Compiled by: Jack Foley
Q. How did you go about preparing for the role? Rapping,
A. Well I worked with Three Six Mafia, Juicy J and a
young man named Al Kapone. These were the people that helped me
in delivering. Al Kapone wrote two of the songs, It Aint Over
For Me and Whoop That Trick. Juicy J from Three
Six Mafia had a rapper named Frasierboy who wrote Pop It For
Some Paper and It's Hard Our Here For A Pimp.
But Juicy J and DJ Paul produced the beats for both those songs.
And they worked with me relentlessly for seven, eight months.
They instilled in me what was necessary.
You can mime the words but then putting the meaning into it and
all that stuff comes from doing the research and dealing with
the actors and talking to the different pimps and the people that
were locked into that world.
I lived with about 10 different pimps over two and a half years
spending a week or so with each and every one of them. They were
so gracious in opening up their homes and their livelihood. They
wouldn't let me videotape it, of course, because of certain things...
But they talked to me honestly from their hearts. And I developed
a greater sympathy for what they are experiencing. When I would
ask them 'what did they want to do before they became a pimp'
- I didn't ask them 'how did you become a pimp?' If I did, they'd
tell me the rules of engagement - each and every one of them would
tell this heart-wrenching story about when they were a kid wanting
to be an artist, a musician, some wanted to be doctors.
But you have to have the finances or the infrastructure available
in order for you to mature to those places. You need a teacher.
But without having that avenue... that's just a terrible thing
to have a passion in you and be forced to be the janitor of life.
It was a rough part.
Q. You obviously have a strong musical background yourself,
playing the piano and the guitar, but were you nervous about almost
taking centre stage in this way and actually using your voice
A. Well I wasn't a rapper and I never was a fan of rap.
I always thought it was very dark and I'd missed the storytelling
portions of it. There were some rappers earlier on that used to
tell the positive message despite pointing out the bad things
that had happened. Now they've fallen into the blaxploitation
and stereotypical range of, yeah, 'I'm a pimp', or talking about
all of the things that they have and talking about gaining them
through nefarious means. That's such a negative thing to do. It's
misleading to the world so I was opposed to a lot of that and
it was hard to bring my music into association with it.
Q. How did you get from chemical engineering to acting?
That's a strange leap...
A. Well Einstein said everything's relative so if you
can find the relative factors you can do anything. If you understand
one thing about one thing, you can understand one thing about
all things if you know the common denominator.
Q. You were talking earlier about the fact that you need
a teacher or someone to believe in you. That serves as a good
metaphor for Hustle and Flow, because that was dependent on someone
coming in and providing the funding for it. And that was John
Singleton. How key was that?
A. To have someone believe in what you're doing, a philanthropist,
truly of heart, even though he profited! He still took a huge
risk. He thought he could get the movie made after we'd been trying
for two and a half years, based upon his name and recognition
alone - that a studio would say 'ok, let's make the movie'.
But the studios told him the same thing as they told us, 'well
we like the project, we think Terrence is a good actor but if
you put a rapper in his place we'll give you $9-10 million to
make the movie'.
And after a while John said 'fuck it, I'll finance it myself'
and he mortgaged his home. Six months later he received $16 million
for that $3 million investment and then seven months after that
made another $40 million from the sale of the film. And I'm waiting
for him to share that now [laughs].
Q. Did you get the role in Four Brothers off the back
of Hustle and Flow?
A. No, no. I did the Four Brothers role so that I would
be free to go to Sundance. They'd offered me one of the four brothers
but I wanted to just play a smaller role in it so I could be free
to spend a week at Sundance to try and help promote the film.
Q. You have said the pimps were less scary than the rappers.
Can you talk a bit more about that?
A. Well you're looking at a world where rappers have
preached violence incessantly. What did Jesus say? He who uses
the sword will die by that sword. I believe that's the case. I
didn't meet one pimp that had a bullet-proof vest on but each
and every rapper that I dealt with walks around with a bullet-proof
vest. There was a gun and bodyguards and people threatening to
take their life. Juicy J and M were shot at two or three times
while I was with them. It got to where I didn't even want to work
with them anymore because I was afraid. I didn't get any of that
working with the pimps, or the hustlers.
Q. This film isn't really a stereotype of a pimp. Is
that something that particularly appealed to you about it?
A. Well there was a film that was made by the Hughes
brothers, a documentary called American Pimp, but it was hard
for me to see that as a documentary because the pimps they were
interviewing were aware they were being interviewed and put on
the bravado of trying to justify their choices in order to glorifiy
Apparently they had seen the blaxploitation movies themselves
and believed them. They didn't spend time with the low-level,
mid-level pimps who were just hustling and selling the last bit
of humanity they had left. They hadn't spent their time with them.
