The rapper turned actor is all business
I'm not a big fan of interviewing rappers. They're usually late, are terribly unprofessional, and travel with enormous entourages that invariably get in the way. This was not the case at all with 50 Cent (a.k.a. Curtis Jackson). He was all business, professional and courteous. He was also soft-spoken, which took me completely by surprise. ‘Fiddy' has a complete understanding of his position in the entertainment world. At the time of this interview, Paramount was forced to remove a billboard of him holding a gun. He knows that he has to tone down his image, but not completely to avoid losing his edge. He was also sans bulletproof vest, saying he didn't feel "threatened" during a press junket. I guess the pen is not mightier than the sword (or gun, in this case). Here's 50 Cent on his new movie, Get Rich or Die Tryin'.
Should we call you Fiddy or Curtis?
50 Cent: Either one. Whichever one you're comfortable with.
Everyone has said that you are a constant professional and you knew all your lines. Coming into this thing, did you say that you were going to be absolutely prepared? What was your mindset?
50 Cent: Absolutely. I knew I was going into a film project for the first time. I'm coming from music. They were anticipating that I would be a lot more high maintenance as far as the things that they would need to maintain being comfortable. But I didn't need a lot of things. I had a studio trailer outside my actual trailer and I created the soundtrack in between everything we did on set.
Did you have any fears or trepidation about acting?
50 Cent: Not much. I've done what I needed to do to prepare for it. I've worked with acting coaches when I had the first screenplay that came. I actually got excited about the project and committed to it after I read the first one. That one had so much of me in it that I was like, "Yo!" That's what really made it exciting because I had never committed to a film project before. I was aware that there were going to be two or three more drafts of the film before we actually shot it. I worked with an acting coach on that screenplay and by the time we shot it, it was a whole other screenplay.
You've written and talked about getting shot in your life. How was it to relive those events?
50 Cent: It's different when you're actually acting it out. For me, they say that when you're playing a film that's loosely based on yourself, they don't think that you're acting anymore. They just think you're being yourself. I think it's difficult on some points. Sure, you have your own feelings to make reference to. But it's difficult to get out of those emotions once you get there and you're feeling that way, because the scenes are shot out of sequence. I actually had to cry in that scene with Joy [Bryant] and the next scene was me in the car just acting crazy pretty much. So the contrast between the two was a big transition.
What kind of message do you want to get across to your fans with this movie?
50 Cent: Well, it's an opportunity to draw my base closer to me. The more they know about my past, the more they'll be able to predict and understand some of the moves I make in the future. For me, the title I came up with for the movie that wasn't used was "A Hustler's Ambition." It turned out to be the theme for the first song I released to set the mood of the overall film. If they watch it, they'll see some of the work ethics I've had. It just wouldn't be seen in a productive way.
How much of the movie is based on truth?
50 Cent: It's about 75% factual. It's still a collage; at some points, it's jumbled up.
Your presence today is very relaxed and I remember when Ice Cube was doing a junket for a film, he still had a hip-hop edge. But it seems like you're really comfortable in your place. What has gotten you to that point?
50 Cent: To give you an example, my grandparents – when you see in the film – what you see is true. When I had friction with my uncle and I kind of moved to the basement, I had an opportunity to be out later than usual and have them not notice that I wasn't there because there were so many kids upstairs. There were eight people in the family so when I got used to just staying in my area, they didn't notice I wasn't there anymore. When I started hustling initially, I could only hustle from 3 to 6 when my grandparents thought I was in an after school program. But I was still a 12-year-old kid. What you don't see with my character is that I never carried myself in a way that I would become intimidating to people. I've been showing them my teeth instead of me frowning. I've had to be aggressive in the neighborhood and it shows in the film, but at home, I'm my grandmother's baby. So I've been able to have both of those characters. When I come here, I don't feel threatened.
Are you the same rapper you were back in the old days?
50 Cent: I think so. I think people feel like success changes you to a point. Anybody who says that money don't change you – they only say that because they don't make enough. It definitely changes your lifestyle. But the things you go through makes who you are. Your experiences, they travel with you. Like if you were in a bad relationship and you meet someone new, you're going to leave with your luggage. The next person is going to have to endure things that someone else causes.
In regards to the billboard controversy with you and the gun, do you worry that you have to temper your responses because you're out there in the public?
50 Cent: No. I create my own name. The reason why they consider me more aggressive than the people they've seen in the past… there are people with similar experiences brought up in similar environments. They just try to fit in so much that once they start trying to fit in with that crowd, they start making a politically correct answer as opposed to what they actually think. With the billboard, there are standards placed on music as an art form that aren't placed on any other forms of entertainment. What I mean by that is that you haven't seen a gun or weapon on any cover of a CD since probably 1997 by any CD distributed by a major company. But if we walk into our local blockbuster, you'd find guns, knives, anything else you could find as a marketing tool. They're advertising the film with these images and it's exciting because death is a large form of entertainment, probably the largest. Everyone at this table figures they're going to die. It's our fate. So watching death in different ways is entertaining for us, whether it's a high-speed chase and a guy grabs a helicopter and flies away. We know the reality of it is that he wouldn't be physically able to hold onto that helicopter and fall to his death. But it's entertaining to watch. 2Pac and Biggie, I make references to them because they wrote so much about that in their music. Biggie's themes in his albums are about readying to die, life after death, born again. 2Pac wrote about life threatening situations after being shot so often, it made it seem like he was obsessed with it. He even wrote music and material that he left behind after he died that made reference to him dying already. I think the significance in that ties back to us knowing that that's our fate.
Do you fear for your life now?
50 Cent: I wear a bulletproof vest.
Are you wearing one now?
50 Cent: No, not now, because I feel safe right now.
A lot of these rappers come in with huge entourages and you're here by yourself.
50 Cent: I can't have a lot of people around me all the time. It really bugs me out that I have that many people. I need to be by myself.
What do you do for fun?
50 Cent: My description of fun right now would be to sit on someone's couch and watch TV. Regular cable TV. When I'm in a hotel, on-demand is the same. You watch the same movies. I've seen everything in the hotels because I travel so often that it's not an option. When you're overseas, I watch the TV in another language, trying to figure out what they're saying.
With so much written about you, what is the one thing that people get wrong?
50 Cent: That my intentions are bad. They write their perception. Opinions – everybody's got one.
What do you think is the turning point in your life?
50 Cent: My son. He's the reason why I write music. He's the reason why everything is different for me. Because when he came into the picture, my priorities changed. See, I can risk possibly being incarcerated because the only person pays for it is me. I know that if I'm not physically available to take care of him, nobody else will. I want to have the relationship with him that me and my father never had.
That scene in the shower raised some eyebrows. Were you really out there naked and fighting?
50 Cent: Yeah, we was naked. We were supposed to shoot that shot with biker shorts that match your skin complexion. Then when the shorts got wet, the shorts got darker. "Ah, it's not going to work." "50, take it off."
Get Rich or Die Tryin' is in theaters this Wednesday.