[5 April 2007]
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
MIAMI—Ice Cube has a bag of sunflower seeds in front of him and the TV with the sound on low in his bayfront suite.
He’s trying to tell you about starring in “Are We Done Yet?”—the sequel to the hit family flick “Are We There Yet?”—which opened Wednesday. But ESPN is too strong a distraction.
“Are you trying to watch a basketball game while you’re talking to me? you ask Cube. Because you’re not beyond checking the rapper who helped usher in the era of thugged-out, hardcore hip-hop. As a member of the group N.W.A., he dropped the genre-defining gangsta album “Straight Outta Compton” in 1988.
“Huh? Nah. I’m not watching a game. Just the highlights,” he says.
He’s got his usual “Boyz-N-the-Hood” scowl going. But you’re not put off. Because in “Are We Done Yet?” he performs silly home-improvement slapstick and has exchanges with talking animals. You figure he has softened some.
“Everybody has their perceptions about how my career has evolved,” says the man who made his acting debut in 1991 as Doughboy in John Singleton’s “Boyz N the Hood” and in 1995 wrote, produced and starred in “Friday,” that foggy-front-porch cult hit.
“I have never worried about being hard or soft. I have always just been myself,” Cube says. “I’m concerned about being a man. Being a badass doesn’t turn me on. That’s an image; that’s a gimmick. I mean, I still have hardcore records left in me—and hardcore movies. But I thought this was the perfect time in my career to make some movies for the whole family and reach another generation. I figure my core audience has kids who need something to connect to.”
In this latest movie (Cube was a producer of “Are We There Yet?” and the sequel), he reprises the role of Nick Persons, former player turned family man who has married Suzanne (Nia Long), the girl whose kids he grudgingly took on a maddening, screwball road trip.
This time around, the gang has moved into a roomy country house that turns into a home-improvement nightmare. Think “The Money Pit” with computer-enhanced critters.
So, has Cube ever experienced home-improvement hell?
“Anybody with a home is always doing something to it,” he says. “Whether it’s updating the plumbing or whatever. I mean, we’ve been in our house (in Los Angeles) for 10 years, and we’re still working on it. It’s like a lifelong project. I just don’t ever feel easy that the last thing we did is really the last thing we’re gonna do.”
Has he done any of the work himself?
“No, but I’m the one dealing with the contractor and the people working on all the stuff. I’ve learned more about house things than I ever wanted to know. Like wood. Didn’t want to know that much about that. I also know too much about marble.”
Born O’Shea Jackson, Cube, 37, is proud to be a family man. He and Kim Jackson, his wife of 15 years, have four kids.
`I think a lot of people can relate to my character in `Are We Done Yet?’ He is a new husband figuring out that every marriage gets hard. Every husband, and every wife, at some point say, `Damn, that exit looks pretty good.’ But you have to stick it out.”
Has he ever considered the exits along the way in his marriage?
“Sort of. But I don’t want people to think me and my wife are having problems,” says Cube. “You kinda look to make sure the door is still there. But me and my wife have a great partnership. It’s kind of us against the world. We really, really love each other and work well with each other. We’ve built a nice life, and we’re still going.”
Cube says he was drawn to the family-guy role because it allowed him to be a positive role model.
“I feel good about the fact that Nick started out as a bachelor who really wants to have a family life. You don’t see too many black men reflected this way in the movies. Nick does whatever he needs to do to make it all work.”
Originally, he was planning a remake of “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House,” and an unrelated sequel to “Are We There Yet?”
“But then we felt that nobody would remember the `Mr. Blandings’ title. And we needed a sequel to a movie we had that was a hit. It’s eerie how easy it was to convert that other script into this sequel. We just changed the character names,” Cube says, stealing another glance at the TV. “I think people appreciate a movie that the whole family can watch. There aren’t a lot of those any more. You have movies for kids, movies for teens and movies for adults. But not a lot of movies for everybody.”
But that doesn’t mean Cube doesn’t want to continue making grown-up films. Through his production company, Cube Vision, he is working on developing a feature, “Chrome & Paint,” about car culture in Los Angeles.
“It deals with low riders. And what kind of person you have to be to survive with a low rider. If you’re weak, you can’t have one. Somebody will just take you right out of it. Those cars are dangerous.”
Cube used to be into them.
“But not any more. I like new cars now.”
It’s new hip-hop he can’t get down with.
`I like Lil’ Wayne, Luda. But not a lot else of the current stuff. I like the `80s stuff. Because the `80s were to hip-hop what the `60s were to rock `n’ roll. It was just more creative then. Everybody had different styles, and you couldn’t just bite somebody else’s style without being an outcast. Now everybody is feeding off the same thing. It’s not referencing; it’s straight-up stealing.”
With that, Cube gets up and moves to the terrace. One of his handlers has just spotted a dolphin swimming near the hotel. And Cube is not too hardcore to go out there and watch it play.