Movie Picture

Ice Cube raps about his new comedy, Are We There Yet?

Many parents, fed up with society's lack of wholesome entertainment, listened to these lyrics and said, "Finally! Now THIS is a guy who should do a family comedy!" The studios listened. Ice Cube shows his cuddly side in Are We There Yet?, starring as a ladies' man who will do anything to win a woman's heart, including the unthinkable—babysit some bratty kids.

Wearing a crisp goatee, red sneakers, and an understated outfit that subtly promotes his film—a bold red t-shirt with a large "ARE WE THERE YET?" plastered on the front—Cube sits down with the Latino Review to discuss his role. Along the way, he gives us the juice on why he's doing PG movies, his thoughts on the state of hip-hop, and even a few tidbits about what we can expect from xXx: State of the Union. As for another Friday? Cube hints, "It's starting to rekindle . . ."

And parents, relax: he didn't even have to use his A.K. You got to say it was a good day.

Now that you've been doing so much acting, do you feel that sometimes you need to get back to music just to keep your head fresh?

Ice Cube: It's always fun. You know what I mean? I used to push my career. Try and come out every year with a record. And then I'm like, "Man, I got seven albums out, and I'm like 27, 28." So I say, "Yo, it's time to slow this thing down a little bit, and kind of spread it out." And the movies picked up. It's just a thing where I go from one project to the next, and really don't think about it as much, as far as, "Damn I'm going back and forth." Or, "Damn, I need to do a record."

You've done so many different types of characters. You've done the action stuff. Now you've done the kid movie. What's next for Ice Cube?

Ice Cube: I want to do more drama. You know what I mean? Comedy is the path of least resistance for my company right now. People know we can do them. People know they get a good response. People want to make them. Who am I to push up against that? We'll do that for a minute, and then one day we'll show what we can do dramatically. There's no rush. I'm only 35. I'm not trying to retire at 38 or nothing like that.

Even in your comedies, though, you have a certain seriousness. A dramatic tone. Is that something that you shoot for intentionally?

Ice Cube: I just think that's the best way for me to pull it off. I'm not a comedian, so there are things that I wouldn't even try. But when I can make the situation right, and make things funny—organically in a way—then it just comes off better. For some reason, that's usually the tone of the guys that I'm playing. I'm usually playing the guy that's going through all this stuff. All these crazy people are interacting with a guy who, hopefully, the audience sees as sane.

What can we expect to see from your character in "XXX?" [Cube replaces Vin Diesel in the sequel, "XXX: State of the Union," which hits theaters on April 29th.]

Ice Cube: He's more of a disgruntled soldier. He's in a military prison. He feels that the government has given him the shaft. Samuel L. [Jackson] can't trust the government any more, so he goes outside the box and gets a guy like me. Who's got a chip—some revenge to get back. So that's the way the guy is. Totally serious. Not too many laughs and giggles.

After you've done such heavy music, did you do the comedy to show that you can laugh at yourself, and not take yourself too seriously?

Ice Cube: Not really. I've never really taken myself too serious. That's everybody else, listening to the music or whatever. I've always said what I've felt, said what I thought was right, but I've always had a comedic bone. Take "Friday." If you remember, all this bad shit is happening on this neighborhood. You're dealing with dope smoking, drug dealers, drive-by shooters, and neighborhood crack-heads. But it's looked at in a funny tone.

That's why it's hysterical—

Ice Cube: Yeah. It ain't looked at as a "Menace to Society" or "Boys in the Hood." My records have always done that. For every hardcore record I've had, I've had a "Nappy Dug Out." Something funny.

"It Was a Good Day" . . .

Ice Cube: Yeah, you know. Something that has a little sense of humor to it. This is just a good role at the right time. "Barbershop" and "Barbershop 2" kind of set the stage for a movie like this. Because I had usually done R-rated comedies. And "Barbershop" was a PG-13 comedy. And here goes a PG comedy. I'm testing the boundaries. Also I'm doing something for my youngest fans. Out of my whole career, I've never done anything specifically for them. This is the opportunity to do all of that. And to show that the music is separate.

I'm not trying to turn into Eddie Murphy, and just do kids movies the rest of my career. I'm going to still do a wide variety of movies, as well as do hardcore rap.

You mentioned Samuel L. Jackson. He's been talking about how he doesn't really like to act with rappers. How did you feel about that? And how did you handle working with him on "XXX?"

Ice Cube: We both just handled it professionally. I'm there to do a job. He's there to do a job. That's kind of how we approached it. But we had a better rapport. Because Sam, from what I understand, just doesn't really like working with rappers who aren't into the art of filmmaking. But Sam knows that I'm a filmmaker. I've put together more films from scratch than he has. I've hired more actors than he has. He's probably looking at me in a different light. I've jumpstarted a lot of careers.

He didn't even mention it; he came in and treated me like a fellow actor. You know what I'm saying? Somebody that he respects. Because I respect his work. Who can't respect Sam as an actor? He's still one of my favorite actors; I don't care what he has to say about rap. He's still one of my favorite actors. I just don't agree. I think that if you've got the chops, you should be given a shot, and then the audience determines how long you'll stay.

When you started out, a lot of people felt that you were the West Coast heirs of Public Enemy, in terms of doing important rap that was saying something real to people. Now some people think that a lot of hip-hop has gotten too much into the blingage, and not as much into real culture. What are your thoughts on that?

Ice Cube: What happened was . . . Public Enemy, BDP, myself, a little bit Ice Tea, we were heirs to when people wanted to hear these changes. Our plight. Our history. We were learning a lot from the music. And that music was real threatening to the establishment.