So I asked Craig Brewer, the writer and director of Hustle and
Flow, after he had seen American Pimp which one of these pimps
in that film was Djay more like. He said he's like none of them
because you've got to remember that Djay doesn't want to be a
pimp. He said that's why I want you to play this role. He had
received letters from a million rappers and other actors that
wanted to be a pimp and wanted to tell their story and his objective
in making this movie was also to inform the world about this misconception.
That people had been misled by the media and by the studios for
30 or 40 years. He wanted to kill that stereotype because look
at what it's been doing. You know, young men and young women thinking
'I can become a stripper, a prostitute or a pimp and have an easy
life' and didn't know the reality of that life.
He said he wanted to make a documentary, a written documentary,
and that attracted me to it because I knew he was going to tell
the truth and stick to the truth.
Q. So which came first for you, was it music or acting?
A. It was music. I didn't play any instruments at the
time [laughs] but I did a film called The Jackson Five: An American
Dream. I was a terrible actor, terrible. It was a TV movie and
I was Jackie but I did the movie because Suzanne Depass was producing
it and the Jacksons were producing it and I figured I could go
on set and sing some of my songs to Jermaine Jackson and I'd get
a music deal.
It was literally such a Djay and Skinny Black move - 'oh yeah,
I'm an actor, I can dance and I can sing'. I just wanted to be
a songwriter and I was disillusioned. I was turned away and ended
up becoming like Djay, you know pimping myself and my emotions
through acting and when I found the truth about acting and realised
the stories you could tell and the musicality associated with
it, with using this instrument, I began to love it.
Then my musicianship adjusted also and changed because I learned
how to play hard rock as a result of preparing to become Jimi
Hendrix, or Chevalier De St George, this son of a French noblemen
in the 17th Century who had an affair with Marie Antoinette, one
of the greatest swordsmen and greatest violinists that France
has ever had who Mozart borrowed phrases from. In preparation
for that I learned how to play the violin.
I learned to play the piano because I was preparing to play Duke
Ellington. I didn't know the avenues that would be open to me
musically as a result of what I would learn to portray my characters
as an actor.
Q. And ironically, you've also ended up working with
a lot of musicians on film from Jennifer Lopez and Mariah Carey
A. Is she a musician?
Q. To 50 Cent and OutKast..
A. She's a fabulous dancer. And she's got a great personality.
But I never saw her play an instrument. But they're all artists.
She's a remarkable artist. I believe that a painter would make
a better actor than most actors out there today. They've learned
how to channel their emotions into their work and that's what
I like to work with... artists. Some of the best make-up artists
that I know are painters; the best directors I know paint because
they know how to tell the story in a limited medium.
George Wooff spoke to me and said limitation brings about genius
so to speak and then Craig Brewer echoed those words when I was
doing Hustle and Flow. He said: "By you being limited to
this environment it will bring out a genius in you. Because I
need you to do the magic. I don't have the money for the special
effects. So I'm going to ask you to bruise your spirit a bit and
give me that extra virgin oil from the seed and not from the meat.
That's what I need to heel this movie." It was wonderful.
Q. You do seem drawn to more character-driven films.
Is that something that you will strive to continue doing now that
you have arrived properly? Because a lot of American magazines
are saying this has been your year?
A. Most of the character-driven movies are the independent
films because they don't have the money for the special effects.
They don't have the money to add the music in over the year or
anything like that. So anything that's going to help me become
a better actor and I think that's in the independent world. What
I would like to do is get involved with some of the young directors
here in the UK and throughout Europe and be exposed to their storytelling
so I can become a much better actor than I am at present.
But then again you need to make some money along the way [laughs].
Q. So does it feel like a very exciting time?
A. Yeah but it's frightening because you've got to keep
that momentum going. You don't want to get wrapped up in that
world too much. Me and George Woof had a wonderful conversation
about it. He said 'here you've spent 19 years busting your shoulder
and your collar bone on trying to get through the door, and now
you're in the room... Now what do you do?'
All of my passion has come from trying to get inside. So now once
you're in there what do you do? You've got to have a determination
to change that room because from that room the rest of the world
is fed, entertainmently. That's not even a word, entertainmently.
But it is now!
Q. What was it like working with Ludacris and how was
the whole crunk experience?
A. Well I didn't work with Ludacris. I worked with an
actor named Chris Bridges. I never met Ludacris but I met Chris
Bridges. That's somebody he keeps separate from his theatrical
But the crunk world is different. It's a tribal form of communication.
