By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—On the heels of his successful 2015 biographical “Straight Outta Compton” (which he helped produce), rapper turned actor Ice Cube (born O’Shea Jackson) returns for another appointment with his popular “Barbershop” franchise.
Twelve years after “Barbershop 2: Back in Business” (the follow up to the hit 2002 comedy “Barbershop”), Ice Cube reprises his role in “Barbershop: The Next Cut” as family man/small businessman Calvin Palmer Jr., who is surrounded by opinionated family, friends and co-workers that gravitate toward his Southside Chicago family business to rap about issues small and large while getting their hair done. Back for more laughs are Cedric the Entertainer (TV Land’s “The Soul Man”), Regina Hall (“Think Like a Man”), Anthony Anderson (ABC’s “Black-ish”), Eve (“Whip It”), JB Smoove (CBS’ “The Millers”), with Oscar winner Common (Best Song, “Selma”) and Nicki Minaj (“The Other Woman”).
Despite the good times and camaraderie inside the shop—which now includes a beauty annex run by Eve’s Terri—the already low-income urban neighborhood has suffered during the economic downturn and its streets have become dangerous. Gangs and gunfire are never too far away. Calvin worries his adolescent son may be lured into a gang, or worse. Circumstances force Calvin and his friends to come together in an effort to not only save the shop, but also their neighborhood.
Like the previous “Barbershop” installments, “The Next Cut” serves up social and economic commentary along with a lot of humor and heart. A lot has happened in the ensuing 12 years, including the election of the first African-American president, as well as flare up in racial tensions, a widening chasm between the police and the urban community, gender roles and more, and “The Next Cut” tackles them all in a comical and sometimes serious way. Malcolm D. Lee (“The Best Man,” “Scary Movie 5”) directs the satire from a screenplay by Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver.
Ice Cube, who stars in as well as is a producer on the film, spoke about the popularity of the franchise, returning as Calvin and working with a cast of outstanding comedic actors and entertainers. When and whether there will be a “Barbershop: Quartet” is anyone’s guess.
Q: Why was it time to come back to the “Barbershop” franchise?
Ice Cube: I wanted to have a reason to do this. I saw an article where a guy was doing the same thing we are doing in his barbershop. He was like, “Stop the violence and get free cuts at our shop.” That, to me, was the reason to do this movie. The barbershop is really more than just a place to talk mess, talk gossip or trash. It’s a place where people walk in with real problems. They are looking for answers, especially in our community where we aren’t really into therapy or showing any kind of weakness. The barbershop is a place where people just let it go and let it hang out. They know someone there will understand what they are going through.
Q: With the popularity of “Straight Outta Compton,” do you think there are changes going on in society?
Ice Cube: When we see things not change as fast as you would like them to, you know that people are going through the same thing. With “Straight Outta Compton,” we knew people had the same anxiety and issues and it was the same kind of climate going on. That’s the reason the movie worked, but it’s also a shame that things don’t progress (from the early ‘90s to today). It’s the same with (“Barbershop”). We could have done it two years ago and, hopefully, two years from now if we made it, it wouldn’t be the same results, but it probably will be. The communities are not changing as fast as we want them to. That’s why these movies make us seem super smart, but we’re just highlighting what is a constant in the community.
Q: You go head to head opening weekend with Disney’s “The Jungle Book.” Any concerns about that? Yours is a little more topical.
Ice Cube: I hope so. “The Jungle Book” is cool, but reality sometimes should trump fantasy. We’re happy with the movie we have. People are excited to see a contemporary story about what’s really going on on the ground today.
Q: You were once the punk on the streets but now you are now the wise one, and that is reflected in “Barbershop: The Next Cut.”
Ice Cube: Yeah, it’s cool. Like Calvin in the movie—he’s a (hardworking) owner burdened with the shop. He’s become what his father was, a guy who is respected in the community. He can sit down with the OGs and tell them, “Yo, my father used to cut your nappy hair.” That kind of stuff is a great progression for Calvin but it’s also a progression in my career at this point.
Q: It appears that what you’re saying with this film is that change has to come from within; people have to take back their communities. You can’t wait for your representatives or for someone else to come in and protect you. So Calvin tries to affect change from within his community. Is that what you’re saying?
Ice Cube: I think so. I think we have to, especially my generation. We have to step up and guide our youth. We feel young still. (He chuckles.) So that’s the problem. But at some point, you’ve got to take responsibility, understand what you are and that you can make a difference. You have to turn on yourself before you take that first step to help somebody else. It’s a situation where a lot of people want to change the evil in the world but don’t want to change the evil inside. That’s where you start first.
