One of the first rappers to transition to acting and still the one who’s had the most success out of it since 1991’s Boyz n the Hood, Ice Cube is a true multi-hyphenate.
Still a prolific performer and music producer, he seems to have a Midas touch in the world of Hollywood. Whether it’s as an actor in the hit Friday series or as a producer being the record-shattering NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton, the 47-year-old LA native has seen his fortunes and creative cachet skyrocket.
Interestingly for a guy who used to be a very angry young man, Cube has carved out his strongest niche in comedy, and he returns to the genre in Fist Fight, playing a fearsome teacher who’s lost his job and has nothing left to lose. He spoke to Moviehole.net on the Atlanta set.
Were you looking for a comedy again after working on Straight Outta Compton?
Compton was hard on all levels, just to keep it together, keep quality as high as we could get it and it was just the subject matter was heavy at times. So this is fun. It reminds me of working on the Jump Street films, anything that goes and lets it rip, you know. I’m comfortable doing this kind of comedy.
Do you know a teacher like your character Mr Strickland when you were young?
Yeah, there were a few. Once a month there’s something you hear about this teacher slamming a student up against a locker or not taking no shit. So I know how to play this guy, I think he’s going to be most iconic teachers ever on screen.
Was there a teacher that stands out now as a mentor to you?
Not really a mentor. I had one teacher in 6th grade, Mr Dolovey, he’s the one who made me realise how important it was to hunker down and focus and do your school work. He was one of my most influential teachers but he wasn’t the grab you by the collar kind.
A guy named Mr Burns who would grab you by the collar. There were a couple of janitors that were real mean back then, but to me these teachers are always the best because they command respect. They’re all about learning and no nonsense. If more teachers were like that maybe we’d have a better system here.
Things are different now.
Back in the 70s and 80s it seemed like it was the teachers and parents on the same side but somehow somewhere the students and the parents start ganging up on the teachers. So I think that’s a turnaround that make teachers step back and it made students bolder in what they did. If a teacher called my house back in the day I would get in trouble. Now the teacher call the house, Mamma cuss them out for calling the house, saying ‘not my baby’. But I think the way it used to be works.
It must be a fun character to play?
Extremely fun. He’s outrageous, very prickly. I think this character is gonna jump off the screen.
I believe you picked up a few injuries and bruises from the actual fight sequence?
Was the damage all on Charlie Day [Cube’s co-star] or did he manage to land one on you?
No, I’m a young buck. I’m ready, I don’t know what Charlie’s talking about. But, you know, it happens. It’s eight days of stunts. I worked on xXx 2 and I don’t even know if we got eight days of stunts in a row on that movie. So you know, a couple of bruises, nicks, pulls, that masseuse I hear really earned her money. It’s going to be a hell of a movie but I’m glad those days are behind us.
How is acting like music for you?
To me it’s a great way to tell a story. In hip hop I was always attracted to the MCs who would have a story to tell, when you tell a story through rhyme. Storytelling rappers to me are the best and it’s an art that’s not really done as much now as it was when hip hop first started and when I got into it.
So to me this is an extension of that. Instead of storytelling in an audio way, there’s no bigger canvas for artists to have than a movie.
The young man you used to be was full of anger and protest as an artist. It’s interesting that as an actor you gravitated towards comedy. Which one’s closer to the real Ice Cube?
Both of them. We [NWA] were into comedy and having fun and having a sense of humour. You know, a lot of our records have a dark sense of humour and tone to them. I’ve always enjoyed funny people. A lot of my friends are funny.
With the music, we start talking about the things that was affecting us mentally, physically, emotionally that we had to grow up and try to make sense out of by putting it in music and examining it in our own way and it’s our own type of therapy.
With movies, at some point people got to release. At some point people have to enjoy themselves. Even through tough circumstances you can’t just keep beating the same drum no matter how bad it is. Reality is not that it’s bad all the time. Sometimes you do have a good time.
I’m not trying to be a persona or an image or a gimmick, I’m just trying to be an artist who chooses difference canvases to tell my stories. So this is a part of me I love that people get a chance to see.
What are you like at home with your kids? Anything like Mr Strickland?
I’m firm but fair. I respect my kids and I think a lot of people need to take that approach. You know, it’s not a dictatorship at all times. You’ve got to realise that your kids are their own individual human beings, and just because they’re little that don’t mean they don’t have the same feelings as the adults do.
A wise person told me to be good to your kids because if you’re going to be old one day you’re going to need them. So we have a great relationship and to me it’s a very unique household because everybody has their own strong opinion and everybody is tough minded and that’s what you want, you want tough kids that can handle this world.
Do you think this world is better than the one you were living in?
The world is not a better place. It’s still as mixed up as it was when I grew up. Things are trashed and damaged and polluted and tore up because we are all trying to get our hands on another dollar or whatever. That to me is the problem with the world, everybody’s chasing the dollar, nobody cares about what’s going on around them.
Given how much work you put into Compton, how gratifying was it that it turned out to be a massive hit?
It’s like all my dreams so far have come true on that movie. It was hard, it wasn’t a cake walk at all. We kind of bent that movie to our will because when a movie like that’s being done in a big studio, sometimes people have their own visions of what the movie should be and they just taint what you’re trying to do with their money vision of what it should be. It’s like, you know, ‘why have you got Dr Dre crying?’ Dr Dre cries too like everybody else.
So it’s just being able to show that we were real people, five guys who tried to do something cool together and then it turned out as well as we could imagine. It’s just a dream come true.
I’m so happy for my son [O’Shea Jackson Jr played his father in Straight Outta Compton] because this could’ve been a disaster for him. His whole life could’ve went from just being cool youngster, spending his daddy’s money to being an internet dart board.
So all these things turned out, we landed on our feet. I’m extremely grateful, the stars aligned, all that good stuff and everything else is gravy from here.
Does anybody in your life called you O’Shea anymore?
Yeah, my mother calls me O’Shea… And anybody that’s trying to get a bill paid.
As an actor predominantly associated with comedy, do you ever want to get back to real hard drama like Boyz in the Hood or something like Compton?
Yeah, I’m a doing it. It’s coming, I think. Compton opened Hollywood eyes and let them know what kind of film maker I really am and I believe they’d be more receptive to dramas from me. I feel like I’ve got a long career ahead of me and we’ll start swinging this pendulum to a more dramatic balance, dramatic comedy, whatever.
Any desire to direct?
Yeah, it’s just I don’t want to be bogged down on one project. As a producer you can have a lot of things going but as a director you pretty much only have one thing going. So I don’t really want to lock in like that yet.