Ice Cube is a man of simple tastes. Walking into the New York hotel room where he was holding court promoting his starring role in the new "XXX" action film State of the Union, Cube is more comfortable wearing his red t-shirt and jeans, rather than the suit and tuxedo he dons in two key scenes from XXX.
“I’m a T-shirt and jean man. I can keep it simple, not having to get messed up unless I really have to.” But wearing a tux has Cube getting to play a kind of street-wise James Bond character. “I grew up on James Bond, my favourite one being Roger Moore. After that, I kind of fell off with them, but with movies like XXX and the Die Hard movies, if you’re in this game, you definitely want to get one of these under your belt somewhere.”
In the new movie, Samuel L. Jackson’s NSA Agent August Gibbons, fresh off the success of his last renegade recruitment, once again finds himself in need of an outsider. Thus steps in his is latest recruit, the tough and intense Darius Stone, now code-named "XXX," who must track down a military splinter group that is conspiring to overthrow the U.S. Government. Cube says he had no qualms about stepping into Vin Diesel’s shoes, knowing it might be for one adventure. “I always felt it was a great opportunity no matter how we had to pull it off. I really didn’t want to play 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, I just jumped at it, even though I knew that that would kind of cut me off after one movie, possibly,” he adds, with a twinkle in his eye. “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.”
As tough a character Cube plays, he was just as happy to show off his penchant for comedy and lighten things up along the way. “We were always looking for places to lighten him up a little bit because he’s got attitude. After all, he’s been sitting in jail for all this time, really no contact with anybody and now he’s kind of out, really on this mission so it’s almost in some places no room for humour. Consequently we had to figure out where would it be appropriate to have this guy open up a little bit and the more we got into it, we found more and more places and when we cut the movie together, it just seemed like a nice balance between hard action that you really want but also the relief that we’re still in an action comedy popcorn type of movie.” He hopes audiences will get plenty out of seeing his take on the XXX franchise. “I want them to forget about the first one after they see this, and say, ‘Vin who?’ I just want them to believe that we delivered on it and give people exactly what they expect out of the movie.”
Cube is one of the old guard of rapper who has made the successful leap to the big screen, being on top of his game for almost a decade. Like many of his contemporaries, he also has reason to be good about this year of successful African-American-themed films, from own Are we there Yet, to the likes of Hitch Coach Carter. “Through DVDs, the audiences have shown the industry that it really doesn’t matter what colour 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 colour we are. We’ve been fighting to get to a position like this,” says Cube. While Cube’s role in XXX is not at all colour-specific, the actor says that a character’s racial elements is not what attracts him to a project, “because each role is different; I’m not looking to play parts like that, and I’d definitely go back and do a movie like a Barbershop or kind of what I call neighbourhood 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.”
Fans of Cube the hardcore rapper need not despair, either, for he says that he still does hardcore music. “I’ll talk about what I see fit at the time. I really don’t like repeating myself, but this new record that I’m working on, has elements of old hip hop, the old stuff I used to do.” Cube denies that rap has gotten soft over the years. “It’s just more accepted. The focus is not on a political change but more partying, so I think that’s what’s softened up. However, the political aspect of us trying to become better through the music or trying to explain our position on certain policies the government had, has changed.”
As busy as Cube is, with movies and music, his family remains the one constant in his life. Married for over 10 years, Cube has four children, and insists that family comes first. “As far as my business goes, I rarely take a meeting after six o’clock. If it doesn’t happen before six, it can happen the next day, which keeps me home at the time when your kids need you for homework, or just talking, and it doesn’t keep me out in the streets ‘til 11, 12, midnight, one o’clock. 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, my family or even my music or so I have a lot of free time.”
Having done such a huge film as XXX, one wonders whether Cube is after something smaller. “Size kind of doesn’t matter,” he responds, smilingly. “It really matters on the people I’m working with, and on the script. We’ve got a few things in development, in the mix, but I don’t really like to talk about it until I know that they can be made.” All he can say is the Friday franchise is far from dead. “That’s starting up again and starting to rekindle. Every time I put it to bed, 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.”
XXX The State of the Union opens on Friday.
- PAUL FISCHER