IDLEWILD: An Interview with Andre Benjamin (Andre 3000) and Antwan Patton (Big Boi)
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An Interview with Andre Benjamin (Andre 3000) and Antwan Patton (Big Boi)
August 14, 2006
You guys have sold almost 30 million records as Outkast. What have you found out about the movie business, by making a movie like this that has been delayed and called a hard sell? And, do you think you’ve made an art film?
Andre Benjamin: Honestly, I think anything we try to do, we try to make sure that we’re being true to ourselves, and I guess that’s being an artist. But, we also know that it has to sell. So, we want people to come to the theater to see it, but at the end of the day, if people just talk about it and say, “This is a necessary film and it’s something that needed to be made, and had to be made” . . . It actually had to be made because all the chips were stacked against us. So, at the end of the day, if nobody comes to the theater, we just know we had a great time doing it, and somebody will be influenced by it. This ain’t no bullshit interview answer.
Big Boi: I concur. [Laughs]
BB: Well, I guess, one of the major challenges was, when we first started to shoot the film, we were like, “We don’t have all the music ready. We really don’t have it all together right now.” They were like, “Well, don’t worry about it. We’ll work around it.” So, as soon as we got on the set, after the first week of shooting, we would be shooting on a Monday and they’d be like, “Well, you know, on Wednesday, we need a song for this scene right here,” and we’d be like, “I thought y’all was going to give us time.” But, it worked out right in the fact of, we already had some songs already prepared. The storyline was so strong to where you really didn’t have to rely all the way on the music like that. So, we got a chance to work on them both, at the same time. But, if we had to do it again, we would definitely have all of the music first.
AB: I think when Bryan was writing the script and he made it in the 30's, I think style wise, he knew that it take the audience to a whole other world. I think it was a great choice because right now, in the times we’re living in, especially as black people, you don’t get to see people with class on the screen. So, I think it was a great choice, on his part, to do it, just to show that because you don’t get to see it. As far as the music, we knew that it was [set in the] 1930's, so we kept in mind, when we were writing and producing, that this was a period piece, but at the same time, we’re Outkast and we’ve got a responsibility to live up to our fans, so we had to make sure that it was modern as well. I think, when we do that, it brings something new to it, so it pushes it, and it’s not just a 1930's pic. I think, once we add some newness to it and we bring it to now, it makes it into something totally different. So, you do have Rooster break out into rhyming, on stage in the 1930's, even though Cab Calloway did rhyme, back in those days, but not quite the same rhythm. In my opinion -- and I’m not Quentin Tarantino, or nothing like that -- the reason why musicals don’t work that well now is because people always want to do the music of old, and people are not listening to that music now. So, you want to do the music of now to make it make sense.
BB: Us being influenced by every musical genre, and using every aspect of music in our records, that was an advantage we had because we were never biased to one particular type of music. We listen to rock, jazz, blues, pop, country, hip-hop and the whole nine yards, so to go back and throw a little swing in there . . . I think, previous albums that we’ve had, we always had a touch of that ragtime feel, and we just had a chance to do what we wanted to do. Like Dre said, it is 30's, but we can still satisfy our fans by doing what we do best.
AB: It’s called freakin’ it. That’s what you do.
BB: Freak that thang.
How much are each of you like the personalities of your characters? Were these characters specifically matched to your own personalities?
AB: Most people have seen “Hey, Ya!” and “Roses,” and there’s all this energy and this dancing around character. In real life, I’m not dancing around all the time. So, I would say Percival is closer to Andre Benjamin. We’ve known Bryan since we gave him his first shot on our video, so he knows our personalities, he knows our lives, he knows things about us that people don’t see, so he pulled from those parts and created these characters, but gave us the room to play in these characters. The side of me that people don’t get to see, I did the extreme version of that. No, I’m not moping around like Percival all the time, but in every character you play, you’ve got to find something that connects to you to make it real. You’ve got to find some jumping off point.
BB: Yeah, I think there’s more than just a little bit. [Laughs] What [Bryan] did was, he took it and exaggerated it, and gave us room to play with it and do whatever we wanted to do with the characters. So, by him knowing the intricate details of certain parts of our lives and how we’d react to situations, he hit right on the bullseye.
This film has the style of a long music video. How did you approach it?
