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Ice Cube, Samuel L. Jackson, Willem Dafoe and Scott Speedman talk XXX: State of the Union

Okay, Vin Diesel didn't come back. Get over it. The XXX franchise doesn't wait for any actor. XXX breaks the rules, there's no better way of breaking the rules than killing the franchise founder and rebooting it with a new guy. After Xander Cage is killed in action, Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) has to find a new XXX agent. That man is Darius Stone (Ice Cube).

To gain the strength to carry a XXX movie, Cube started working out on the set of his previous movie.

"When I found out that they wanted me to do XXX, that it was going to be the real deal, I started training when I was on Are We There Yet," Cube said. "So every day after we would shoot, I would go down into the hotel gym and train for an hour, hour and a half or as much as I could get in. So I had it in the back of my mind, I didn't really think about XXX until I finished Are We There Yet in a way. Only thing I did was worked out and I'm glad I did because I needed some of that even shooting Are We There Yet because Are We There Yet is a physical movie too. I was glad I got a jump on XXX but I wasn't really tripping on it. I was glad that I had XXX coming because I knew that my fans or people that are just into my career would think I'm about to flip and try to be Eddie Murphy and do these kids movies, so this is a way to say, ‘Okay, that first one was something for the kids and this is something for the big kids.'"

Lest anyone think Ice Cube has gone soft, note that he often told the director what to do. Not that he was uncooperative, but Cube would notice things and find superior alternatives.

"It was a great collaboration. Lee [Tamahori] was real receptive of our ideas and the script was good. I think it was just a mixture of all kinds of things. It was a mixture of the script being good, Lee the director being receptive and us saying, ‘Yo, this is cooler than that.' It all came together as a good collaboration. Sometimes you can have guys, directors who don't want to hear what you've got to say at all. But we had a good working relationship so it worked out."

To add street cred to XXX, the screenwriter added catch phrases in the way of Tupac quotes, which Cube embraced. "Hopefully they'll treat him like it treats all great poets. Like Edgar Allen Poe. You have people who grew up on that kind of poetry and made him an icon and you have people who grew up on this kind of poetry and making Tupac and Biggie those same kind of icons. We have to see will it translate from generation to generation. These singers that we look at as some of the greatest, if it translates from generation to generation like Marvin Gaye. So only history will tell but I hope so."

In the "things you never thought you'd see" department, watch Ice Cube put on a suit and do the James Bond thing. "I'm a T-shirt and jean man," Cube admits. "I can keep it simple. I don't have to get messed up unless I really have to."

Still, he loved the chance to be James Bond type character. "I grew up on James Bond. My favorite one was Roger Moore. I'm a little young. I don't remember Sean Connery. When I got into James Bond, Roger Moore was the man in the '70s. After that, I kind of fell off with them, but with movies like XXX and the Die Hards, movies like that and Matrix, if you're in this game, you definitely want to get one of these under your belt somewhere."

Providing the connection to the original XXX, Samuel L. Jackson returns to the role of Augustus Gibbons. As the man who chooses the XXX agents, Jackson didn't care who replaced Vin Diesel as long as he still got to play the leader.

"It never occurred to me and I didn't care," Jackson said. "I was a lot more worried about my character coming back. In the first one there was no talk about anything happening to me. I was just kind of a control guy. When the second script showed up, I was a little bit concerned about, hey, what's this? What's going on? I look at the character, like the M character who's kind

of running the show and in control and sort of gets to choose the XXX characters and makes sure he knows what's going on. In this particular script, there was a bigger reveal of who he was, where he came from, the fact that he's not just a bureaucrat, he's somewhat of a warrior himself.

And he's willing to step into the line of fire and do the things that he asks the other people to do. It's fun for me to do action pictures. I still get off on shooting guns and chasing people."

Playing action heroes fulfills a childhood fantasy of Jackson's. "It's part of the stuff I did with my friends in the street. We had guns, we shot at each other, we chased each other but they always said, ‘You missed me.' These kinds of pictures, you shoot somebody, their chest explodes, they fall down. It's kinda good."

