A gravel-throated emcee hailing from Queens, Ja Rule has been receiving attention since his verse on Jay-Z's "Can I Get A..." His debut album Venni Vetti Vecci dropped in 1999, powered by the runaway smash "Holla Holla" which flooded the airwaves and had legions of listeners exclaiming "it's murdaaaa!" A hit-making machine, he's mastered the art of the crossover, coming with both roughneck homicide stories and R&B love jams alike.
2000's Rule 3:36 featured several huge hits, while his 2001 LP Pain Is Love sported radio-ready singles like "I'm Real" and "Always On Time," furthering his success as a platinum player. Now he hopes to make the leap to the silver screen, co-starring as a prisoner helping a group of cops and a crime lord survive the assault on precinct 13. Garth Franklin reports from Los Angeles.
Did you get a chance to see the original before acting in this remake? Of course, of course. It was mandatory homework.
What do you think of the differences between the two? I think ours is better. They were both good movies, just set in two different times. You've got John Carpenter's '76 action, and it dealt more with the whole rebel thing with the police and everything- that whole era back in the '70s. I think it was good they kind of brought it up to date with the crooked cops to make it more relevant to today and what's going on.
You didn't have a problem with the black character dying first? Nah. I think it's more of a rapper thing- kill off the rapper first. But it was cool.
What do you think about Samuel L. Jackson's comments about playing opposite rappers? Sam has his reasons, you know. I know Sam, so... what up, Sam? I think he has certain opinions about certain artists, but I don't think he feels that way about everybody.
How tough is it to be taken seriously making a transition from music to acting? Well, the first thing you get when you go to Hollywood is a stereotype- the rapper stereotype- that you're late, you're going to f*ck up company money- a whole bunch of stereotypes are cast on us already. So the first thing is to prove them wrong, to prove to the bond companies and all that you can be on time and you're a hard-working professional. And then the second thing is, after you've showed them that you're a professional, that you're serious about your craft and work hard at it, not just I want to do this movie or that movie because I'm a celebrity. I work at it; I go to an acting coach and I work hard at it. I want to take on more challenging role where I actually have to challenge myself as an artist or get in shape or really prepare for a role, you know. It's something I really want to do.
Is there anything coming up that gives you that chance? Yeah, I got some projects coming up. I got a project called Flight of the Hawk. It's the Aaron Fries story; he was a middleweight boxer, a great boxer, and the story is incredible. That's one of those roles that I can get in and condition and work hard and train with different boxers.
Was acting an aspiration of yours before you began in the entertainment industry? It wasn't something where I was like, 'wow, I want to be an actor.' I really wanted to be an athlete, to play in the NCAA, so I was into sports and I got into music and I was a movie buff so it was kind of like 'I'm going to give this acting thing a shot.' But like anything I do, I want to be good at it, so I don't want to just be in movies, I want to be good in movies.
What value do remakes have in terms of re-inventing material audiences have already seen? Remakes are cool. I personally feel that what Hollywood is missing is creativity- I mean, take that old concept and flip it around; I think there's too much of that. That's why Spielberg and guys like this get praised- because they're the only guys that come up with original ideas.
Spielberg is remaking War of the Worlds right now. Yeah, they aren't always original concepts, but that's why these guys get praise; there's not a lot of originality or creativity happening.
Couldn't you say the same thing about hip-hop as well? Well, you could say that people are re-creating the same sounds, but at the end of the day it is each artist's own creativity. I'm not acting out through a role or remaking a movie.
But the people who get consistent radio play seem to fall into similar categories.
Yeah, that's a problem too. Wee could get into a whole another conversation about that, but that's a problem too. You know, that's radio, and they are monopolizing the industry because the dictate what gets played, and what gets played is bought, so it's a problem in the music industry as well.
How are you able to balance music and acting? I just work hard at it like I do with everything, like on my records, I work extremely hard in the studio, twenty hours a day, and work doing movies, I'll be on a set twelve hours a day, I study my script maybe four hours a day. It's just a work ethic that you have got to put on yourself.
What else are you working on now? I'm about to go back into the studio and work on a double album, which will be out later this year.
How is it different to see yourself in a video than in a movie? [On a video,] it's like 'roll camera!' and I do what I want to do, and a movie is set work.
How was it working with Lawrence Fishburne? What were you able to pull from him while you worked together? You've got to try to pull as much as you can when you're working with great actors. Because I'm bold- I'll go right up and ask them. I don't have any problems with it, so Lawrence was great and he told me different techniques and stuff to use for acting; there's a lot of different techniques you can use.
Like what? Well, they come from theater backgrounds, and they were really hands on with the theater thing on set. I was new to it- I'm not really a theater buff, and I think the first Broadway play I saw was Puff on Broadway.
Do you feel like artists often have to compromise their creativity to break into the music or movie industries?
It doesn't hurt you when you be who you are, so to speak, and in this business sometimes people want you to be who you are not. So it's a thin line that's drawn and crossed because it's a tough business. You know, it's not like sports, where as long as I've got that wicked jump shot, I'm good. You've got to drop in, and there's an old saying 'give the people what they want.'
Where do you draw that line for yourself? I mean, you just draw it somewhere. With me, I'm really true to myself. I'm a risk taker when it comes to my music and stuff; I made records that guys were scared to make at the time that I made these kind of records- you know, dedicated to women and stuff like that. So as a risk taker I really don't care. I'll go out and put it all on the line.
Did you feel like you had to prove yourself all over again when you started acting?
I kind of like the challenge of going in and proving people wrong. You'll always get critics and people who say you can't do something, and all of my life I've been the guy who said 'oh yeah? Well, watch me do it.'
Have you felt like people wanted to typecast you either in films or on record?
Not in my music. I do what I want with my music. But when you get to films it's kind of part of it, because you're with these agencies and you've got agents in there who are constantly trying to find you the right role or the right movie that fits you and who you are. And then constantly you're trying to do different things, so you're kind of bumping heads because they kind of don't know what to look for, because they will say, 'well, what do you want to do?' and you'll list them ten things because you want to try different things and they get lost in that storm somewhere. That's why I feel that Hollywood's missing some things.
You've enjoyed creative control as a musician, but how tough is it to relinquish that when you're working on a film?
Yeah, that type of thing bothers me a little bit, because as you said in music I have all creative control. From the music to the video to the time my records are put into stores, I have the final okay. Sometimes when you're watching films you go 'damn, I know I did it better than that! I know I had a better take!' You don't have the control, but then again, it's not your vision. It's the vision of the director, and he may see the scene that he's looking at as a better scene versus what you saw, so it's something you've got to deal with. It's different.
Is it tough not to take personally the personal and professional criticisms you occasionally suffer?
You have to deal with the criticism as it comes, but I kind of enjoy it (laughs).
Would you ever make a movie with 50 Cent or Eminem, since Sam Jackson won't? Oh, nah- we won't be doing it. You guys will probably be making the movie when it's all said and done. Put us all together.