BB: Actually, as far as it appearing like a long form video, I had the privilege of seeing the original cut that was three hours. The whole movie is maybe 90% music playing in the background, and it wasn’t like that, at first. But, the director’s cut that’s coming to DVD, you’ll be able to see it. Even though there’s a powerful story and everything, there’s certain parts that weren’t put in there. There’s so many different performances of certain songs that hey pulled back a little bit because the longer a movie is, the less times that they’ll show it, so it was a studio call on that, but it worked out right.
Was this film approached like a video?
AB: No, not at all. Honestly, when you say it’s like a long video, I actually saw it as a great story with music performances here and there, but I wouldn’t say it’s a long video, really. It could have been anybody playing my part and it could have been anybody playing Rooster’s part. It didn’t actually have to be Outkast. And, that goes to say that it was just a great movie and a great story. Anybody could have done it, but I think the music that we did bring to it brought a certain style. Some of the songs were around before the script was even written, so Bryan was writing around certain songs, and that did bring flavor to the movie as well. I would say, even if you’re not an Outkast fan, or even a music fan, really, you will enjoy the movie. You’re going to laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll get pissed off, which is all the things you want from a movie.
Since you’re both entrenched in films now, is there a role that you’re dying to play?
BB: I don’t know. If they do a Bill Clinton movie, I want to play Bill Clinton. [Laughs]
BB: I just want to get in the make-up.
AB: For the Monica scene?
BB: Yeah, for the Lewinsky scene. [Laughs]
AB: There’s a lot of characters you’d like to play, and then there’s a lot of talks about different characters or different biopics, surrounding me and Big Boi, but it’s too early to really talk about ‘em. One story that I haven’t seen . . . I’d love to play Pele, the soccer player.
Are you into soccer?
AB: No, not at all. [Laughs]
AB: Yeah. And, I think he has a great story. I think I could do that.
Can you talk about the interaction between you and Terrence Howard and the energy that you bounced off each other?
BB: Well, actually, this was my first film. The first day we shot was the scene on the sidewalk outside, when I was with Zora and the kids, so that was my very first scene I had to shoot. I was so nervous. At the same time, I was gearing up for it. Ben Vereen was kind of like a mentor the whole time. We would go running through it. He already had me psyched up a little bit because, before Terrence got there, he was like, “I’m telling you, this guy’s going to come in here, he’s a veteran actor, he’s going to already be in character, he’s not going to like you, he’s going to treat you like shit. Don’t play into it. He’ll try to sucker you in and try to be your friend, just to throw you off. You can’t let him take the scene away from you. You have to go toe-to-toe with him.”
AB: It is that competitive on screen. It is.
BB: So, one day, when Terrence showed up, he was in the make-up room and I saw him, and my heart was beating fast, and I was like, “Oh, man, here we go.” So, he turned around and was like, “Man, what’s up, man. I’ve been checking you out for a long time. Hey, man, wanna hear some songs?” And, he had a guitar. I was like, “He’s trying to sucker me in.” [Laughs] So, I told Ben. I said, “Man, he’s trying to come to my trailer and play songs.” He was like, “Don’t let him do it.” So, I was like, “Man, I’m going to watch him,” so I let him come in there and we talked and we kicked it, and he was a good guy. So, to go back to the first day of shooting, I was so nervous, to where I turned the nervousness into the anger that I needed for the scene. After we shot a couple of times, Terrence was like, “Brother, the way you’re staring at me, you had me shook up, for real. You looked like you were going to kill me. You really had me going.” And, for him to say that to me, I was just like, “Okay, alright, ‘cause I know how to do it now.” He made me feel comfortable and, after that, it was all good.
You could have told any number of stories about the 30's, but you chose this one, which was just fun. Can you talk about that please?
AB: Once again, I think it was a great choice ‘cause you got to leave this world and go to another world. I’ve always been a fan of 1930's style. It was probably one of the best eras, especially for a man’s dress. Just showing up on the set, putting on your wardrobe, listening to the music, every day leaving the set and playing Cab Calloway, or watching ‘Stormy Weather’ and ‘Casablanca’ . . . Because it was a different time, I had to actually learn how to walk differently and sit differently ‘cause in the 30's, they didn’t slouch. They sat up straight. Your chest is poked out. You exude that class. It’s different now. Now, it’s chill and everybody is laid back, and then, on Sunday, you may dress up. Back then, it was the opposite. You’d dress up every day, and then, on Sunday, you’d chill out. It was a blessing, for me. That’s the best thing about making movies, to get that experience and to live out certain fantasies and do things you wouldn’t have done. Before we started the movie, I actually had to sit down with morticians and talk to them, in the room where they do it, and see how people react to him, and tell me stories of how he met this girl and how, the first time you tell a girl, “I’m a mortician,” how that works. So, you get to do cool things. That’s the best part about movie making. It’s not glamorous at all, no matter what they tell you, ‘cause it’s a lot of work. The most glamorous [thing] is learning stuff and, I guess, that red carpet. That’s about it.
