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    LL Cool J

Interview with LL Cool J by Prairie Miller

Always in search of new directions to take his life and creative energy, LL Cool J (AKA Ladies Love Cool James) turns up as a morose, reformed alcoholic in Doug McHenry’s rural family drama, Kingdom Come. For the role, the typically outspoken artist became surprising introspective. During NY Rock’s interview, LL talks with Prairie Miller about the different qualities summoned from within for acting as opposed to rapping, as well as some of the issues an artist must deal with while working in the two mediums.

NYROCK:

Why did you want to go for such a serious and intense role at this point in time?

LL COOL J:

Just the opportunity to show people that I could do something serious, and do a role that would totally separate me from anything associated with my music persona. You know, just to show people that I'm capable of doing something that doesn't come easy to me, just because I have fame and money.

Like when I played that guy in In Too Deep, people think because the music I do came from the street, that a role like that is supposed to be easier for me. I wanted to do something where there could be no excuses, or no reason why I'm able to perform well, other than the fact that I really studied hard and prepared to the best of my ability, to do the role.

Because I want to be in the fraternity of actors. I want to be accepted by other actors as a person who really does act, and you know, does his job as an actor. So that was my whole point of doing Kingdom Come.

And I'm really happy I did the movie, because it turned out to be really funny. Like I have a dramatic role more so in the movie, so I'm more of like a straight man. But when I was filming, I didn't realize how funny the movie was, because my character is always torn.

You know, I'm always going through a lot of inner turmoil and stuff. So when I saw the movie, and saw everybody else being crazy and how funny it was, it was just like a breath of fresh air. Yeah.

NYROCK:

How do you get into a different frame of mind for your movies, as opposed to your music?

LL COOL J:

   LL Cool J
Oh yeah, I always go into movies with respect and humility. I'm always thankful to be there, and I understand that it's their show. And at the same time I also come in being my A game, and put one hundred percent in, and give 'em everything I have. Because you do get anxiety and nerves when you're working with such famous people.

NYROCK:

Did you grow up in a family like the one in Kingdom Come?

LL COOL J:

No, I can't say that at all. I mean, my family is full of crazy people, including me. But the cool thing about this movie to me is that you have all these black actors doing this movie. The story is written by a white guy from Kentucky, and based on his family's life. You know, it's a universal story.

So there's no reason why you can't like this movie, you know what I'm sayin'? I think hopefully people are going to be blown away by it. But my family growing up, yeah, I have everything in my family that you could probably imagine. And more!

NYROCK:

What was it like having Whoopi for a mom in the movie? Did she remind you of your own mother at all?

LL COOL J:

Whoopi reminded me more of aunts I have, who are really like that. But playing with an Academy Award winner like Whoopi, what she does is so effortless. When you look at her on screen, you don't realize how smooth and how easy it comes. Or how it appears so easy, the way it comes from her.

LL Cool J
  
Like she'll be talking to people, how ya doin' and everything. And then all of a sudden, she'll be intensely involved in a scene. Just right away in the scene, and then be back in and out of it again, talking and fooling around. It's like a lot of that involved.

And that part was really wild for me, because I found myself sitting there really focusing, and just being really quiet, thinking about what I have to do. And in the middle of an intense scene, Whoopi would yell, "Go get me some more of that popcorn over there!"

Whoopi was so comfortable, it was cool. And maybe five or six years from now, I'll be that comfortable. Or comforted-able, as my grandmother says.

NYROCK:

Where are you headed with your work now?

LL COOL J:

I only have one strategy now, and that's to do things that feel good. And to do things that don't make me question my integrity. Like, I'm a fan first. And as a fan, I know what fans want. So when I make a movie or I make music, I always do something that I'm really feeling, and that I really feel good about.

I can only go on my gut, you know? I can only be LL, and be on LL's opinion, and his vibe. That's what I do. But that's the only strategy, just to do what I really feel from the heart, and hope that people feel it as well.

And that's what life should be about. Once you achieve one goal, you should be looking forward to trying to build onto the next thing, and not just getting comfortable with what you're doing. You know, letting your dreams just fall by the wayside.

NYROCK:

Where do you see yourself positioned between your music and movies?

LL COOL J:

Before, music was my priority, and film was kind of secondary. In The House helped me make the transition, so that entertainment was my priority. You know, now I want to entertain people, whether it's through music or film.

So with that in mind, I'm not trying to be LL in every movie. I'm just being myself, or a caricature of myself. I'm trying to always just do something different, and challenge myself.

NYROCK:

What's up with your music right now?

LL COOL J:

I have a production company that I'm building. I have this brand new artist named Scola. And my company is like a pop/hop/soul company. So it's very new, like the vibe on the music. And the way we're coming and the direction we're going, is real new. So I'm building that company. And I want to create tomorrow's superstars, using that company as a platform to launch other people's careers.

