2014 has been a big year for Ice Cube, who remains one of the preeminent examples of a renowned rapper moonlighting-then-doubling as a legit movie star. Besides a new record (Everythang’s Corrupt) on the horizon, he produced and starred in Ride Along with Kevin Hart, already one of the year’s most successful comedies.
Now, in 22 Jump Street – a film with no shortage of belly laughs – he just about steals the film from stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, reprising his role as the hilariously belligerent Captain Dickson. “I ain’t gonna start yelling at you,” he laughs when I tell him how fresh the film and his character are in my mind as we begin our phone conversation.
It’s surprising, then, to look back to the beginning of Cube’s acting career and notice that his first few roles until 1995’s Friday were dramatic ones, starting with the phenomenon of Boyz N The Hood, the LA ghetto saga that ended up making then-24-year-old John Singleton both the first African-American and youngest person to be nominated for a Best Director Academy Award. Cube credits Singleton with kick-starting his career.
“He just bugged the shit out of me to take [Boyz N The Hood] seriously, because I felt that I wasn’t qualified, because I wasn’t acting. This was his first movie. I didn’t believe that he really wanted me, that he couldn’t find someone who was qualified. He convinced me, and he got Columbia to back it – so not only was he doing a movie, he was doing a movie with the big boys.”
That Cube branched out to comedy, he explains, was less a matter of finding his niche than Hollywood stigma. “Well, you know, if you do something like a Friday so well, more and more people want ’em. You know, Friday had its own tone of comedy, and it was a tone that no other filmmaker could reach. It was the perfect balance of a lot of things that we liked. People wanted to see it over and over. Hollywood, especially when you’re black, you’ve really got a path of least resistance when it comes to getting films made, to building your brand. And you know, I’ve got a long way to go, to get back to the dramatic roles.”
It’s not a stretch to say that his Captain Dickson in the Jump Street films might be Cube’s finest work as an actor to date; especially in the sequel, which benefits from his role being expanded. “It was a lot more comfortable to shoot; a lot more fun, you know – we were in Puerto Rico, we were in New Orleans… it was more laidback, looser, and we had more fun.”
Indeed, the film’s creative team is Christopher Lord and Phil Miller, fresh off the success of The Lego Movie – but more so than that film, the success of the Jump Street franchise is largely to do with the collaborative nature of the production. “They say ‘written and directed by’ but it’s really everyone involved,” says Cube.
Despite his successes, Cube remains humble about his contributions to the projects and aware that his position in Hollywood is a precarious one. He’s palpably taken aback by my suggestion that his career is even close to being at a peak right now.
“It’s just part of a journey. I feel like I have a lot more room to grow; I still feel like I have a lot to prove to Hollywood that I am ‘box office’. I’ve been in the fight my whole life, and I don’t know how to stop fighting.”
22 Jump Street is in cinemas Thursday June 19.