You guys aren’t in many scenes together. Did you not want to come up with a story where you guys would interact more, or is that reflective of your interest in pursuing different styles, individually?
BB: No, actually, that was another great call by Bryan. The type of movie that he wanted to make was not the buddy-buddy type of movie, where we were like, “Hey, what’s going on?” Where, if it’s two stories being told, and there’s a brotherhood that’s established and the stories kind of come in, intertwine, and then go out and come back in, I think it’s more interesting that way. That way, you got to know each character, individually, and then separated the two, and you saw, really, what was going on.
AB: But, both characters were really tight, though. They didn’t have to be in the same space, and that’s, honestly, how it is. We’ve been childhood friends since like 10th grade, before we started doing music, film or any of that. We were just kids, listening to music, gettin’ on girls, and that type of thing. That’s always going to be there, no matter what happens.
BB: Not for me. I’m married. [Laughs] Everything, except for that. [Laughs]
BB: I think what they did when they cast them was try to see who best represented us, as characters. Actually, I think they studied us. I didn’t even get a chance to meet Bobb’e J., the little guy that played me, until after he shot one scene. He was down there shooting and everybody was like, “Oh, you’ve got to come see this little boy. He is acting just like you. He’s acting crazy.” [Laughs] So, I went over there to check him out, and he was amazing, man. He was so smart, and he had his little sister with him. He was just like a little bitty boy man. He’s like 11 years old.
Do either of you have plans to actually study acting?
AB: I have mixed feelings about the studying thing. I think there are certain things that you can learn because there are certain techniques. You’ve got lighting, you’ve got spots that you have to hit that you can’t overstep your mark -- those are the technical things. But, I have learned from doing . . . I’m still an amateur, but I have learned that there’s something innate, something that’s in you, that makes you, you and makes Johnny Depp him, and there’s not a class that can make that really happen. There is a class that can tell you to speak up, to project louder, or something like that. But, what people buy into is your own thing. So, maybe there’s some classes you can take, like some vocal classes. Being that we’re both from the South, maybe you have to play a role that, like if it’s Pele, you have to get an accent down. So, there’s certain things you can do.
BB: One thing that I’ve learned, by talking to different directors and the veteran actors, like Ving and Terrence, on the set is that it’s really all about timing. It’s about timing and keeping yourself in the moment and actually going there. I don’t know if there’s a class that can teach you to be a certain type of person or play a certain type of role, but you can go learn the technicalities to sharpen up and be aware of your surroundings. But, we in the studio making music. I don’t know when we’ll get time to go do no training, you know what I’m sayin’?
Can you talk about working with people like Paula Jai Parker, Ving Rhames, Faizon Love and Cicely Tyson?
AB: Go ahead, man. Your character got to work with way more people. [Laughs] I was at home all that time.
BB: It was fun. For the most part, you learn something from each person. You didn’t want them to think, “Okay, this is another rap guy comin’ in, just trying to do something.” You wanted them to know that you were dead serious about it. And, once they got to know you and know the story behind wanting to get into films, when you got on screen, you just play off each other. Everybody became family. Faizon was like the big funny brotha on the set. He was always walking around, cracking jokes. Paula Jai was like, “Okay, let’s do the kiss scene over again. Let’s try it again this way.” She was a lot of fun. And, also, one thing I can say is that Cicely Tyson was so serious. When I did the scene with her that day, that was just so memorable to me because she was so serious. She was serious with the kids. We were shooting the scene and she would just be like, “One of y’all back there is movin’. You all need to stop. Somebody back there is kickin’ while I’m talkin’.” [Laughs] She was so serious about it like that, and I was just sittin’ on the outside of the car like, “Damn, those some kids. [Laughs] Let me make sure that me and you go head-to-head with what we doin’.” The love that they showed and just the respect and admiration for us as people, and us telling them how much we loved them . . . I think everything being organic just worked itself out.
