Feb '00
Ice Cube and Mike Epps

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Ice Cube and Mike Epps
Interviewed by Metcalfe Nasser

By now we all know that Next Friday debued at number one on it's opening weekend, taking in over 17 million dollars. This not only marks Ice Cube's triumphant return to the hugely popular vehicle for the 1995 classic Friday, but it also is a strong statement from the movie going public. Black theme films can be lucrative. The notion that a black film can succeed on the strength of studio support and a good buzz was reinforced by the film claiming the number one spot in it's second week as well. The original installment was shot for just over 2 million dollars and raked in over 27 million and counting, becoming an instant cult classic. The success of the second will likely lead to Hollywood embracing the urban comedy genre as a safe investment for a studio to back. When you consider that African Americans make up only 13 percent of the population yet account for over 30 percent of the movie going public, it seems to be a sound strategy to cater to this aspect of the market. Guess what that means? It stands to reason that we will now start to see even more imitations of what they believe to be the winning formula.

The mistake that many of us made is to go into Next Friday with our anticipation attached too firmly to the brilliance of the original. This naturally led to disappointment for those whose expectations were misplaced. If you can look at this film for it's own merits, then you can enjoy a good in your face approach to comedy. Def Comedy Jam All-Star, Mike Epps steps in to fill the comedic role that Chris Tucker used in the original as a springboard to super stardom. Epps was wise enough to not try to duplicate Tucker's style but to allow himself to shine by establishing his own unique brand of humor. Next Friday will likely establish a solid fan base for this up and coming comedic young lion. With his next big screen appearance as Jamie Foxx's brother in the soon to be released "Bait", a film that he describes as 48hrs, meets Enemy of the State. Mike Epps appears to be on the threshold of his own stardom.

Two days before Next Friday was released, on a rainy afternoon, in a posh midtown Manhattan hotel suite, Blackfilm.com got a chance to chat with both Ice Cube and Mike Epps. The following are some of the highlights of the conversation, as the two stars of America's most recent #1 comedy shed light on who they are and what they intend to do to stay on top.

Ice Cube on screening to test audiences.

It's a practice in Hollywood to watch a movie with an audience and then make changes. But what we really did was to try to find out what music was working. Or about editing problems that we had. I always look at things like what scenes feel long and should be shorter. I never really go in to see what they laugh at or what they don't laugh at. Because what this audience laughs at, that audience doesn't laugh at. People are different. I just try to put as many laughs in a movie as I can without hittin' you over the head with the idea that this is a comedy. And then from there let it flow. If you don't enjoy the laughs, you enjoy the story.

Mike Epps on discovering his humor

My family is funny. Everybody in my family is funny. I'm just the one who went out and made it happen. In school I was a straight fool. One time I took some crazy glue. You know the little red cap. I filled it up with glue. This girl was asleep, I took it and I glued her hands together. I went to juvenile center for that too. I went to juvenile center for four months for that. She woke up and her hands were glued. I guess I wasn't interested in what the public schools had to offer. They weren't teaching me what I was going to be doing. I was a comedic actor as a kid and didn't know it. But I was practicing it.

Ice Cube on the N.W.A. reunion for the film's soundtrack and beyond

The first thing I wanted to make sure of is that the song fit the movie. We talked about a reunion so much over the years, that it was like "Man forget this talking we can talk about it up at the studio. Let's meet up at the studio." We got up there, Dre started puttin' on some tracks. We found the one that was right for us, we just started going at it. That was the first time we were all together to make music since '89. I had done something with Ren. I did something with Dre. We did that record in a four day period. Because it takes time to vibe and kick it and find out what you wanna do. How you wanna reintroduce N.W.A. to the world. So the first couple of days we were sort of like feeling each other out. Seeing what's been going on for these last 10 years. The second day it was a little looser and the third day it was almost back to the way it was when we were first making records. On the fourth day we were ready to do more. But by then it was over. We never really got back into the groove that we need to be in to do the record that we need to do. That's why I feel that once we get this paperwork out of the way and we can go somewhere and kick it for two or three months, we can just hang and become N.W.A. again.

Mike Epps on the advice he received from Chris Tucker.

Chris is a friend of mine. I like Chris. Chris is a good guy. I'm just glad he didn't do it, because then I wouldn't have had a break. Before I even got the role in this movie I was at his comedy club in Atlanta. I saw him sitting in the back and I went up to talk to him. Without even knowing I was going to get this part I just asked him "Man, how did you [push to the next level] like that? How did you do that? He said "Well, man you know what people in the streets like to hear. You know what makes people laugh. Just take it and do it how you do it." I'm still not knowing I was gonna get this movie. So the last time I saw him he was like "Yeah you must have used that advice, huh?" But I'm saying to myself, "I didn't know I was going to get this movie. I didn't ask you that because I was going to do the movie. That was from the heart." I'm glad I had the challenge. That's what I live for. I was glad to get it. I needed the money.

Ice Cube on what we can expect from his first look deal with New Line Cinema and his production deal with Artisan Entertainment.

The Artisan thing is getting worked out. But the New Line deal is happening. My company is called Cubevision. When you first get into this the way I did where I had screenplay that New Line wanted, that gives you a little power. Because you have something that the people want which was the first Friday. They let us do it the way we wanted to do it. New Line showed up on the set maybe once while we were shooting the movie. And they didn't say nothing, they just stood back and watched. The Players Club was the same way. I directed it and showed that I can direct and just took another step into it. And now we're in a position where they know I know what I'm talking about. They know I have a vision and that I know how to go out there and make money and not spend it all or use all of it. And that's very attractive. So in the future I want to continue to do more movies. I want to start to bring up the budget more. I want to do more dramatic things. I'm into Horror. I'm into comedy. Those are the three things I'm really into. So those are the three things that I'm pursuing. We are looking to acquire screenplays. We're looking to go into television with some of our ideas. More with cable, television is just a little too [constricting]. With cable you can be more raw and real. And that's what we're doing.

Mike Epps on what aspects of the industry he would like to tackle next.

I can direct, write, do everything. Anything that's got to do with being a human being and making some money and putting people in front of the camera or being creative, writing jokes, I can do it. I am a package. I've got a couple of scripts that I've written now. All I have to do is find the right [development] writer and it's a done deal. I'm going to put it down. That's what I'm going to do.


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