Jackson gave high marks to the new XXX. "I've watched his evolution as an actor

so I figured if he got into shape and did the training necessary to do all the stuff the script required him to do, then he would be able to pull it off. He has the right combination of street toughness and edge that a XXX character needs to make this thing work and he's anti-establishment enough in terms of what his music career has been that, you know, an audience will buy the fact that he's not just going to jump out and be a super-patriot immediately. As usual, we find a way or I guess Augustus Gibbons' major trait is knowing how to pick the right guy for the right job so that when that time comes, that person's willing to step across the line and go the extra mile and get the job done."

This time, Jackson had to do some special training as Gibbons gets into the action on this adventure. "I go to the gym anyway. Only specific training I did for this particular film was Cube and I had to go through the firing range with some SEAL guys and learn how they use weapons. Everybody has their own way of shooting a gun. So if you're doing an FBI movie you've got to go to the firing range with FBI guys. When we did SWAT, we went with the SWAT guys. This time we had to go with some SEALs and learn how they did what they did. It's fun. You always go out and get to shoot live weapons, you shoot at targets. You see if you can actually hit things and you become proficient with a lot more weapons than you actually own at home. But if

you come into contact with them while you're running around, at least you'll know what to do."

The obstacle both men have to overcome this time comes in the guise of Willem Dafoe as a corrupt Secretary of Defense. Dafoe enjoyed the concept of a big action movie with mild antiestablishment undertones.

"People are alienated from the government and these people are going over to fight in foreign wars and coming back and what happens to them," Dafoe said. "All this is in the mix. Okay it's a popcorn movie, but I like the fact that these elements are floating around."

A veteran of playing the villain, Dafoe doesn't have any specific process by which he relates to such characters. "I hink when you are working on something, you spend very little time, at least I do, but I never stand outside of it. I try to become it. So I'm not saying, ‘Well if I do this, they'll think this..' I'm thinking more of playing the scenes. I'm saying, ‘If I were this guy, and this was the situation and I know what's happening story wise, how do I feed this, what kind of choices do I want to make to orient myself emotionally to see what happens?"

And then he fought Ice Cube. "You know, we fought a lot more than you think. We did a lot of stuff. We did wire work. Some of it wasn't used. Some of it, they used that as a model and then they CGI it anyway. Or use that as a reference. But no, we fought a lot. I was in that suit a lot but I did a lot of fighting. I will say, the suit was an issue in that one because it was very restricting. Restricting and constricting. You were limited in how you could fight and move."

Finally, Scott Speedman joined the mix as a government agent who XXX needs to convince that this conspiracy is real. As the leader of a government department, Speedman graduates from the young cadet roles.

"I'd like to do the young cadet thing again for sure, but that's why I wanted to do this, to see if I could do it," Speedman said. "I took the scenes out of the script and put them together and read them as one little arc, story and that seemed to work."

Getting into the physicality was a breeze for Speedman. "For me that's pretty easy. That doesn't intimidate me. And I'd love to tell you it was harder than it was. It wasn't that difficulty. People seem to think it was crazy and very dangerous, but for me it wasn't that bad."

Despite all the chaos of action movies, Speedman truly tries to find a character arc for himself. "You work hard. You do as much work as you possibly can before you start the movie and then you get there and it's a crazy scene. It's very chaotic and it's about a lot of the stunts and the special effects and the action. You work hard before the movie and then you just try to have fun."

If you think that's too much thought to go into a popcorn movie, well, so does Speedman. "Absolutely, but it's the only way I know how to do it. I don't like listening to actors talk about the process, especially when, I mean, for me I've played a lot of guys, dudes, boys in a sense and this was a challenge for me just to play that official character. And I'm not going to get into too much as you say, you're right. But that was a challenge for me to do that. But you're right, and you've got to have fun with a movie like this. That's the point."

XXX: State of the Union is now playing.