AB: As far as the future of Outkast, we’re really not saying what we’re going to do next. We’re concentrating on what we’re doing now, which is the ‘Idlewild’ movie and the ‘Idlewild’ soundtrack. As far as the rumors, I guess you’ve got to say that we’ve been doing it for 12 or 13 years, we ain’t shot nobody, we ain’t killed nobody, we ain’t slapped nobody, we didn’t go to jail, we ain’t sleepin’ with Paris Hilton, so what can you talk about? And, when people say, “Well, Andre, he’s not going on tour,” or “Andre don’t want to be on a record label,” or “He don’t want to be in the music business, as far as a label,” those decisions make people say, “Well, him and Big Boi are driftin’ apart.” But, really, that’s a personal choice and we both, definitely, understand it. So, we most definitely not breaking up or driftin’. We’re grown men now. We don’t hang out the same. We hang out, but we don’t hang out every day, like we used to. We don’t live in the same house, like we used to. It’s kind of like your brother. You grew up with him and now y’all gotta go and get your own house, and you got your own family. You’ve got kids. I’ve got my son. It’s a new game, but we still trip out like it’s 10th grade.
BB: Yeah, exactly. That’s one thing that a lot of people just don’t know. Sometimes, for a minute, we’d get mad and be like, “Man, what the fuck are they sayin’?” Somebody would come and interview us and just really try to paint their own picture. The whole time they’re interviewing us, we’re talkin’ and laughin’ and talking about shit that happened to us, back when we were 17 or 18, and they go back and write the story like, “Well, he was so distant and he was not really talking to him and I think he was drinking a Pepsi and he wanted the Coca Cola.” [Laughs] It would be some dumb shit, and we’d just be like, “Man, how can they do that?” They take things you say and try to take it out of context, like “Well, maybe Dre’s mad because Big Boi’s married.” Just stupid stuff. But, we’ve been saying for years, it’s about the music. Our personal lives are our personal lives. Us, as far as individuals, the brotherhood we have, we had the brainchild Outkast. We made that idea, and that principle has never left us. We created this, and nothing music or movies do can break this up. That’s my dog, for life.
But, if you keep doing separate albums, will you still call it Outkast?
AB: But, we’ve only done one separate album, and that was ‘Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.’
BB: We was trying to help you out, so that y’all could identify with what was goin’ on. It’s almost like if you’ve got a frog and you dissect him down the middle. After you have done 6 or 7 records, you go, “Okay, let’s do something fun.” “Okay, Big, you take your whole idea and you run with it.” “Alright, Dre, let’s run with it.” But, we’re still making songs together.
AB: The new album is one album.
BB: One album, 19 songs. It’s like a double CD again, but all on one record. And, yes, we are on about 5 or 6 songs together. Yes, Dre’s rapping on a lot of different songs. It’s goin’ down.
When does it become available?
AB: Well, if you go online and buy it, it’s out. [Laughs] But, it’s officially coming out August 22nd.
Bryan has such a visual style with this film. How much were you able to visualize what Bryan wanted to do with this? And, how good of a tap dancer were you before this? Did you have to learn any special skills for this?
AB: As far as the extra added values in the movie, we call it that funk. That’s the funk you bring to the movie. We are film fans. Bryan would say, “Have you seen ‘Amelie’? Did you see how they tricked this?” So, we knew what kind of game we were playing here, and we knew what type of film we wanted to make. It can’t be so straight and narrow all the time. It has to be magical, in some kind of way, at least for this film. So, we were happy about that.
BB: As far as interacting with the flask and the different things that were going on around us, you just had to psyche yourself out, like it was talking back to you ‘cause there was nobody delivering the lines back. I was just talking to a flask that sometimes had Hennessy in it [laughs], just to get all the way there. You start talking to it, and then you just really start believing what’s going on. I saw the film, for the first time, last night and I was tripped out.
When will the DVD with the 3-hour version come out?
BB: Probably around Christmas time. And, we’re going to put 5 or 6 new songs on the album, for added value. The director’s cut is the shit, though.
BB: ‘The Wiz.’
AB: Even ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.’
AB: Oh, for sure.
AB: No, it won’t be this year. It will be the fall of next year.
Is there any truth to the rumor, about Outkast doing the next Dj Drama's Gangsta Grillz mixtape?
AB: Yep. We’re putting in some of our groove and some of everything.
When will the DVD with the 3 hour version come out?
BB: Probably around Christmas time. We’re gonna put 5-6 new songs for added value. The Director’s Cut is the shit.
IDLEWILD OPENS ON AUGUST 25, 2006
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