T.I. burst onto the music scene back in 2006 with his hit song "What You Know," but that year also marked his acting debut in ATL, which was shot in and set in his hometown of Atlanta. While more hit albums and singles followed throughout the years, the rapper also started putting together a fine acting resume, with roles in American Gangster, Takers, Identity Thief and TV shows such as Boss and House of Lies. After appearing in two movies already this year, Get Hard and Entourage, T.I. joins the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a role in the highly-anticipated superhero movie, Ant-Man, arriving in theaters today, July 17.
The actor plays Dave, who, along with Paul Rudd's Scott Lang, Michael Peña's Luis and David Dastmalchian's Kurt, plan a heist that will change their lives forever. After successfully breaking into the home of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), they don't find the riches they expect, only a strange "suit" and helmet. Little did they know it was all part of Pym's plan, to pull off an even bigger and more elaborate heist, on a much larger scale.
I recently had the chance to sit down with T.I. where he discussed his brief "fling" with comic books as a kid, working with director Peyton Reed, shooting in his hometown of Atlanta and much more. For fans of his music, he also offers new details about his 10th album, entitled The Dime Trap, and he also revealed what movie genre he wants to tackle, which may surprise you. Take a look at our full conversation below.
How long have you been wanting a Marvel movie?
T.I.: A long time. I mean, when you actually involve yourself in the world of acting, one of the things you always want to do is, if only once, experience the huge budget, big set, peek behind the curtain of how these things actually take place. When it finally presents itself as an opportunity, you're kind of skeptical in the sense of, you figure as big as this budget is, and as big of an opportunity as it is, you expect for it to be very rigid, a very not-so-fun experience, due to the magnitude of investment, time. You just expect everyone to be on edge. This was nothing like that. It was the complete opposite. The set felt like an independent boutique kind of thing. There was a camaraderie and an instant getting-along with everyone. Everyone had the utmost respect for each other, and it made it easier to embellish and experiment with the script.
Since they shot this in Atlanta, your hometown, did they come to you a lot about places to go to, places to avoid, for either locations or after-hours?
T.I.: We didn't have many locations. We only shot on a set, a studio stage in Atlanta, the studio and then the Pym laboratories, PymTech. But yeah, I think Michael Peña, on a day where he got off early or didn't have to work the next day, he kind of asked me for some places to go, and I gladly set him up an itinerary of things to do. He thoroughly enjoyed himself. He doesn't remember much about it, but he said he enjoyed himself.
The group chemistry you guys have really pops off the screen. How early in the process did you realize that you all...
T.I.: Day One. We were just kicking ass, man. There was no tension, no hesitance. Everyone was just really genuinely happy to be there and to be a part of it. Everyone wanted it to work, everyone wanted to be supportive of the next. It was awesome.
I was talking to Michael Peña earlier and he mentioned how infectious and upbeat (director) Peyton Reed was on the set. Were you expecting that kind of upbeat mentality when you first met him?
T.I.: Yes, I did. He comes across very easy-going, fun-loving, but very meticulous about what he does, and very passionate about what he does. His passion isn't translated in an uptight, pretentious way. It's more, 'I love what I do, and I'm happy about it.' When you meet someone like that, it's like, 'OK, it's a long shoot. How long can he keep this up?' (Laughs) He's gonna break character soon. It never happened. He really, really stuck with his pleasant, positive vibe throughout the entire shoot. I think this is maybe the first film I've ever worked on where I never saw the director raise his voice or lose his cool, ever.
It sounds like everyone had a lot of room to build their characters out and bring their own ideas in. Are there a couple of things you can point to in the film that you can say, that's me trying this idea?
T.I.: You know, it was really a blank canvas. I hadn't read the entire script. I don't think I was allowed to. You're just handed scenes as the film goes along, and when you do that, it's like a blank canvas, 'This is what I'm going to do for this scene,' and you can remember previous performances and remain consistent with that. The energy created by the ensemble you have around you, it contributes to the outlook or the final view of what your character has become, and what he meant to the story.
Given Paul Rudd's background with improv, how much did that factor in, and who was the biggest prankster on the set?
T.I.: We didn't really prank each other, but everyone just took turns telling jokes. We just told a lot of jokes. Everyone just had a ball. It was just a pleasant experience. I wish I had something a little edgier (laughs), but it was genuinely a pleasant experience.
How passionate are you about your acting career right now? Is it something you're really fired up about?
