(Some questions in this interview have come from another journalist present for the Q&A.)
Actor, writer, producer, director and hip-hop icon Ice Cube has a whole handful of peanut M&Ms, but he doesn't seem to be eating them -- just rolling them around with his fingertips. Sitting on the edge of an englufingly plush chair in his San Francisco hotel room, the former member of the controversial and legendary rap group NWA (Niggers With Attitude) seems so wrapped up in kicking back and talking about "Friday After Next," his latest in a string of hit urban comedies, that the candies may just melt in his hand no matter what the slogan says.
Born in Los Angeles on June 15, 1969 with the name O'Shea Jackson, Cube became a rapper in his teens. Until he started acting, he was best known for writing and performing hardcore street anthems like NWA's "F**k the Police" and "Gangsta, Gangsta," and his solo hits like "Check Yo Self." But after getting top notices for his performance as the angry gangbanger Doughboy in John Singleton's influential ghetto drama "Boyz In the 'Hood," Cube's movie career took off.
Now he plays everything from sci-fi tough guys ("John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars") to soldiers ("Three Kings") to a reluctant neighborhood shopkeep in this year's sleeper hit "Barbershop." And he writes, produces and sometimes directs many of his own film projects, the most popular of which have been "Friday" and "Next Friday," a pair of screwball comedies about ghetto stoners, in which Cube plays an everyday chump named Craig who keeps getting himself into trouble and out of work.
Cube's new sequel is "Friday After Next," which the multiple-threat performer calls the first "neighborhood Christmas movie" in which "Santa Claus is the villain" -- or at least Ghetto Santa, a burglar dressed like Santa Claus who sneaks into people's apartments and steals their presents.
The "Friday" movies have been such a big success, with the fans and the studio clamoring for this third picture since the minute the second one debuted in 2000, that Cube says he thinks he may just keep writing more "Fridays" until he runs out of funny story ideas. Sequels were the first topic of conversation when I visited with Cube earlier this month.
|Q: I was thinking toward the end of this movie that even if you don't continue to crank them out now, I can see you guys coming back and doing another one when you're in your 50s, like "Grumpy Old Homeboys."|
A: Yeah, yeah! [He laughs in a staccato rhythm that sounds like a jovial machine gun.]
|Q: When did you decide "Friday 3" was going to be a Christmas movie?|
A: When New Line came to me and said "We'd really like a new one, and we'd like it to come out at the end of the year," I was thinking, OK, if I'm gonna write another "Friday" movie, how can I keep it fresh? Then I was thinking, there's never really been a neighborhood Christmas movie, you know, in the 'hood. California, no snow on the ground -- the Christmas that I know! So I started thinking, this is funny and the time would be right.
|Q: There are Christmas decorations in almost every shot, even if it's somebody getting the crap beat out of them.|
A: Yeah, it just gives you that flavor. That kind of stuff, we just was trying to let you know -- because usually snow on the ground would do it. You see snow on the ground; you're in a Christmas movie. Well, we had to do ours with over-decorating s**t. [Laughs as he walking over to a trash can and tosses out all his M&Ms.]
|Q: You had your fill of peanut M&Ms? You haven't eaten a single one.|
A: Yeah, man. I was sick of them things! You eat two or three of them and it's just not right anymore. [Laughs.]
|Q: Have you thought about directing any of the "Friday" movies yourself.|
A: That's crossed my mind. But I like hiring first-time directors. They need a little help, but there's no egos in the door, and we still keep the spirit of the movies. They're all upbeat type of things, and I don't want nobody coming in with their own way of doing things, you know? I want people to come in and join our team -- collaborate on making it a good movie. I (also) like having a director, because I don't wanna be working on this thing for a year and a half. I've done two or three projects since we finished, and our director is still on this! I didn't want to be tied down to it.
|Q: You haven't put out any new albums in a while. You've done soundtrack songs, but that's it. But I understand you're working on something now, aren't you?|
A: I haven't done an album in a while because I was in the process of getting off Priority Records. I was on their label since I went solo. But I just took some time to get off of that contract and they didn't want me to sign with anybody for another year. It was a whole thing. But now it looks like I'm gonna sign with Aftermath and have Dr. Dre produce my next solo album. So my new album could be my best one. I'm excited about that.
|Q: That gap also gave you an opportunity to focus on movies for a while.|
A: Yeah, it's kinda like a wave, man. If it's going good, you gotta ride it. I'm a realist about it. The movie thing is going right for me. I love doing it. I like to create on this level. I wasn't gonna just stop because I didn't feel like I was doing enough hip-hop. That's what I do. I can always do that.
