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Ice Cube reveals more about '22 Jump Street' and 'Straight Outta Compton' movie

Ice Cube
Ice Cube
Columbia Pictures

The comedy film “22 Jump Street” is the sequel to the 2012 hit movie “21 Jump Street,” which was inspired by the drama TV series of the same name about cops who go undercover in schools to catch criminals. Returning for the second “Jump Street” movie are several stars from the first “Jump Street” movie, including Channing Tatum (as undercover cop Greg Jenko), Jonah Hill (as undercover cop Morton Schmidt) and Ice Cube (as Capt. Dickson, the leader of the “Jump Street” program), as well as directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord. For “22 Jump Street,” Tatum and Hill took on the added responsibilities of becoming two of the producers of the movie.

Ice Cube at the New York City press junket for "22 Jump Street"
Carla Hay

In “22 Jump Street,” Jenko and Schmidt have left their undercover work in high school to go undercover in a local college in their quest to nab drug dealers. While posing as students, Jenko and Schmidt’s unlikely partnership is tested when Jenko starts to develops a bromance with an athletic frat boy named Zook (played by Wyatt Russell) who might be a suspect in the drug ring, while Schmidt (feeling jealous of Zook) begins dating artsy student Maya Dickson (played by Amber Stevens), who happens to be Capt. Dickson’s daughter. Here is what Ice Cube (whose real name is O’Shea Jackson) said when he did a roundtable interview with me and other journalists at the “22 Jump Street” press junket in New York City.

One of the funniest scenes in “22 Jump Street” is when Capt. Dickson finds out that his daughter has been dating Schmidt, and Dickson has a meltdown and starts going crazy in a banquet room. What was it like filming that scene? How many takes did you get? And was it hard not to laugh while filming it?

It was one take. They set up the whole buffet and they were like, “Cube, you go do it.” It was kind of a thing where you ad lib. The script says, “He goes and tears up the buffet,” but you know you actually have to go shoot and say something.

You just walk with the cameraman, and you go, “We’re going here. I’m going to do this. I’m going to do that.” It was actually longer than what you’ve seen. We just went for it. I just said, “Keep it interesting. Keep food flying.”

What would you do in real life if someone who worked for you started dating your daughter?

I’d beat the hell out of them! I’m across the table! I have four kids. One’s a daughter.

What do your kids think about you?

They know I’m cool. They reap all the benefits of being my kids. They’re good kids. They don’t abuse who they are with people, with me or anybody. They’re trying to figure out themselves and what they want to do.

I could pull them into the industry, but I want them to seek out their talent. What do you like to do? That’s your calling. It might not be in front of the camera. I’m going to need help. Cube Vision, I’ve been running it for 10 years. I’ve been waiting for them to get older so they can help me keep it moving.

It’s probably a coincidence that you also play a cop in “Ride Along,” another big comedy franchise. Can you compare and contrast the experience of making the “Jump Street” and “Ride Along” movies? And what can you say about “Ride Along 2”?

On “Ride Along,” I had a great team. Will Packer is a great producer, and so is Matt Alvarez, whom I’ve worked with since Cube Vision started. And [“Ride Along” director] Tim [Story] is great and [“Ride Along” co-star] Kevin [Hart]. It’s a different thing, because in “Ride Along,” I’m involved with everything. I want to know everything that’s going on, from top to bottom.

With [“Jump Street”], [directors] Phil [Lord] and Chris [Miller], they’ve got it. Jonah [Hill] and [producer] Neal Moritz, and I just come in and be an actor. I don’t have to think about all that producing stuff. I ask a few questions, but it’s not like I’m up at 2 in the morning, trying to figure out why we don’t have posters here or why we don’t have billboards there. It’s the kind of thing where I can kick back and have fun and be an actor.

Speaking of sequels, are there any updates to other movie franchises you’ve done, such as “Friday,” “Are We There Yet?” and “Barbershop”?

We’ve been trying to push for “Friday.” It’s a situation where New Line [Cinema] has not made the right argument for Time Warner to release the amount of money we need to pull this movie off. It’s not 1995. We can’t just do the movie for $2.5 million anymore.

All the dudes who’ve been a part of this franchise, they want to get paid. I want to pay them. So we kind of had a standstill a little bit on how much the movie s going to cost to make. It costs what it costs. You’ve got to pay what it costs. I don’t know how to get around that.

“Barbershop,” we’re working on that. That’s starting to get in the mix. We’re doing all the deal with the producers. It’s about figuring out what that movie needs to be now, because we’re a long way from the first “Barbershop.”

The first “Barbershop” explained what the barbershop meant to the community. What does the barbershop mean to the community now? It might not be the same. It’s a different flavor. To me, it’s more in motion than “Friday.” “Friday” is stuck in the mud just a little bit.

What advice do you have to aspiring filmmakers?

As a producer, if you can raise money outside of the Hollywood system to get something produced, it doesn’t have to be a feature film. It can be a short. You never know what’s going to spark a bigger opportunity.

The thing is to get something on screen, get something that people can look at, because everybody who has paper may want to meet with you and has this great idea, but you have to be in it to win it. You have to get your ideas somehow shot or your concept presented in a way that people can see your vision.

Do what you know. Shoot what you know. Do a movie that you know, because sometimes that’s the most compelling story: something that’s happened to you or something that’s happened to your family or something that you can really, really understand and explain. A lot of people have fantasies about the movies they want to do. Sometimes they’ve got to start with that internal story that captures the audience.

When you were a kid, did you have any other ambitions other than being an entertainer?

I wanted to play sports. I had a football dream. I played for a while — all the way up to high school — and then I met Dr. Dre and my focus started to shift. Hip-hop was new. I just wanted to be a respected MC. And the MCs I respected were the ones that had something to say.