T.I.: Definitely. I'm extremely passionate about it, because it gives a different sense of surprise than music. When I do things in music, people expect me to do it, you know, whereas, in acting, if I do a comedy, people go, 'Oh, I didn't know he was funny.' Or, if I play a cop, they go, 'Oh, I never saw him as a cop.' It gives a different wow factor. In entertainment, all of us want to find new ways to surprise our fans, and it gives me a different way to surprise fans, every time.
I've always been a fan of your music, and you have such a unique sound, and in watching this, Christophe Beck's score is so infectious. Have you ever had any ambition to go into that side of the business, and work on scoring as well?
T.I.: You know, I would. It's not necessarily my go-to, but if I was requested to do it, I would. I wouldn't put myself in that position, but if someone said, 'Hey, listen, it needs your energy for these scenes,' I would do it, but I would first say, 'Can I just be in the movie? Or can I give you a song, maybe?' Those are the things I directly want to be more involved in.
The cool thing about working in the Marvel universe is you could show up in any of the other superhero movies or TV shows. If you could pick any superhero you'd like to put your character in a scene with, is there one that stands out?
T.I.: I'm going to go out on a limb here and say Iron Man. I think the sarcasm would make for an interesting conversation, and he has cool cars, and since my character is a driver, a wheel man, that would be cool to do, and cool to see.
I know you have a project called Sleepless Night coming out. Is there anything you can say about that?
T.I.: We're currently filming right now, in Atlanta, myself, Jamie Foxx, Gabrielle Union. It's a thriller/action/drama/cop flick. I'm just totally excited about it and I can't wait to be able to present it to you guys. I think it's going to be, yet, another surprise.
Is there a genre or a type of movie that you're dying to do that you haven't got a shot at yet?
T.I.: Romance. I wouldn't say I'm actively trying to find it, but I think the first one will open the door for many more. I don't think that the Love Jones of our time has been made yet, for this generation. They have The Notebook, but they don't have the Love Jones of today.
When you were first coming up in music, did you have the kind of ambition you have now for acting? Was that anything you even envisioned?
T.I.: No, I was so focused on making it to a certain level of success and achievement in music that I knew if I was able to execute it properly, that acting would definitely be a natural progression. I wasn't as tuned in and as invested in acting until somewhere in the middle of ATL.
Have you ever been plugged in to comic books? Was there a time in your life when you were deep into comics, or just casual?
T.I.: I had a fling. I think the summer of '91, I started collecting X-Men, Wolverine. I was a big Wolverine fan, and by the end of the summer, I had lost all 35 of my comic books, and I was so deflated I couldn't start over (Laughs). That was my slight career in comic books.
Is there anything else you have on the music front that you can talk about?
T.I.: My tenth album, The Dime Trap, I'm working on it. I just released the first teaser from it yesterday and it's going to be an extension or a continuation of the vibe from Trap Muzik. I feel like, when you've done hits like "Whatever You Like" and "Dead and Gone," when you do those mainstream kind of "Blurred Lines"-ish kind of records, you don't go and try to top "Blurred Lines." You just come to a whole new element, bring it back down and build the process back over again. I'm breaking it all down, back to the element of where my music first began to interest people, and build it all over again.
Given the state of the industry right now, what are the challenges you face in your career?
T.I.: It's less exposure and more competition. It's more people fighting for a smaller pie now. I don't mind, because my hand was already in it. You'll be hard pressed to pull my hand out of there, but it's almost like, when you have an amount of time you must invest in a project, time away from home, away from family, the amount of risky situations and environments one must frequent in order to maximize potential, once you really, really estimate these things, it's like, 'OK, where is my time better invested? Here, where I could easily be stabbed, shot, arrested or not paid as much as I deserve, or somewhere less problematic and rewarding?' That's why T.I. & Tiny: The Family Hustle is a safe platform. When I say safe, I mean physically safe. Safe from trouble, safe from liability, and my cast mates, I kind of love working around them already. It just gives me an opportunity to step back, and while everyone is racing for that same pot that I've already had my hand in, I can develop new streams in other places, so one day, I can just completely take my hand out of that pot and let them fight for it.
That's all I have. Thank you so much.
T.I.: Wonderful. I appreciate your time, man.
You can watch T.I. as the wheel man David in Ant-Man, arriving in theaters today, July 17. The superhero adventure is already tracking to be yet another one of Marvel's blockbusters, bringing Phase Two to a close and setting up Phase Three. Be sure to check back on Sunday to see how Ant-Man fared at the box office in its opening weekend.