reflect your own interests?
I wanted him to be a guy who was into throwback jerseys and sports. I wanted to use that element to maybe grab some of the older kids — the 12, 13, 14 year-olds. We kind of added that to make it a little hipper than the average family movie. And there are single guys in their 20s and 30s who can look at that guy in say, “Yeah, I can relate to him.”
Whose idea was using the Satchel Paige bobblehead talking with you?
That was [director] Bryan Levant’s. I kind of fought him on that. I thought it would be too corny. Having me talking to a bobble-head [Laughs.] I didn’t want to make something that was so corny that I thought it would take you out of the movie. But Bryan was like, “When you’re doing a movie like this, you always want to add a touch of magic, to let the kids know that this is a fantasy, and they can’t be jumping in their parents’ SUVs and driving off.” It’s a reminder that this is a movie, and not real life. So we used things like Satchel Paige, so that when grandparents brought their grandkids in, they could say, “I know who that guy is.”
You’ve done many different types of characters, the action stuff and now the kids movie. What’s next for Ice Cube?
I want to do more drama. You know what I mean? Comedy is the path of least resistance for my company right now. People know we can do them. People know they get a good response. People want to make them. Who am I to push up against that? We’ll do that for a minute, and then one day we’ll show what we can do dramatically. There’s no rush. I’m only 35. I’m not trying to retire at 38 or nothing like that.
What can we expect to see from your character in XXX since you replace Vin Diesel in the sequel, XXX: State of the Union?
He’s more of a disgruntled soldier. He’s in a military prison. He feels that the government has given him the shaft. Samuel L. [Jackson] can’t trust the government any more, so he goes outside the box and gets a guy like me. Who’s got a chip — some revenge to get back. So that’s the way the guy is. Totally serious. Not too many laughs and giggles.
Samuel L. Jackson has talked about how he doesn’t really like to act with rappers. How did you handle working with him on XXX?
We both just handled it professionally. I’m there to do a job. He’s there to do a job. That’s kind of how we approached it. But we had a better rapport because Sam — from what I understand — just doesn’t really like working with rappers who aren’t into the art of filmmaking. But Sam knows that I’m a filmmaker. I’ve put together more films from scratch than he has. I’ve hired more actors than he has. He’s probably looking at me in a different light. I’ve jumpstarted a lot of careers. He didn’t even mention it; he came in and treated me like a fellow actor, you know what I’m saying? Somebody that he respects because I respect his work. Who can’t respect Sam as an actor? He’s still one of my favorite actors; I don’t care what he has to say about rap. He’s still one of my favorite actors. I just don’t agree. I think that if you’ve got the chops, you should be given a shot, and then the audience determines how long you’ll stay.
Any plans for a new Friday? The Friday after next Friday?
Last Friday? [Laughs.] It’s starting to rekindle. Every time I say no, it starts to rekindle. Now I’m getting calls from cast members, saying, “When are we going to do another one?” I always say that this is the last one, but then it starts to rekindle.
Do you have a script?
I never start on a script until I know who’s coming back, for sure.
So who’s coming back?
All the good characters from the first one to the last one I would want to get back. I know I’m not going to get Chris [Tucker] back, but I’d love to get everybody else back.
Are there plans for a third Barbershop?
No, no plans in the works right now. I think that they’re so focused on the TV stuff, that I don’t know if they want to do a third one.
You’ve been in three movies with Nia Long [Cube’s co-star in Are We There Yet?]. How has that relationship worked out so well?
It’s just good chemistry. She can play any kind of woman. And she brings intelligence, not just a pretty face. She’s just solid, man. She’s got range. With our movie Are We There Yet? she’s like the emotional foundation to the movie. She always brings her A-game, no matter how big or small the role.
Who else out there would you like to work with?
I’d love to work with Denzel [Washington]. Or [Robert] DeNiro, or [Al] Pacino. On something real dramatic, big.
What can you say about The Extractors?
It’s in development. It’s not really ready to go. But I don’t like to talk about movies that aren’t ready to go, because it’ll jinx them, and they’ll never get made.
So who’s going to win the Super Bowl?
Unfortunately, it seems like those Patriots are going to win the Super Bowl again.
Copyright © 2005 PopEntertainment.com. All Rights Reserved. Posted: May 14, 2005.
#1 © 2005 Courtesy of Columbia Pictures. All rights reserved.
#2 © 2004 Courtesy of Columbia Pictures. All rights reserved.
#3 © 2004 Courtesy of Columbia Pictures. All rights reserved.
#4 © 2005 Courtesy of Columbia Pictures. All rights reserved.