Q: How difficult was it combining some of these heavy, political themes with a lot of comedy?
Ice Cube: (Screenwriters) Kenya Barris (creator of “Black-ish”) and Tracy Oliver—that’s the common denominator. They knew what to do to ensure it’s more than just ha-ha-ha.
Q: You have a built-in African American audience, but do you feel like you have to do some things to bring white audiences to see this film?
Ice Cube: You stay true to the movie but you discover what you missed is just as important getting every joke. If you think, “Why are they laughing and I’m not?” you’re learning more about the culture. You’re learning more about the people and what makes us tick. Just like we see “white” movies, and things go over our head. We’re like, “Yo, we gotta figure that out. What are they doin’? What does this mean?” And you discover that way. We do what we can to welcome and invite everybody. I think we have a smart comedy. It’s not going for the cheap seats. We have an intelligent comedy that we want everybody to feel like if they don’t understand everything, it’s cool to be a fly on the wall in this world, and you might learn something.
So, we do what we can but I don’t think we do too much (explaining) because the movie still has to stay true to what it is. We’re not doing a movie where it’s like, “Oh, we’re trying to do a crossover movie, just because we want more money, more dollars.” We want to do a movie that’s true, and we invite everybody to see it and, hopefully, everybody can feel welcome.
Q: You don’t have to have seen the previous “Barbershop” movies to get this one though, right?
Ice Cube: Not at all. The key to sequels is to make them stand alone movies and not borrow from the previous movie. You’ve got to make a stand-alone movie because you never know. Someone might see the second one first, and then this one and then the first one. So you never know what order people are going to discover these movies so you have to make them stand by themselves.
Q: Everyone in Calvin’s shop has his or her own opinion—and isn’t shy about expressing it—whether it has to do with hairstyles or politics and social issues.
Ice Cube: That’s the important thing about the barbershop. The appeal to these movies, and what I think was the initial hook, as far as discovery, is that black people don’t all have the same opinion. You put one topic down there and you have 10 black people, men and women, in a room and you might get 10 different perspectives on that one thing, and this movie shows that. We’re as complex as any other people. We are not in lockstep on issues that the world might think we’re in lockstep on. So, it was important to show our range because you might walk into a barbershop, and someone would be saying, “Man, did you hear what Donald (Trump) said about giving nukes to the South Koreans, the Saudis, or whatever?” And someone else might be saying, “Did you see what Rihanna was wearing?” It fluctuates. We want to show that the conversations are complex in the shop, and its not just what you see on “TMZ,” but real things you see on “CNN” and “The Wall Street Journal” to what’s going on on Worldstarhiphop.” It’s just showing that range and variety, and we think that’s the appeal of the movie.
Q: Calvin is an ideal husband and father because he cares about his son. After dinner, he helps out with the dishes and things. So what is Ice Cube like in the house?
Ice Cube: I don’t know if I’m as good as Calvin but I’m extremely present. (He laughs.) Let’s put it that way: Some fathers, some guys, stick in the back room, while the whole family’s in the front. I’m in the front with everybody else because I think that’s where you need to be. You need to be present in the lives of your kids, and your family, and not just (be) a body there, but also a present influence, and that’s what I try to be.
I always tell my wife I would love to hear the horror stories our kids say about us because they don’t have anything compared to how we grew up. We tell them, “We got real stories; y’all got fluff! You gotta make up stuff.” (They complain) “We don’t have popsicles in the refrigerator.” (They’ve) got to make up (expletive)! We’ve got the real stories. They don’t want to hear that. What I’m saying is that I just want to make their experience as kids better than my experience as a kid. That, to me, is the way I am as a father.
Q: How much of Ice Cube the artist is in O’Shea Jackson—the man, the husband, the father. How much of a presence is Ice Cube at home?
Ice Cube: O’Shea is always there but Ice Cube is the shark that’s right under the surface. You’ll see the fin come up as a warning, and then you get bit. (He laughs.)
Q: A lot of your cast returned from the first and/or second “Barbershop.” Can you talk about reuniting them? Anthony Anderson, for example, was in the first one but not the second, and yet he’s back in the third.
Ice Cube: We were lucky to have Anthony come back. To be a leading man on a hit show and to take this role, which is an ensemble piece, is great.Without him and Ced(ric the Entertainer), I’d feel a little naked going back into this franchise. So we were extremely happy and lucky to get him back.
Q: What was it like working with improvisation kings like Cedric and JB Smoove. Was there ever a moment where you lost it on set?
Ice Cube: Of course. They kept us huddled up inside (the trailers) and were like, “We gotta go shoot. This ain’t shoot the (expletive) hour. This ain’t summer camp. We gotta shoot.”