Ice Cube, rapper and movie star, has an uncanny knack of knowing what his fans crave, and his movies have, of late, explored his often gruff but sensitive side.
Take "First Sunday," a sweet-natured family comedy in which the actor stars opposite comedian Tracy Morgan in the Baltimore-set film as a couple of hapless petty crims who decide to rob a church in the hope of making their lives a bit better.
Of course, nothing quite goes according to plan, unlike Cube's career which continues to grow from strength to strength to strength. He talked to Paul Fischer.
Question: Why this particular script?
Cube: As far as Cubevision, it's right in our wheelhouse. It's the kind of movies that people enjoy from our company. David telling the story the way he did, the way he made it a "Friday" movie and a "Barbershop" movie wrapped into one, to me was what I knew we could make it work. I said this is going to work and you ought to do it if you know it's going to work.
Question: What is your brand?
Cube: I wouldn't go that far. I wouldn't say we just do this. We do upbeat reality movies. That's kind of what we do; that's what people want from us so every time I was with New Line and then Revolution and now Screen Gems, even with MGM and "Barbershop," whenever I get a new relationship, they say, yo, give us what you do best. These movies are starting to be known for their fun but sometimes with a nice, good message.
Question: Do you enjoy being the straight man in a film like this?
Cube: I better be the straight man. When you've got Tracy and Katt, to try to outdo them for laughs would be suicide.
Question: How do you keep a straight face when you're working with them?
Cube: It's not easy because those dudes are so spontaneous. They make me laugh just in conversation and talking to them about what we're going to do on the set. That's the hard work, knowing this dude can say anything, and I can't laugh, because if I laugh, we can't use the scene.
Question: Tracy said when you guys did the table read, he came in with the backstory for his character, and you guys started feeding off each other about your relationship, being friends since first grade.?
Cube: He not only came up with that backstory but he came to it with that attitude. I still feel like I've been knowing him since the first grade. For some reason, he got charm thing going. He knows how to do it. Me and him is real tight. We were tight before we started to do the movie, and doing movie has just made us tighter so I just want to do more movies with Tracy because it's just a good combination.
Question: Do you have a lock on January releases?
Cube: It's been a great time to release movies. It's after the Christmas rush and people are looking for a new fresh beginning, a fresh new start, and why not start off with "First Sunday," or a Cube movie to start your year off right. It's been a slot that's been real good to us and why fix it if it ain't broke.
Question: How did you feel about all the stuff that was going on in the church including waving around guns in church?
Cube: That wasn't right at all. I went to David and said if we get a lot of church people protesting us and going after us I'm going to kill you, David. He was like they're going to love it. Churches should reach out to dudes like Durell and LeeJohn. Sometimes they don't. Here's a case where the church didn't reach out but Durell and Lee got in there and once they got in there they came out better people. He felt like if you take yourself too serious, you'll probably take this movie too serious. For the most part, people are going to enjoy it and have a good time, and understand what we were trying to do with it.
Question: You've brought forward bright talent early in their careers like Chris Tucker, Mike Epps, Katt Williams...you see yourself doing that?
Cube: You see somebody and you wonder why nobody else can see (this talent) in that person. Is anybody looking that can make a movie. Is anybody paying attention that this dude isn't just script-funny but a funny person, period. All these dudes can make you laugh any time of day, eating dinner, whatever they do, they can make you funny. So it's all about writing something that's... if you go halfway decent, I don't see how you can make a bad movie with these dudes.
Question: Is that where Cubevision comes from?
Cube: Yeah, in a way. I figured that when we started doing movies in Hollywood, there weren't a lot of people doing movies the way I see them. There was nobody in Hollywood like me, that's how I figured it. I want people to know I'm looking at everything, and I'm trying to have some quality control when it comes to Cubevision.
Question: What other projects are you involved with?