|Q: Samuel L. Jackson dissed rappers-turned-actors back in July, but even if he's right, I think you're an exception. You're the most interesting, you've got the most presence, the most talent, and the range of stuff you've done so far...|
A: Thanks, thanks. I appreciate that. You know, it's a little unfair because we've created a whole lot of jobs for people. We've created jobs and careers for the Chris Tuckers and Bernie Macs of the world, you know? We put them in the first movies people really see them in. Some of us do bad movies, but some actors do bad movies! I mean, damn. Either you can do it or you can't. It's not a whole thing about "I'm an actor so I'm special." It's not rocket science. I'm pretty sure you can act if you put your mind to it.
|Q: In terms of range, I was trying to think of other actors who can go back and forth between action roles and everyman roles as easily as you. I couldn't think of too many that do both well -- Bruce Willis and you. When you're playing a badass, you come across with 100 percent credibility. When you're just playing Calvin (in "Barbershop") or Craig (in the "Friday" movies), you're just a regular guy. Are there different kinds of mindsets you get into?|
A: I don't think about no kinda persona or anything like that. I just don't get in the way of the material. If it calls for me to be nervous or scared, or scared of somebody like Damon (the landlord's muscle-bound enforcer son in "Friday After Next"), I just play it to the hilt. I try to be as honest as I can about it, and hopefully that comes across.
|Q: That's exactly the scene I was thinking of. It occurred to me that Ice Cube from "Ghost of Mars" could probably kick that guy's ass, even though Damon is bigger than he is. Ice Cube in "Three Kings" would probably try to kick that guy's ass -- although I don't know that he'd win.|
A: [Laughing] Yeah, yeah! And Bucum (the bounty hunter Cube played in "All About the Benjamins") would have slammed him down and arrested his ass!
|Q: And yet I was totally buying into you being scared of him as Craig, instead of thinking, "Oh, come on! Cube can kick his ass!"|
A: I don't get in the way of the material. It is what it is. I just try to stay true to it.
|Q: So when did you decide you wanted to start your own production company in addition to acting?|
A: You know, I had done the first "Friday" and "The Players Club" with an ex-manager by the name of Pat Charbonnet. But I just wanted to do it on my own. Put my own team together. So I started CubeVision in '98. Our first movie was "Next Friday," then "All About the Benjamins," then "Barbershop," and now "Friday After Next." We just wanted to put together movies how we see them. We got the idea that you don't have to spend $100 million to make $100 million. If you got a good story, good actors, people willing to work, if you can keep the budget down, at the end of the day everybody's happy and you get a chance to do another one.
|Q: "Barbershop" has had amazing success. The critics love "Barbershop." The fans love "Barbershop." Everybody loves "Barbershop." Well, there were a couple people who didn't...|
A: Yeah, yeah. [Laughs knowingly.]
|Q: That controversy (Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson tried to organize a boycott over the movie's jokes at the expense of Jackson, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks) struck me as such an insane overreaction. Their own point was made right there in the movie, so clearly they didn't see it.|
A: Exactly. They didn't. They admitted that. And it's a non-issue. That's why I never really spoke on it. It's like, you guys are mad about what a fictional character said in a fictional movie.
|Q: And the character (who makes the jokes) was immediately slapped down by everyone around him.|
A: Exactly! (Jackson and Sharpton) were just mad because people laughed at the jokes.
|Q: That's because they were funny!|
A: And that was the whole essence of what the barbershop is -- nobody's exempt at the barbershop, you know? You go in a real black barbershop, man, anybody's name come up -- Jesus Christ himself! And if his name can come up, Jesse's, Martin's and Rosa's can too.
|Q: Well since "Friday After Next" is a movie about stoners, I can't let you go without asking you about hip-hop artists and weed.|
|Q: I'm guessing you've heard that Snoop Dogg announced he's quitting the chronic. I'm not trying to stir up trouble, but do you buy it and what do you think of that?|
A: Uh, huh. [Grinning with a slight look of doubt.] I'm proud of Snoop. I'm proud of Snoop. If he really wanna stop, that's a cool thing. Anybody who wanna stop, you know what I'm saying, that ain't bad.
|Q: Well I talked to somebody who was backstage at a show he did here last week...|
A: ...and he was blazin'?
|Q: Well, my source didn't see him lighting up, but said he was definitely blazed.|
A: Well, you can't quit if you got 10 pounds in your pocket! [Laughs.] You gotta get done with those 10 pounds!
|Q: In the first "Friday," Craig doesn't smoke. He says, "No, no. Never touch the stuff" until halfway through when Chris Tucker talks him into it. Now in the third movie...|
A: ...Craig's still blazin' away! Yeah, yeah. Craig gonna have to go to rehab in the next one.
|Q: There you go! There's your story!|
A: Day-Day breaking Craig outta rehab!