The music is very primitive. There's bass in it but that bass
seems almost percussionary and it's hard. It's fabulous the way
it moves you. It's a war dance. It moves you more than anything
else; it will change your thinking. It will change the enture
chemical composition that you're made of at present when you get
that mass hysteria about you and move in unison to everyone around
you. You become frightened for an outsider that's not a part of
it because... wow!
Q. And it's a culture all to itself?
A. It's a huge culture but this is a sub-culture that's
lacking the money from the government to grow. So it's been forced
to sort of turn in on itself and any time there's cannibalism
involved in a society you're in a dark, dark place. And that's
what's happening inside the urban culture. Unless someone is going
to say 'we need to feed something better, we need to produce our
own food, morally, we're going to fall into a very bad place'
and they're going to stay there because they are there now. But
hopefully this film might help some to make their way out of it.
You know, films like Crash help in a much greater way. As much
as Hustle and Flow has done for me, and working with Jim Sheridan
on the Get Rich Or Die Tryin' project, as much as that's done
for me, what I think is the most important film of the year, the
film that I've participated in my whole life, has been Crash.
Q. Because of what it has to say?
A. If you could only make one film every year and they
had to pick through all the hundreds and thousands of scripts
that have been made this year, Crash would be the one that I would
vote for to say, 'this is the film that we need as a world. This
film is what we need and this is the film we need to be seeing.
Q. How was the 50 Cent experience on Get Rich Or Die
Tryin'? Was he much like Chris Bridges in keeping his music persona
away from the actor?
A. Yeah you saw Curtis Jackson on the set. You saw the
boy who looked insecure and nervous and frightened but was still
willing to step out there and do it.
I didn't see 50 Cent until... I still haven't met 50. I've met
Curtis and that's who's my friend. I don't think I like 50 Cent.
Q. How do the two compare?
A. 50 Cent will ultimately die. Curtis Jackson will continue
to grow and evolve as an individual. His music will change. Him
as a person will change. I see him at the threshold of who he
was and who he's becoming.
Q. Is it quite exciting then, as an established actor,
watching a musician or an artist begin the process of evolving?
And do you feel any responsibility towards helping them evolve?
A. [laughs] Well for me as an actor, what I do is...
when I started off acting it was about thinking 'who's the best
liar'? And then I found out it was about who can tell the truth
more honestly? Who can lend themselves more to the truth? I began
It took people that work with me. They see that there's no facade,
I'm not looking for my own glorification or trying to look good
in the movie or in a moment, and I think that translates and transcends.
Cut that to rap and to your own life and how must I live the rest
of my life and you can't help but be affected. I'm going to be
affected by you guys for the rest of my life, I'll never be the
same person I was before you came in here. And depending on the
magnitude of your character, my life will be changed. Likewise,
I've learned so much from Curtis Jackson; work ethic. I'm working
with Jessica Alba now on a film called Awake and she is so driven.
Q. The combination of Jim Sheridan and 50 Cent is probably
more intriguing than Curtis Hanson and Eminem? Were you intrigued?
A. Oh yeah. Well what struck me is that both of those
people are so humble. Jim Sheridan, who I think is probably the
most gifted director I have ever worked with, and 50 for having
the most incredible work ethic I've ever seen of any individual
in the world.
Seeing both of them surrender to their environment and asking
extras 'what do you think about this? How's this sound?'
50 would always bring somebody into his trailer and have them
listen to the music that he was trying to create for the movie.
Same thing with Jim. They were beautiful. They allowed everyone
to see them as who they truly are.
Q. How influential was your grandmother on your career?
A. Well Minnie Gentry, I saw her do a one-woman play
and it was just her on stage. I was 12 or something. But by the
time the 20 minutes was over I believed that she was in the kitchen
and there were 20 or so family members around her. It was magic.
It was power. It was Merlin all over again. I wanted that power.
I wanted to be able to move someone's heart and make them transcend
what appears to be reality.
Because everything we see, you know, if you look at this plant
right here and you close your eyes and I say 'that plant', your
mind has the same reaction as if when it's seeing it in reality.
So to make someone close their eyes while they're open, it's beautiful.
It's a beautiful power and gift and that's what made me want to
become an actor. I wanted to know how to use that.
Q. Have you finished the OutKast film?
A. Yes it's called My Life in Idlewild. It's powerful.
I haven't seen it yet but I know from what I felt on the set is
that it's an incredible film. Brian Barber is about to fly. Benjamin
Andre is genius in everything that he does. He really is. His
sensibilities. You'll see, it's like a mix between Moulin Rouge
and Sin City. The visual aspects
of it, and the texture of it.
Q. Would you try and rap again ever?
A. I'd never do it again [laughs]. Never ever again.
Because I had to go to some very dark places in my heart and soul
to get it on. I can't go to that place no more.
Related stories: Read
Get Rich or Die Tryin'