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Interview: Rapper/actor Taboo talks ‘Jamesy Boy’

Taboo (left) and Spencer Lofranco (right) in 'Jamesy Boy'
Taboo (left) and Spencer Lofranco (right) in 'Jamesy Boy'
Phase 4 Films

Many know Taboo, whose real name is Jamie Luis Gomez, as one of the members of the popular hip hop group, The Black Eyed Peas. While the group is currently on a break from performing together, Taboo has expanded his career as a musician – with his first solo album coming out in April – and as an actor. He can be seen in the drama, “Jamesy Boy,” which releases to select theaters on Jan. 17.

The film is based on the life of James Burns (portrayed by Spencer Lofranco), who went from the suburban street gangs to a maximum security prison cell. It’s there that he turns his life around and finds his passion for poetry.

The Chico Movie Examiner recently spoke to Taboo about his role as Guillermo, a prison inmate who always looks to pick a fight with somebody. Taboo also discussed his future as an actor and his upcoming solo album. Check out the full interview below.

David Wangberg: We see Guillermo in prison, and he wants to pick a fight with everyone – he wants to start stuff. If you could look at his life before he was in prison, do you think he’s more of just a gang member, or might he have been a leader as well?

Taboo: I think Guillermo is a very immature person, and the only way that he could prove himself was through intimidation [and] through making himself feel like he was larger than life. Because, you gotta understand, Guillermo is skinny and not so well received in his neighborhood. He had a broken home; he came from a very, I would say, traumatized background. So the only defense mechanism for him was to be a bully; to be antagonistic; and to be very intimidating.

DW: You revealed in your book, “Fallin’ Up,” that you came from a background of gangs and drugs and violence before revamping your life. When preparing for this role, did you take those past experiences you had and integrate them into Guillermo, or did you do something different?

T: Well, actually, to be quite frank, the role of Guillermo was really inspired and kind of based on my brother who passed away last year, who was involved in gangs and who was in prison most of his life – [he] overdosed on heroin. He was the person that I didn’t really have a huge connection with, but I remember the times that I did see him, I saw a lot of pain and anguish and insecurity. But, still, the exterior was very hard and kind of like an intimidating factor. But at the same token, his heart was [there], and I could tell, because his eyes were so innocent, when he would talk to me. But at the same token, when he would be out in the open, his defense mechanism would come out and the sound would start happening. [Guillermo] reminded me a lot of my brother, and that’s why I immersed myself with this character. That’s why I actually cut my hair, so I could become Guillermo, not Taboo of The Black Eyed Peas – the long-haired guy.

DW: Being kind of reminiscent of your brother, was it difficult for you to first take on this role?

T: No, it wasn’t. It was actually fun, because I come from band where we sing “Where Is the Love?,” “Let’s Get It Started,” “I Got A Feeling,” and everything that’s so upbeat that that is how my life is. Now, to be able to find the dark side of this character and to really tap into what Guillermo was all about was challenging for me. Like I said, I didn’t grow up with my father. Even though my father was part of a gang, and my brother was part of a gang, luckily, my mom took me away from that environment when I was five years old and showed me a different way of life. Most of the family members on my dad’s side are all part of gangs as well.

DW: There’s a moment where Crystal tells James that Roc is a hard-to-please person. James responds with, “I guess he recognizes talent.” What was the moment for you when you felt that people respected you and recognized your talent as an actor and musician?

T: Because [The Black Eyed Peas] is a band, it’s more about them. I can’t really say that people really 100 percent know exactly what it is that I as an individual am going to bring to the music industry and to the acting world. Right now, I’m shaping and molding and creating my brand outside of The Black Eyed Peas. So, as a unit, I would say there were a couple of things. I’m going to give you three things that changed and molded that situation. The first time, when I was able to buy a house, I was like, “Wow! I’m actually able to get off of my mom’s couch and buy my own house. I made it.” The second was when we sold the 55 million records. And I was like, “Oh, my God. We did it.” We dreamed about just performing on stage, and we accomplished more than we ever dreamed. The third thing was performing at the Super Bowl. For me, as a Mexican-American, being the only Mexican-American to perform at the halftime show as a vocalist and a singer and performer was the ultimate high and it let me know that people really appreciate our talent.

DW: There have been several musicians that will do songs for a movie in which they star. If you were asked to create a song for “Jamesy Boy,” as well as play the role of Guillermo, would you do both or would you prefer to focus on just one of those?

T: I’ve been fascinated by doing soundtracks as well. I know my partner,, has done a couple of songs for “Madagascar” and a couple cartoons. For me, I’m just fortunate to be able to transition from being a musician to being in acting. As soon as the opportunity presented itself, I would definitely take it by the heart.

DW: James discovers his love for poetry while he’s in prison. When did you discover your love for songwriting and being an entertainer?

T: I would say when I was five years old. Not songwriting, per say, but I would say performing. My grandmother was the biggest inspiration; she was actually the person that inspired me to become an entertainer. She was motivating me at five years old to perform for family members and for performances at family parties and events. I was always trying to be the center of attention and to entertain the elders. As a matter of fact, my first performance where I got paid was at my Uncle John’s house at the age of seven years old. My Aunt Tina’s brother, Uncle Pete, was the first person to say, “We need to be paying little Jimmy. Here, Jimmy, here’s a dollar.” And somebody else gave me a dollar, and it just became something. It was like, “Wow. I can get paid for dancing?” I didn’t really realize there was a career or business behind entertainment. I just like doing it, and God blessed me with the greatest grandmother on the planet who supported me and who believed in my dreams.

DW: James tells Crystal that he would rather die young than coast through life without stepping up. If you look at your life now, would you say you’ve accomplished all that you can as a performer or is there still more that you need to learn to better your skills?

T: There is a lot more for me to learn. Right now, I’m pursuing my solo career as a musician as well. I actually have my first big single coming out in April as a solo artist. I’ve been dreaming of the day of stepping outside the Black Eyed Peas tent and building my own brand and building my own situation, just as,, and Fergie have. That’s the best thing about The Black Eyed Peas. We will all, individually, step outside of the mother ship and create our own brand and create our own product to be able to show the extension of being able to create other things other than just music.

DW: You have your solo album coming out in April. And I heard that The Black Eyed Peas were getting back together for another album. Is that going to come out this year as well?

T: Nah, I doubt it. I don’t have any dates for The Black Eyed Peas, but I’m telling you my first single – that album – will be dropping this April. [As for] The Black Eyed Peas, I don’t have any dates for that. I know that will[] and I have been texting back and forth, but there aren’t any dates or anything. I know Fergie just had her baby, so I know she’s really enjoying her time with her family.

DW: As an actor, I know that you have played Vega in “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li,” and you play Guillermo in “Jamesy Boy,” and you have done a few other roles. What other kind of role would you like to take on as an actor?

T: I would say probably a mentally challenged [person]. I would [also] really like a villain role. One of my favorite actors, who is a well-respected villain and who’s always acting in movies, is Danny Trejo. [He] has done so much for us as a Mexican community. To be able to showcase his talent in movies where he may not be the lead but his presence… he’s not like that in real life, but I like what he has done to be able to channel that type of energy on film. And that’s something that I like to [do]. I’m an ugly looking dude. For me, if I’m going to be scary looking, I’m going to run with it and channel that villainous look into my roles.

This concludes the interview, but the Chico Movie Examiner would like to thank Taboo for taking the time to talk about “Jamesy Boy.”

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