Cuba Gooding Jr. talks Dirty, his new film about two gangbangers-turned-cops try and cover up a scandal within the LAPDin Dirty
In the world of drugs, murder, and theft, there’s always one staple �" the cops will be there to help the innocent. Well, that’s not the case and it all changed when video cameras came into play. In 1991, in Los Angeles, we witnessed the beating of Rodney King by four police officers; it was all over the news, and the result of the cops being found not guilty, the court case set off several riots. The police had no defense.
If we jump ahead to 1997, also in Los Angeles, police officers were accused of being involved in gang dealings, murders, and drug deals. It took place in the Rampart section of LA �" it was nicknamed the Rampart Scandal.
That was the start of Chris Fisher’s vision for the new film Dirty; he knew it was the perfect setting for a crime drama �" and he could base it on true events. However, Chris didn’t see this as a chance to make a movie about corrupt cops. He saw it as two things, one a broad overview of what the United States is like today. “The movie to me is about a deeper dissatisfaction with the institutions and the leaders that we’re dealing with right now in this kind of ‘my response on a micro level to a macro problem’ that I feel the country is involved in a murky war that’s increasingly becoming more unpopular and it’s a good time to have an anti-establishment film that questions our leaders and questions our institutions and questions the fight that mostly poor, minority kids are going off to fight.”
With that said, he looked at it as the second approach �" a literal stance about the dirty cops. “I think the greatest tragedy of the film is that paradigm that’s left in place is the power structure is what set this ‘day in the life’ off in the first place. I wanted to say that because there’s been other movies, the fact that there’s still going to be future movies on the subject matter, it’s the fact that it’s something the city is still dealing with.”
Chris also got lucky and found two unbelievably talented actors to portray the central characters �" Cuba Gooding Jr. and Clifton Collins Jr. Now, you really can’t get a better pair of opposites than that �" so we think.
Cuba plays this nasty, son-of-a-b*tch cop, no nonsense, in your face police officer. He’s certainly ‘dirty’ and plays a character that is very unlike other characters we’ve seen him play. Just to give a little timing rewind, it’s been 10 years since his Oscar win for Jerry Mcguire. He talked about that change, in length; it was the first five minutes of our interview. He says he’s realized over the last two years that his career needed a boost, and this film was just the start. Cuba turned down a lot of good opportunities to work, and saw that his life was not complete.
As far as this film, Cuba found a “new voice in Hollywood” in Chris Fisher and jumped at the chance to work with him on this movie. But it was what he said about that was a little confusing. He started comparing this movie to Jerry Maguire �" don’t think so, Cuba. Your role in that movie was very different from this movie; the only thing that is the same is your level of acting �" superb. But, I don’t want to disappoint, so here’s what he had to say. “This is Jerry Mcguire to me because you put this character in that situation in the mind set that I’m in for him, I’m doing the same stuff I did in Jerry Mcguire. It’s just in Jerry Mcguire, my motivation was different. But Cameron Crowe would let them scenes go on and on and I would go on because I was in character and so did Chris Fisher.”
Yeah, I’m still not convinced. But his co-star, Clifton Collins, has played those gritty roles in the past. “I just wanted to guys to have a little bit of fun; it’s not just drama, you’re going to have good days. Once Fish would let us get off the leash, we were gone.”
Boy, they went off that leash; especially in the language area. There are so many references to the ‘n-word’ and uses of ‘motherf-er’ and ‘sh*t,’ it almost takes away from the story. The language issue was something Cuba found easily adaptable. It was something he observed from a close distance on and off set. “I remember this one time dealing with the cops and they would tell me about their stories that I could just see their demeanor change and how they believed it and their vernacular would start and they would start ‘this motherf*cker rolled up on me’ and I was like ‘wow.’ And those are the sensibilities that I took. When I got this screenplay, it came with a letter from Chris Fisher, a two page letter detailing his frustration with the events surrounding the Rampart Scandal. It detailed certain events and officers and officers using military jargon describing their war on gang violence against them, and it’s like we’re the them.”
Since Chris was a first time director, he allowed his actors to bring their own characters to life. He made that call to have all his actors speak the way they felt most comfortable. “I went with it, and I went with it all the way to the editing room.” Maybe that wasn’t the best move; for me, it just seems a bit excessive.
After the final cut of the film, even Chris found out it probably wasn’t the best decision either. “I didn’t make this movie for myself; I made this movie to actually try to effect people and change people’s minds and I think I failed in that sense because I think the language turns them off. But I think it’s one of the things, if I did it again I would try to tone the language down.”
With Cuba reading that, that was his key for taking this role. “I think this movie asks the tough questions and it was easy for me to want to be involved in something like that. It’s the allure of badness of not doing the crime, or the time.”
Dirty was the first time Chris and Clifton worked together, but the trust factor must have been there because Fisher asked him to star in his second film, Rampage, about the Hillside Strangler in LA in the late 1970’s. Clifton describes Chris as “one of my best friends and it’s been fun watching him grow as a director. He’s got a lot of ideas and it’s fun working with him. He’s definitely up’ed the bar with this one.”
Of course, Clifton is also coming off what should have been an Oscar-nominated performance in Capote, as Perry Smith. So needless to say, it’s been a good year for him, but even he needs time to grow. He’s still going on auditions and has to audition for certain roles. He doesn’t even know if he’s going to be able to go to the Oscars. “I hope to go, if I’m not working.” Don’t worry, you’ll be seeing Clifton Collins walking that red carpet at the Kodak Theater.
We also briefly chatted with Taboo, from the Black Eyed Peas, who has a small role in this film; he talked about working with Cuba, not on the set �" on the dance floor. “We had a show called the Peapod and he came on stage and did some windmills, and I was like Jerry Mcguire!” Taboo is also a martial artist, as well as a hip hop dancer/rapper; he’s in development with Billy Zane on a movie called Redline.
But as far as the dancing skills, Taboo vs Cuba �" according to Cuba, he’s got game. “Oh, I’d wipe his ass up, still to this day. With my 1990’s windmills, hand stands and head spins, cuz, you kidding me; like wine man, I get better. He’s in great shape, though.”
And for Clifton, he’s a dancer, too. But he’s more of the tap dancer. Clifton’s working on a script to bring back the old school dancers. “I think one of the beautiful things about those old tap films, with Cagney and Fred Astaire, is they’ve got that nostalgia that comes with it. I think they’ve done it a little bit in the ’80’s with The Cotton Club, but not like I want to I want to do it.”
Dirty really explores the world of dirty cops, and some great actors portraying these bad guys. It’s just a shame they didn’t execute what they were trying to do. I actually think if Chris Fisher was able to make the film he was trying to make, it would have a been better project than it was.
Dirty opens in LA and New York on February 24th; look for it to go nationwide soon after that. The film also stars Keith David, Cole Hauser, and Wyclef Jean. It’s rated R.