Cube: A lot. Everything is in development. If you have a lot of movies in development, you can make movies you want to make. What looks like is going to be next is a movie called "The Comeback," directed by Fred Durst and it's a good movie. It's a drama about this guy who's down and out-I play him-and dude he don't want to deal with his niece because she's thrust upon him. His brother's an absentee father. It shows how they start to deal with each other and he convinces her to play football.
Question: What about "Welcome Back, Kotter?"
Cube: We got a good script for it. It's the Weinstein Company so we never know what they're going to do. (Laughter.)
Question: If this is successful, will you do "First Sunday, Part 2?"
Cube: "Second Sunday." Definitely, if there's a good script. That's what I base everything I do on. It's about the script.
Question: What about your music?
Cube: "Raw Footage" is the new album. It'll be out in the summer. I gotta song on the Internet now. It's called "Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It." You know, political street knowledge. Political hip-hop. Back to the essence.
Question: Do you like to keep the balance between music and film?
Cube: All I have to maintain is in there. It's inside me. I'm very passionate about music but music, on the whole, is not as high profile as movies so it seems like all I'm doing is movies, but I love music just as much.
Question: Talk about Obama?
Cube: It's a good thing. Hopefully, the country is ready for real change. But we should see if he's the right guy. That's what should matter to everybody. It's cool that he's a black guy but the way it looks he's the right guy, too. That's more important.
Question: What does he have to do to convince he's the right guy?
Cube: If he keeps doing what he's doing, he's doing a great job. He's winning me over. If he gets the nomination, he's somebody I could definitely vote for.
Question: What do you want to do that you haven't done?
Cube: Just set my kids up inside my company and make sure that they can make a living in entertainment, either behind the scenes or if they want to jump in front of the camera. I just want to make sure that my company is around long enough that my family benefits. Not just me, but generations after me. That's the ultimate goal.
Question: Where does that come from?
Cube: Just trying to be smart. Just trying to do the right thing, understanding that the blessing that I've had, getting through my whole career, and now I have to do something good with it. What's better than taking care of what you brought into the world.
Question: What happened to that TV show where black and white reversed roles?
Cube: (chuckles) FX was scared to do the second season, basically. They never asked us for another one. Thank you, Cube. We cannot do that again.
Question: What do you do to chill out?
Cube: Going to watch the playoffs. Is it on right now? Just kicking back like everybody else does, watch the games, you know. Hopefully, I like to do nothing. To me, having nothing to do, damn I can't believe it..
Question: Are you looking forward to doing drama with this upcoming project?
Cube: Yeah. That's something I haven't done a lot of and I like dramas even more than comedy. To get back to it is exciting. The whole thing is the movie is so cool, the whole things is to keep it in that drama filled to it, because we start to get that upbeat attitude on set and it comes out and it's not funny.
Question: This movie has moments of drama. How challenging is it to make it work (with the comedy)?
Cube: You have to get people to like the characters and laugh with the characters and laugh at the characters upfront, and then you can start drawing them in. What I loved about Tracy's performance and just his character is that you get to see the tears of a clown. You get to see the layers pulled back from these guys who make you laugh all the time, you see them and they seem like the life of the party and some of them are crying on the inside and you never get to see the transition on film, and here you get to break him down to a real person and not just a clown that's just having fun.
Question: Are you going to do a romantic comedy?
Cube: No romantic comedies.
Cube: I don't like them. I hate them personally. I hate watching them.
Question: How do you feel being a trailblazer like Queen Latifah, Will Smith and other rappers that made the transition to Hollywood successfully?
Cube: I feel good about it. But I keep it in perspective. I ain't doing nothing that Nat King Cole didn't do and Sammy Davis Jr and Frank Sinatra, all these people who did music and transitioned to movies before us. But to be like our generation's pioneers in rap and letting the rappers behind us know that if you take it serious and don't just look at it as extra money but as the art form that it is and give it the respect it deserves you can make it.
Question: So you wouldn't do a romantic gangsta love story?
Question: Gangstas need love too?
Cube: That's true. That's true. They're just going to have to get it from somebody else.