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Get Rich Or Die Tryin' - Jim Sheridan interview

Jim Sheridan directs Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson in Get Rich or Die Tryin'

Interview by Rob Carnevale

Q. On the face of it you and 50 Cent make an odd couple…
A. Mohammed Ali and Angelo Dundee, you know? [Laughs] But it’s weird, on some odd level I have three daughters and no son, so it’s kind of like on some weird son it entered that area that I can’t explain. Also, I had a brother who died – which is in In America – and when I met 50 and you know that he’s been shot all those times and my protective thing went out towards him. So after I saw some of the American reviews, I thought ‘was I in the wrong movie?’
In other words, when I was looking at him, was I reading into him what he was thinking and feeling. I could see it and they can’t. Or is it that they can’t see it because they choose not to? In a funny way only time will tell. You wouldn’t say that 50 has the technical ability of Daniel Day Lewis or Terrence Howard, but as a first-time actor he’s definitely got the presence and the charisma to be at the centre of a movie. But a lot of the Americans didn’t want to see him…

Q. It appears quite an odd leap to go from In America to this in many ways. So what attracted you to it?
A. I always loved hip-hop and wanted to make an American movie. So it was a way of making a minority movie within American culture. I didn’t have to go in and deal with the white suburban house. The shocking thing was that when I started I saw all these houses in Queen’s that 50 lived in and I thought ‘fuck, it looks like middle-class’. I mean, it looks like middle-class and in many ways it is because they’re very well off in certain ways. AK-47s cost, it’s not cheap to get one. So they’re kind of well off in a way, but depraved in other ways – families, single mothers and all that. So it was similar and dis-similar to my own background.

Q. Were there problems in that you might be accused of narrative cliche here, yet that is reflected in 50’s real-ife experience? So as a filmmaker you have to remain true to it by observing some of those so-called cliches?
A. That was one of the problems. The difficulty with a biopic is that the normal structure of a movie, or Hollywood, was the structure of Jewish people telling the Protestant hero story. The guy leaves home…. You almost have to get to The Godfather before the guy stays at home to protect the family.
But within that storytelling experience, it became like an Ibsen play. It’s very old-fashioned, 19th Century three-act structure. When you’re doing a biopic, if you do that three-act structure they feel all the plot points out like ‘that wouldn’t happen, that couldn’t happen, that’s too convenient’. So they’re hard to dramatise and the minute you do they feel false. So with this one, because it’s the gangster thing, it already has an inherent drama, so it’s kind of like ‘is he joking us’? Because if it is true, it’s scary.
For me, it was almost like the reverse of In America – the response. With In America, it was warm towards America but this felt like it was ‘oohh’. But not in the black culture; that was off the scale. But it was very hard to get the movie outside of that because of all the controversy surrounding it.

Q. What did you think about some of the publicity?
A. Well everyone thinks that all publicity is good publicity. They put the gun on the poster even though I had said ‘don’t put any bloody guns on the poster!’ I think it was the record people that actually put out that poster. Not that I’m worried about the poster because it seems mad to me that you can’t have a gun on a poster, but it’s actually not good for a communal experience. Film and music are different in that one’s private and one’s communal.

Q. You did stick to narrative and didn’t use as much music as you could have. Was there much pressure to put more music in it?
A. Here’s the thing. 50’s not like Eminem. Eminem is very much up there, you listen to the lyrics, you play them back and there’s a narrative in it. 50’s more like a humorous gangster. They’re dance, in the club, sexy songs. So we couldn’t use his music because it then would be 50 Cent. And we didn’t have the chance to do what Eminem did, which was to ad-lib up on stage. We had to write the songs as were doing the film. So we had a structure for the film but not an inherent moment where we said ‘this is where you perform’. I always think it stops the movie dead when you perform. In 8 Mile it was good because you had the structure for it. But with Get Rich or Die Tryin’ that was hard. I had to go back and re-sheet some of the songs because they didn’t quite fit.

Q. When did you first become aware of 50 Cent?
A. In Da Club was the first thing I heard. But that wasn’t my type of thing, really. I was more NWA, Public Enemy, you know? More on the aggressive side of rap. I only knew him through that song but then the script came and I met him and I found him as a person to be very charismatic. That’s why I decided to do the movie. But I didn’t hold back with him. I was expecting more argument and expecting him to be much more defensive of his world. I was even willing to fight that. But he wasn’t; he allowed himself to be vulnerable. It’s almost like the opposite image to the one he has in the gangster rap. So that was a dangerous thing to do in terms of music credibility – to cry and be naked.

Q. How aware were you as another human being that doing the scene where he gets shot was obviously something that really happened to him?
A. I must have something missing in me because it didn’t bother me at all. I just thought he might have been asleep. He works so hard that when he actually lies down, he’s out.

Q. Would you work with any more rappers? Would you like to work with Eminem?
A. Maybe. I think he was good in 8 Mile. But it’s hard because the experience that would be coming out is an American one.