So then, here comes Death Row. Which is pretty much more gangster than knowledge, you know what I mean? The establishment chose to really promote that and pump that. I'm not saying they weren't great records. Because those were some of the best records. But they got more love in some of the areas that we couldn't even get into. MTV went open arms with them. But for us, it was a struggle, because they never really wanted our messages to get out there on that level. It was just, to me, a calculated move by people who bring rap to the world—radio stations, newspapers, magazines, video shows. It was just an effort to pump that, because it really had no substance to it. And that's what's taken over and kind of steamrolled to this bling-era.

But people are always hungry for knowledge, so here come the Roots and the Kanye Wests of the world. Here comes the knowledge back again. It's probably going to take a few years for it to be as widespread as it was, but it's coming back.

Back to your movie career, what can you tell us about "Four Brothers?" [upcoming Mark Wahlberg project]

Ice Cube: I don't even know if I'm going to be a part of that project. It's looking like that's breaking down.

When you made it big, you helped show that people can come from something as extreme as the gangster roots, and then grow, and that there's a positive afterlife. Do you feel that's part of what you accomplished?

Ice Cube: What I wanted to show is that everybody who comes from the gangster life—they want what that man in the suburbs wants. Nice family. Nice house. Nice cars. Bills paid. Kids in school. Food on the table. Nothing more. Nobody trying to be Scarface out here. Everybody just wants to be comfortable.

People always wonder, "You came from all this hard stuff, but now you ain't pumpin' that as much—that hardcore image." Because now my family's comfortable. I have things that I haven't had. Now I'm speaking for the people who can't speak for themselves. From my point of view, yeah, I'm not "in the hood" no more, doing all that stuff, but I've got people there. I got family there. Most of my roots are there. I can't separate myself from that.

But the gangster in the hood, the dude that's in the penitentiary, the dope dealer? All he wants is to be comfortable. Nice house. Family. No more, no less. That's really what this shows. If you give anybody the chance, they can always make a decent human being out of themselves. It's the people that don't have a chance, that we look down at like they're monsters or they're animals or that they want something different than the rest of us. That they don't' want to be like us. That's not true. They want to be just like everybody else.

Do you ever feel uncomfortable about being in the crosshairs, instead of just the spotlight?

Ice Cube: Never. Never. It's a small price to pay for where I've come from and where I am. It's like, please.

Easy call, right?

Ice Cube: Yeah. I've dealt with a lot harder shit than reporters coming down on me. You know what I mean? That's kind of easy to deal with. I know who I am. I know what I'm about.

Do you see yourself writing books on some of this stuff?

Ice Cube: Yeah. I'll do that in due time. When you try and do everything at once, to me, nothing comes out good. I've figured out what I can do in this business: rap, produce, act, write. To me, that's good enough for now.

You mentioned "Friday." Any plans for a new "Friday?" The Friday after next Friday?

Ice Cube: "Last Friday?" [Laughs.] It's starting to rekindle. Every time I say no, it starts to rekindle. Now I'm getting calls from cast members, saying, "When are we going to do another one?' I always say that this is the last one, but then it starts to rekindle.

Do you have a script?

Ice Cube: Nah. I never start on a script until I know who's coming back, for sure.

So who's coming back?

Ice Cube: All the good characters from the first one to the last one I would want to get back. I know I'm not going to get Chris [Tucker] back, but I'd love to get everybody else back.

How about "Barbershop?" Plans for a third one?

Ice Cube: No, no plans in the works right now. I think that they're so focused on the T.V. stuff, that I don't know if they want to do a third one.

Now you've been in three movies with Nia Long [Cube's co-star in "Are We There Yet?"]. How has that relationship worked out so well?

Ice Cube: It's just good chemistry. She can play any kind of woman. And she brings intelligence, not just a pretty face. She's just solid, man. She's got range. With our movie "Are We There Yet?" she's like the emotional foundation to the movie. She always brings her A-game, no matter how big or small the role.

Who else out there would you like to work with?

Ice Cube: I'd love to work with Denzel. Or DeNiro, or Pacino. On something real dramatic, big.

What can you tell us about "The Extractors?"

Ice Cube: It's in development. It's not really ready to go. But I don't like to talk about movies that aren't ready to go, because it'll jynx them, and they'll never get made.

What drew you to "Are We There Yet?"

Ice Cube: Adam Sandler had this project at first. And he couldn't do it. So Revolution asked if my company would acquire the script, and sort of tailor-make it for me. So we looked at and said, yeah, and made our notes on what changes needed to be made, and just started putting it together.

The sports memorabilia that Nick collects—was that something that reflects your own interests?

Ice Cube: Yeah. I wanted him to be a guy who was into throwback jerseys and sports. I wanted to use that element to maybe grab some of the older kids—the 12, 13, 14 year-olds—we kind of added that to make it a little hipper than the average family movie.

And there are single guys in their 20s and 30s who can look at that guy in say, "Yeah, I can relate to him."

Ice Cube: Exactly. So we were using things like—even Satchel Paige—so that when grandparents brought their grandkids in, they could say, "I know who that guy is."

Whose idea was Satchel Paige?

Ice Cube: That was [director] Bryan Levant's. I kind of fought him on that.

You did? Why?

Ice Cube: I thought it would be too corny. You know. Having me talking to a bobble-head. [Laughs.] That's what I was fighting. I didn't want to make something that was so corny that it would take people out of the movie.

Like a mini Penny Hardaway thing?

Ice Cube: Yeah, yeah. I thought it would take you out of the movie. But Bryan was like, "When you're doing a movie like this, you always want to add a touch of magic, to let the kids know that this is a fantasy, and they can't be jumping in their parents' SUVs and driving off. It's a reminder that this is a movie, and it's not real life.

So who's going to the Super Bowl?

Ice Cube: I think the Eagles are going to win this weekend, and I think the Patriots are going to win. Unfortunately, it seems like those Patriots are going to win the Super Bowl again.