I felt like hip-hop was our only weapon to combat what was going on, things that were happening in the neighborhood that I didn’t understand. Crack was taking over everything. AIDS was new and scary and crazy. Gangbanging. Darryl Gates’ LAPD had South Central like a police state.

So all these things were going on around me, and this is how I could sum it up. This is how I could tell the world what was going on: through rap. That’s kind of how I started falling in love with creating on that level.

As a writer of songs and screenplays, what’s been the biggest change to your approach to writing, compared to when you first started in the entertainment business? What’s gotten easier or harder?

Musically, I don’t want to talk about what I’ve talked about in the past. I’m trying to figure out what’s new that needs to be said or what irks me about what’s going on in the world. Those spark songs for me.

With films, I’ve always gotten good grades for my writing in school. I was always able to write the best “what did you do for the summer” [essays]. I knew that I had a talent to write. And music just honed that talent.

And then John Singleton challenged me to write a movie. He said, “You can write a vivid record. You can write a vivid movie.” So it started sparking my curiosity of “Can I do this?” And I tried it a couple of times. And my third shot was “Friday,” which was the third script that I wrote.

Script writing, I didn’t go to school for it. I had to kind of learn by looking at scripts, getting the format. Now, I have a technique where if I get an idea, I can write it pretty fast, because I have certain techniques and ways to bang out the script, which helps.

Did you ever imagine that your audience would be so big?

I never imagined that. I thought the record we were doing would be in the section with Richard Pryor or Eddie Murphy or Redd Foxx — the section where you had dirty records. That’s where I thought N.W.A. records would live or would never see the light of day.

We were really doing music for the neighborhood only. We had no expectations that the world would even want to care about what we were going through or about what we were writing about. It was too raw for most people — even hip-hop people were saying it was too hard. So I always thought my audience would be niche.

It’s a trip. You have grandmothers coming up and talking about how they love your record. This is strange, but it’s welcome. When you do art, when you paint a picture, you don’t know who’s going to see it.

It’s cool that people still look at what I do and have opinions, whether they love it, like it or hate it. It’s art. They’ve still got their opinions. They’re not ignoring it. The worst thing you can do to an artist is not look at what he presents.

Criticizing is cool; that’s part of it. You want to provoke not the same thoughts but different thoughts from different people on the same subject. That’s why I feel like I’m blessed — the fact that I’m still doing stuff, and people still sit around and are checking it out and loving it or hating it.

Do you feel like an icon?

I’ve been on this journey for a while. People give me a lot of respect for what I’ve done. I always stay humble with it because it’s all about the work. If I do terrible work, people would be like, “Yo, Cube, you’re f*cking up.”

So it really goes back to, “What have you done for the audience lately?” Even though you’ve been around, you have to still prove yourself every time. You have to deliver something where people feel like they didn’t waste their time or their money. That’s when they start to resent you being around.

If you’re wasting their time and their money, it’s like, “I’m sick of this guy.” Or if you’re out there with nothing to share. You may not see me for six months, but when you see me, it’s going to be a movie or record [to promote]. It’s not going to be me at the water show.

What can you say about the N.W.A. movie “Straight Outta Compton”? What does it feel like to know that part of your life will be portrayed in a movie?

It’s crazy. It’s the same feeling I had when I did “Boyz n the Hood.” I wrote the song “Boyz-n-the-Hood.” And I look up four years later on the set of “Boyz n the Hood,” which is basically talking about what the song talked about.

I couldn’t write this script of my career. It’s too unbelievable. It’s chance. It’s divine intervention. It’s talent. There’s a lot of people with talent who don’t get the shot or things just don’t fall into place, but everything else has fallen in place for me. And I feel blessed.

The N.W.A. movie is a dream project. It’s been very hard to bring together. We’re trying to tell five stories in one. We’re trying to tell the story of an era, the story of “How the neighborhood forged N.W.A.? And how did the creation of N.W.A. change the neighborhood?”

In a lot of ways, we were like Frankenstein. We built a monster that had its own legs that we had no control over. People call it “gangsta rap,” but it was beyond our control at a certain point. All of these things have to be summarized and presented so people can see the whole spectrum of what we went through to become the world’s most dangerous group … We start shooting [the N.W.A. movie] in August [2014] with F. Gary Gray, who’s directing.

Describe the casting process for “Straight Outta Compton” in one word.

Challenge. But I think we found the guys who can represent us.

[NOTE: The cast of the film has not yet been officially announced, but several published reports have revealed that Ice Cube’s eldest child, O’Shea Jackson Jr., will play Ice Cube in the movie.]

What was your favorite scene in “22 Jump Street”?

Tearing up the buffet. Jonah Hill, off set, he’s smart and very into what the movie needs to be and what scene needs to be. When some people finish a funny scene, they laugh or exhale, but he never exhales. He’s always thinking. And so are the directors and Neal [Moritz].

I just like to see people go to work like that. I didn’t go to school for this. I learned from different people who are successful and see how they do their thing and see how I can apply the good stuff that they do to what I’m doing and still keep my flavor.

Without giving away spoilers, there’s a famous entertainer who plays Capt. Dickson’s wife in “22 Jump Street.” She has a surprise cameo. At what point did you know she was going to be in the movie?

I suggested it. The directors were like, “Who can we get to play your wife? Capt. Dickson, he’s a mean son of a b*tch.” We had to find somebody who looked like they could handle him and looked like she would be married to him. And she was the only person I could think of. I’ve been a fan of hers.

She was doing music before me. I was buying her records. The first time I met her, we became cool friends. And just seeing her rise and make movies. Just looking across and seeing her do her thing was real cool. Her manager [and I have been close] forever. It’s cool to still be here, to be relevant.

For more info: "22 Jump Street" website

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