I'm also getting ready to start on another record. I have a single coming out on a V2 compilation album. Violator is a really prominent production company in the hip hop community. They have a compilation CD coming out, and I'm also doing that.

Then I have Rollerball coming out this summer. It's a great, big action movie. They just borrowed the premise of the sport from the original. Everything else is a brand new story. And I'm thinking about doing theater too, something small in New York. So with all of that, I just want to see what's what. But I want to figure out what type of commitments are involved, so I can just schedule my life out.

NYROCK:

What do you learn when you're making a movie, that acting classes can't teach you?

LL COOL J:

The things that you learn doing a film, you could never learn in acting school. Like you can't learn how to stay away from the food services, so you don't look different at the end of the movie than you did at the beginning. You know what I'm sayin'?

And you can't learn how to tell the grips to shut up while you're preparing for a scene. So the theory and the technique is all well and good, and very important. But there's another education that comes along with doing the film. And at this point I'm enjoying the best of both worlds, which is great.

NYROCK:

What did you have to tone down about LL, to play your character Ray in Kingdom Come?

LL COOL J:

One of the main things I wanted to do, was like with his slow walk, and his motion. Which is much slower than me. Like I'm flyin', and my man, you know his whole vibe. My grandfather was kinda slow moving like that, in a lot of ways. So I thought about that.

But these characters are funny. They're like hybrids. Like it's part reality, and part imagination. I mean, that's the fun of acting. I just get to be creative and have some fun. So it's cool.

NYROCK:

Was Jada really singing in the movie?

LL COOL J:

Yeah, Jada sung.

NYROCK:

Does that mean you'll be signing her up with your label?

LL COOL J:

Hah! Nah, I think Will has a label. Will can handle that!

NYROCK:

Is your next album on your label?

LL COOL J:

No, it's gonna be on Def Jam. It's actually my tenth album, in a ten record deal.

NYROCK:

Who do you think has done the best work in rap?

LL COOL J:

You can't do that with rap music. First of all, artists stand on the shoulders of other artists. You know, how can any artist really be greater than another? I thought we were clear on that. I mean, is Beethoven greater than Bach? Is Picasso better than Michelangelo? Whoever.

The greatest of all times is LL Cool J's vision for LL Cool J, as a rap artist. When it gets to the point where the greatest of all times insults somebody, then maybe they need to check their own selves, and see what it is inside of them that annoys them when other people have self-esteem, you know what I'm sayin'?

Like if you have a problem with someone saying that they're good, then you really gotta look at yourself. Because there's something inside of you that's either insecure, feels small, or has some issues.

You gotta understand, it's all about opinions anyway. Look, the fans are the ones who dictate what they love, and there's no way to argue with that. I learned that a long time ago.

And then there are different generations that love different songs from the past. You can't even fight that. You gotta just let that go. That's art. And I guess that's the beauty of it, because it just touches people.

NYROCK:

Who inspired you most to do movies?

LL COOL J:

The person that made me want to make movies, and the reason I do films, is Bruce Lee. He was an incredible actor, and he had a lot of charisma. Handsome, action, you know, everything was there. I loved Bruce Lee.

It's funny, in terms of theory and technique, people always look to Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Gene Hackman and all of those fantastic actors. But in terms of inspiring and influencing me, it was my man Bruce.

In terms of music, it was Run DMC, and even rappers that came out after me, like Big Daddy. Because the funny thing is, I got in so young, that even though I had records out before a lot of people, I'm younger than them.

So I was growing up being influenced while I was making the records. You know, it was kinda weird. Like I had a platinum album, and somebody's poster on my wall! You know what I'm sayin'? Because I was still like a kid.

And I'm still like that. I'm still a fan. I like Dr. Dre. I like a lot of different people's music. I like a lot of music that Puff makes. I like a lot of music that just so many people make. So I still enjoy that part of it, watching the videos, and going to movies and wilding out. You know, just screaming at the screen and going crazy. That's my thing, man. I live the life of a fan.

NYROCK:

You've been together with your wife a long time. What's your secret?

LL COOL J:

Uh, I say what I have to say. And then shut up and let her argue! You know, just watch CNBC, and zone out. Uh, huh.

NYROCK:

How do you reconcile some of your lyrics about women with having daughters of your own?

LL COOL J:

You know, I'm not a bad person. It's just that I made this record, and the record maybe has some intense energy on it. But it's not like I'm being a bad human being. I'm like a writer who just had sex with his wife three times that night, then has to get up and focus on writing a children's story, when his mind is totally somewhere else. But I don't know how to deal with that yet, I'm still trying to figure it out.

April 2001


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Who do you think has done the best work in rap?

LL: You can't do that with rap music.... I thought we were clear on that. I mean, is Beethoven greater than Bach? Is Picasso better than Michelangelo?




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