XXX: State of the Union: An Interview with Ice Cube
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By Wilson Morales
Ice Cube has proven that not only is he a box office draw with his films, including his most recent film, Are We There Yet?, but he can be part of a sequel and make it better than the original. Replacing Vin Diesel in "XXX: State of the Union", Cube plays Darius Stone, a man with an chip on his shoulders who's ready to defend his country from its enemies. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Cube goes over his character as well as talks about working with fellow rapper Xhibit and Nona Gaye.
Was that part of the attraction, your chance to play James Bond?
Ice Cube: Pretty much. I grew up on James Bond. My favorite one was Roger Moore. I'm a little young. I don't remember Sean Connery. When I got into James Bond, Roger Moore was the man in the '70s. After that, I kind of fell off with them, but with movies like XXX and the Die Hards, movies like that and Matrix, if you're in this game, you definitely want to get one of these under your belt somewhere.
What do you really think of the government?
IC: I've got a lot of thoughts on the government. There's a lot of improvements. I don't know if America's ever going to live up to its promise until it really stops preying on its own citizens in so many ways. I never wanted to throw away the government. I just wanted to change it and adjust its policies a little bit.
Any trepidation stepping into Vin Diesel's shoes, and knowing it might be only one movie?
IC: Not at all. I always felt it was a great opportunity no matter how we had to pull it off. I really didn't want to play him, his character so to speak. So when we came up with the concept of flipping it and changing it and letting it be a new XXX each time, even though I knew that that would kind of cut me off after one movie possibly... possibly...
IC: Because if it's successful, then I'm going to get the phone call saying, "You know what? We want you to be in the next one." So I just knew that that was fresh and it could work and I knew I could make it my movie once we did that and everybody kind of bought into that's how we should do it. I never felt any reservations about doing this movie.
How much improve did you do for the film?
IC: A little bit. We were always looking for places to lighten him up a little bit because he's kind of got attitude, he's been sitting in jail for all this time, really no contact with anybody. Now he's kind of out, really on this mission so it's almost in some places no room for humor, so we had to figure out where would it be appropriate to have this guy open up a little bit. The more and more we got into it, we found more and more places and when we cut the movie together, it just seems like a nice balance between hard action that you really want but also the relief of we're still in an action comedy popcorn type of movie.
Do you enjoy the suits and ties?
IC: I'm a T-shirt and jean man. I can keep it simple. I don't have to get messed up unless I really have to.
Favorite catch phrase?
IC: Besides "You should've killed that bitch?"
That's not yours.
IC: You know, the Tupac phrase is dope.
Was that your idea?
IC: No, that was the writer. He actually had that in there. Cheeseburger and fries, stuff like that.
Being part of phenomenal year for black starring movies?
IC: Yeah, we've talked about it. The audience through DVDs have shown the industry that it really doesn't matter what color you are. People want to see good entertainment. Before, they could really only judge you at the box office, but when they see DVD sales and people were showing that they just want to see good entertainment no matter where it comes from, that gives the industry courage to put us in these roles knowing that if we do a good job and we have a good movie, people are going to come out, not care what color we are. We've been fighting to get to a position like this. So to have Coach Carter come out and go number one and Are We There Yet go number one and Hitch go number one and even Diary of a Mad Black Woman go number one, it really shows that what we've been screaming for the last few years in all these meetings is true. You serve good product, the audience will come.
Is it not playing black specific characters? No racial elements played up in this movie?
IC: Not really, because each role is different of course, but this role really has no color. But that's not like I'm looking to play parts like that. I'd definitely go back and do a movie like a Barbershop or kind of what I call hood classics. Neighborhood classics like a Barbershop or even a Friday movie because I like those kind of movies. I'm not going to get on this whole role of a certain movie I don't' want to accept now because I'm at a certain level. I'm going to do movies wherever and seek and find them. If they're good and I think I can make them better, I'm going to jump in there.
What did you think of Chris Rock's Oscar comments, Check Cashing Place?
IC: [Laughs] I thought it was funny. You know, we keep our titles simple. There ain't nothing wrong with that because you can either have a simple title where people know what you're about to show or you can have I Heart Hucakbees which is like what? So I'd rather have a title that basically tells me what the movie's about. The Predator. The Terminator. I don't need these crazy titles that really tell you nothing about the movie and I don't think they help any way whatsoever in the marketing of movie when you have these crazy titles.
Are you involved in the Showtime series (of Barbershop)?
IC: Lightly involved. That's pretty much MGM's kind of running with that, Bob Teitel and them are kind of running with that. I feel like I'm in the movie game and if I do too much TV or stuff like that, it's just going to distract me and take away from what I'm doing. To me there's plenty of time for that.
How was it knowing you had two totally different contrasting roles with XXX and Are We There Yet?
