By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Ice Cube (nee O’Shea Jackson) has come a long way since his days as a gangsta rapper, who penned violent anti-authority songs like “**** tha Police” as part of the popular hip hop group NWA.
The 44-year-old married father of four has become a film star, writer, director and producer, who is more likely to be seen these days on screen playing a lawman than a thug. He owes a lot to director John Singleton, who recruited him two decades to star in “Boyz N the Hood,” and made him a star. The usually stoic and imposing Ice Cube showed his lighter side in films like “Next Friday,” “Barbershop,” and the family friendly “Are We There Yet?” and its sequel “Are We Done Yet?”
Known to his friends simply as Cube, the versatile performer now stars in the buddy cop comedy “Ride Along” alongside red-hot comedian/actor Kevin Hart. Cube plays a police detective who doesn’t approve of his kid sister’s boyfriend—a scrawny school security guard named Ben (Hart), with a penchant for violent videogames. When Ben somehow manages to get accepted into the police academy, Cube’s James decides to dissuade him by taking him along in his patrol car for a day, making sure he gets the calls no rookie would ever want to be part of. But James learns a few lessons of his own that day about underestimating people. With references to the Denzel Washington action drama “Training Day” sprinkled throughout, it’s clear the filmmakers had that story in mind, only turned on its head as a comedy.
Cube, who still occasionally records, spoke about his unexpected career, playing the straight man to Hart, whom he describes as the Energizer bunny and working again with “Ride Along” director Tim Story, who previously directed him in “Barbershop.”
Q: Your career has come so far since “**** tha Police.” You’re now playing a detective. Reflecting on your career, how do you feel about what you’ve accomplished and the direction it’s taken?
Ice Cube: It’s been an amazing ride. I always tell people if you gave me a pen and a piece of paper when I was a teenager and told me to write out my career and I wanted it to go, I probably would have short-changed myself compared to what it’s been for real. So I’m just extremely excited about what I’ve accomplished but also I feel like I’m young and I have a lot more to offer and a lot more to do. I’m actually restrained a bit by the process of Hollywood as far as the creative ideas I have. It’s just impossible to do them all. That’s a little humbling but I always feel like I fight through and make sure that I’m always creative.
Q: In “Ride Along,” your character gives Kevin’s character a hard time. Was it like that when you were shooting or did you kid around at all?
Ice Cube: With Kevin, we’re totally different together (in real life) than we are onscreen. Kevin’s a pro. He’s one of those guys who’s constantly late. (He laughs.) He’s one of those who’s always on point, ready. He’s cool because he’ll make the crew laugh but he’ll also make the camera laugh too. A lot of guys can’t do that. Some comedians I’ve had to pull to the side and say, “You’re making the crew crack up but when we shoot, you ain’t got no energy. What the ****? Sit down in between takes and save your energy.” But Kevin’s not like that. He’s like the Energizer bunny. I don’t know if it’s coffee or cocaine or whatever it is, but he’s the Energizer bunny. He’s always on and it’s good. It’s fun. It’s his personality. It’s not an act and it’s a great thing to work with somebody who’s such a pro.
Q: What did you like most about working with him?
Ice Cube: It’s been fun just seeing such a pro get busy, not only on set but in meetings. Just how he makes everybody feel good and feel part of the process. I haven’t seen somebody come on the scene since Eddie Murphy like Kevin has. Kevin can come in and basically hold you hostage until he wants to let you go. Everybody’s captivated. He’s just an amazing talent. It’s magical to see somebody go there and they’re able to capture all audiences with it. Not just the ‘hood audiences, but everywhere else in the world: Chinese ‘hoods, African ‘hoods, Israeli ‘hoods. He can get everybody into it.
Q: Do you like being part of a buddy comedy?
Ice Cube: Oh yeah. It’s just a great movie, a fun ride. The title’s “Ride Along,” and audiences really want to be in that back seat and see how James (Ice Cube) can torture Ben (Hart), and how Ben is resisted. He’s like a cockroach. He won’t die or go away. He won’t quit. He keeps coming back. It’s dope in how the videogame aspect of it helps in real life, which is a cool twist because every “Call of Duty” gamer or whatever thinks if they were in Fallujah, they’d be about to get down like this. So it’s cool to see somebody actually trying to apply (the shooting skills learned through videogames). It’s kind of funny.
Q: You’ve worked with director Tim Story before. How was this project different?
Ice Cube: I don’t know how Tim Story gets anything done. He’s so laid back. Yet he’s in total control of the set. His posture is almost like he’s been invited to visit and he’s somebody’s friend hanging around. He’s so relaxed and easy to work with. He knows exactly what he wants. When I first worked with him on “Barbershop,” that first week was rough. We had 17-18 hour days because he knew what he wanted. He just didn’t know how long it would take to get what he wanted. Now he’s quick-fast. (Producer) Will Packer’s back there helping him basically guide the ship. So it’s a pleasure and I can’t wait to work with him again.
Q: Kevin’s character is seeking approval from your character throughout. When did you feel like you made it in Hollywood, and who did you feel like you had to get approval from?
Ice Cube: I guess to myself more than anybody. I didn’t really have anybody I had to prove (myself) to. My parents were extra-supportive of me getting into hip hop. NWA. They were totally behind it. “Gangsta Gangsta.” She was like, “Why you gotta talk like that?” But she knew it was positive hanging out with Dre (his band mate) than hanging out with the neighborhood Crips. So they were supportive from Day One. So I had my mom and pop’s support. But my brothers and sisters were still like, “What you doing? Who do you think you are, man? Fat Boys/Run DMC?” So it took a couple of checks to come in and me to roll up in something new for them to respect me. They were like, “Hey, how did you get this?” When the checks come in, everything’s alright. You could be selling dope. When the money comes in, everybody says, “Aw, that’s a nice TV. Go on to work!” (He laughs.)
Q: There’s a scene where you startle Kevin’s character inside his house and his instinct is to put his girlfriend in front of him as a human shield. Have you ever had a situation where you were scared senseless, and then later a little embarrassed by your reaction?
Ice Cube: When me and Dre was starting to do our thing, we had to pick up this girl who was singing for us. As I was moving from the front seat to the back seat, we saw some youngsters walking by. We thought they were walking to school. So we didn’t pay any attention and then, when they got a few houses down, they started shooting at us. So I’m yelling to Dre, “Drive! Drive!” And he’s looking around. I was like, “What are you looking at?” He was looking in the rear view mirror to make sure they were shooting at us.
Q: How was it working with Tika Sumpter, who plays your kid sister Angela?
Ice Cube: I think she definitely was well cast. After looking at Kevin Hart for 90 minutes, it’s nice to see Tika every now and then. (He laughs.)
Q: You just finished shooting “22 Jump Street” with Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. What was it like playing a police officer in that one?
Ice Cube: It was crazy the way they filmed it. They don’t have to cut nowadays. With the digital camera, you can just roll and roll, so we were just doing, sometimes, 12 minute takes. They’d go, “Say this! Do this!” So it was just a crazy process. I went to the L.A. Unified School District (system) so my reading’s a bit off.