Combustible Celluloid

Interview: Ice Cube

A Christmas with Ice

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

November 5, 2002—Ice Cube exploded into the music scene in 1988 with what is considered the very first Gangsta rap album, Straight Outta Compton. It wasn't long before he left his companions Dr. Dre and Eazy-E for a solo career, and his promise did not fade. His 1990 and 1991 albums AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted and Death Certificate are considered classics as well.

In 1991, Cube made his movie debut in the critically acclaimed film Boyz N the Hood, which earned an Oscar nomination for its 24 year-old director John Singleton.

Since then, Cube has jumped from art films like The Glass Shield and Three Kings to appearances in "B" movies like Trespass, Anaconda, and Ghosts of Mars to "urban" films that appeal to fans of his records, like the recent All About the Benjamins and Barbershop.

The most significant of these came in 1995, a film called Friday that was virtually ignored in theaters but became a huge sleeper hit on video. Cube not only starred in the film, but also wrote the screenplay and produced. It also marked a change in character from his sinister, glowering thug to a new warmer, funnier character.

Cube went on to write and produce more films, and even directed one, The Players Club, but the Friday films continue to be his bread-and-butter. The third film opens in theaters on Friday, and fans will be surprised to see Cube in a holiday mood.

But George Bailey's story this ain't. Here, life is a little less than wonderful.

Friday After Next promises to be the very first Christmas movie set in the 'hood. Cube's character Craig Jones and his cousin Day-Day (former stand-up comic Mike Epps) now live in the projects. On Christmas Eve, a burglar dressed as Santa Claus breaks in and steals their rent money. So before their landlady throws them out, the pair must work as security guards in a shopping mall to raise rent.

Cube, who stopped by San Francisco recently with co-star Epps to help promote the movie, says he has as much fun writing the films as he does making them.

"I'm sitting there and I got my family around and we doing whatever and I just bust out laughing and I run into the office."

Wearing a Redskins jersey and emitting a warm presence, he taps on the tabletop as if it were a typewriter. "Twenty minutes I'm in there. As soon as I get this to Mike, he's going to run with it. It's going to be magic."

Cube says that Christmas movies always clue the viewer in by using snow. So for Friday After Next, he and the crew simply added Christmas decorations to everything that was nailed down -- and a few things that weren't, including Craig and Day-Day's marijuana plant.

"We have what we call the anti-Christmas movie: In the 'hood, California, no snow on the ground... the Christmas that I know. It's a straight good time. That's all we wanted to achieve with this."

Though Cube enjoys directing, he has other plans for the Friday movies. He wants to bring in young, first-time directors to help give them a start, but at the same time make sure that they stick to the established rhythms of the Friday world. In this way, Cube helped launch the career of F. Gary Gray, who went on to make Set It Off and The Negotiator.

Also, not directing allows him more time to work on other endeavors. "We've been working on this thing a year. I've done two or three projects since we finished and our director's still on this. I don't want to be tied down like that."

Cube has picked up little tricks from the many directors he's worked with, most interestingly from Charles Burnett, who may be the best and most underrated African American director of all time. Burnett directed Cube in the 1995 film The Glass Shield.

"I learned that a director isn't always going crazy," Cube says. "He taught me calmness. He's just laid back. I never even heard him say 'action' or 'cut.' He had the first AD do it. About 30 days into the shoot I asked him why, and he told me that he didn't want to be tired at the end of the day."

To that end, Cube tried to keep the Friday After Next set relaxed, like a get-together. "We'll have music going, Playstation, we got hoop courts going on, we got scooters -- just making sure everybody's having fun. My man will bring out the barbeque pit every now and then."

But what about the barbecue food Craig and Day-Day's fathers sell at their restaurant in the film? "Those are movie ribs. You don't want to eat those. They get cold fast."

Though both earlier Friday movies found their biggest audience on video, Cube is not concerned with how the third one will play.

"That's a movie company's problem, whether or not people see it in the theater or on video. I've seen a thousand movies on video; I saw The Godfather on video. I just want people to see them. Just as long as, at the end of the day, everybody's happy and you get to do another one."

Partial Ice Cube Filmography:
Boyz N the Hood (1991)
Trespass (1992)
The Glass Shield (1995)
Higher Learning (1995)
Friday (1995) [also screenplay]
Dangerous Ground (1997)
Anaconda (1997)
The Players Club (1998) [also screenplay & director]
Three Kings (1999)
Next Friday (2000) [also screenplay]
Ghosts of Mars (2001)
All About the Benjamins (2002) [also screenplay]
Barbershop (2002)
Friday After Next (2002) [also screenplay]
Torque (2004)
Barbershop 2: Back in Business (2004)
Are We There Yet? (2005)
xXx: State of the Union (2005)
Are We Done Yet? (2007)
First Sunday (2008)
The Longshots (2008)
Lottery Ticket (2010)
Rampart (2011)
21 Jump Street (2012)
Ride Along (2014)
22 Jump Street (2014)

Movies Unlimtied