IC: When I found out that they wanted me to do XXX, that it was going to be the real deal, I started training when I was on Are We There Yet. So every day after we would shoot, I would go down into the hotel gym and train for an hour, hour and a half or as much as I could get in. So I had it in the back of my mind, I didn't really think about XXX until I finished Are We There Yet in a way. Only thing I did was worked out and I'm glad I did because I needed some of that even shooting Are We There Yet because Are We There Yet is a physical movie too. I was glad I got a jump on XXX but I wasn't really tripping on it. I was glad that I had XXX coming because I knew that my fans would- - or people that are just into my career would think I'm about to flip and try to be Eddie Murphy and do these kids movies, so this is a way to say, "Okay, that first one was something for the kids and this is something for the big kids."
Do you have input in the directorial style of XXX like the Ice Cube walk?
IC: It was a great collaboration. Lee was real receptive of our ideas and the script was good. I think it was just a mixture of all kinds of things. It was a mixture of the script being good, Lee the director being receptive and us saying, "Yo, this is cooler than that." It all came together as a good collaboration. Sometimes you can have guys, directors who don't want to hear what you've got to say at all. But we had a good working relationship so it worked out.
Will you come back to music with something hardcore?
IC: Oh yeah. You miss the ultra hardcore? You know, I still do hardcore music. I'll talk about what I see fit at the time. I really like repeating myself [sic], but this new record that I'm working on, to me has elements of old hip hop, the old stuff I used to do.
Has rap gotten soft?
IC: No, it's just more accepted. I don't know if it's gotten soft. It's more accepted. The focus is not on a political change but more partying, so I think that's what's softened up. The political aspect of us trying to become better through the music or trying to explain our position on certain policies the government had, that's changed.
Could you say NWA today?
IC: Oh yeah.
How is it juggling acting and family?
IC: As far as in my business, I rarely take a meeting after six o'clock. If it doesn't happen before six, it can happen the next day. That right there keeps me home at the time when your kids need you for homework, just talking. And it doesn't keep me out in the streets Œtil 11, 12, midnight, one o'clock and then you get up the next morning and leave at nine and you don't even know who your family is. I chose early in my career to have a limit of having business hours and it's worked out for me. I haven't had a strain on my relationship or my family or even my music or anything, just kind of keep it to that- - I have a lot of free time.
IC: I do. I have a lot of free time. People don't realize it but I do. I'm bored sometimes.
How do you think history will perceive Tupac in the long run?
IC: Hopefully they'll treat him like it treats all great poets. Like Edgar Allen Poe.
Could he be at that level?
IC: Oh yeah. I hope so too. You have people who grew up on that kind of poetry and made him an icon and you have people who grew up on this kind of poetry and making Tupac and Biggie those same kind of icons. We have to see will it translate from generation to generation. These singers that we look at as some of the greatest, if it translates from generation to generation like Marvin Gaye. So only history will tell but I hope so.
How was working with Nona Gaye?
IC: She's cool. I worked with her before. I shot a video with her in like '94, with her and Prince. They did a song together called Love Sonnet. I shot their video for them, so getting a chance to work with her again and to see how good she was in the movie. I'm like, "Girl, you need to be doing this full time. What are you doing?"
Did you talk about rap with Xhibit?
IC: Yeah, I just told him each movie you do is your audition for your next one, so take it serious. Each day you can give a better performance, each day you step onto the scene, so stay focused. It's only a few months that you have to stay focused on this one thing, but if you nail it, you can set a career for yourself. I think he has a future in it. I think he's got a new movie already lined up, a football movie, so I think he's going to be kind of like the new up and coming guy who jumps in line with me, Will and Queen Latifah. And kind of gets up there because his head is right.
What do you hope people get from XXX2?
IC: I want them to forget about the first one after they see this. I want them to say, "Vin who?" No, nah, nah, nah. I just want them to believe that we delivered. What XXX was, the brand that it is, I just wanted to deliver on it and give people exactly what they expect out of the movie.
Is a cheeseburger and shake really better than sex?
IC: If you're fresh out of prison it is.
Are you looking for something smaller now?
IC: Size kind of don't matter. It really matters on the people I'm working with, on the script, what's it all about. We've got a few things in development, in the mix. I don't really like to talk about it until I know that they can be made. Nothing specifically.
Is the Friday franchise still around?
IC: Yeah, that's starting up again. It's starting to rekindle. Every time I put it to be, people start to ask about it. Mike Epps is asking about it and John Witherspoon wants to do another one, so when you get those people excited, you start to say hey.
IC: He don't want to do it.
What do think about other rappers transitioning into acting?
IC: I see Ludicris starting to dibble and dabble a lot. Nelly, now he's in Longest Yard. It really matters on how serious these guys take the craft, take the art of putting movies together will determine how long they stay in it or how far they go. But if they're just in it just because I'm going to go over here and get the side money, because I can, not because I love film and I want to and I want to do this, then they'll probably phase out at a certain point because they're not going to take the steps that they need to take to start moving up the chain in Hollywood so to speak.
IC: I don't know. They haven't said anything. I doubt it. How many times can you cut heads?
You haven't changed, how do you keep real?
IC: Just be myself, man. Let everything else kind of do what it do.
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