December 2003
Love Don't Cost a Thing: An Interview with Nick Cannon

Interviewed by Wilson Morales

Love Don't Cost a Thing: An Interview with Nick Cannon

About a year ago at this time, Nick Cannon blazed into the Hollywood community with the hit film Drumline in which he played Devon, the talented street drummer who goes off to college, and learns the meaning of teamwork. Beside the success of that film, Nick, at the age or 21, held many hats (co-creator, executive producer, and star) of his TV variety show, The Nick Cannon Show on Nickelodeon. Wanting to do more, Nick is also a talented singer with an album ready to come out very soon. Coming back to the big screen on Dec.12th, and in a departure from what he did in Drumline, Nick Cannon stars in Troy Beyer’s film, Love Don’t Cost a Thing. In the film, Nick plays nerd Alvin Johnson trying to gain school popularity by buying the services of the prettiest girl in school (Christina Milian). In an interview with, Nick speaks about his character in the film and getting folks to take his music seriously.

WM: Are you like the character you play in the film?

NC: I’m probably somewhere in the middle because when you think about it, I play an extremely geeky guy as well as the over-the-top cocky guy. I’m not geeky but I have my geeky, corky moments, and then I’ve got some aspects of cool in me, I guess. Sometimes I’d be feeling myself a bit. When I think about it, I’m more like Alvin toward the end of the film where you understand that as long as you can be yourself, that’s the real money.

WM: How did you come up with the characters you portray in the film?

NC: I’m so into playing different characters, even when I was on Nickelodeon. I just observe. I have a nerdy little brother and I have a cool little brother and I just took from them. They’re in high school now and they’re going through the same thing. I go off from what they are doing.

WM: Did you recall your Dad’s first talk with you about sex and what he said?

NC: My dad’s a minister. I was 7 years old and he opened up to Joshua 6, and was like, “Look here, son.” So my father was a person who never lied to me. If I had a question, he answered it. I knew a lot of things at a young age because I was intrigued. “Hey Dad, why does this happen, and why does that happen?” and he was always honest with me. I came up with a pretty good upbringing. I didn’t live with my dad all the time. I was raised by my grandparents so when I did get a chance to speak to my father, it was like, “Ok, I get it.”

WM: What’s it like being the son of a minister? Did it have an adverse effect on your life?

NC: Oh yeah, the preacher’s kid has to be the baddest one. If everyone is smoking weed, we’ve got to smoke crack. If you’re throwing rocks, we’ve got to throw bigger rocks. (He laughs). We are already expected to be the goodie two shoes. I went through that during my junior high schools where I wasn’t allowed to watch television. I wasn’t allowed to listen to the radio. I couldn’t have the cool clothes and all that stuff and you had to have had a certain type of haircut. I didn’t have it, so automatically folks were like, “He’s squared”, so I had to do stuff that I didn’t want to do to prove that I wasn’t that squared. But just like the film, once I realized that being me and my father was of the people that explained it to me the uniqueness and quality of understanding yourself and being secure with what you are, it’s way cooler than anyone who’s following trends.

WM: So have you come full circle? Have you employed any of the things your father has taught you?

NC: Definitely. One thing my father instilled in me was how to be a man. I wouldn’t say how to become a man, but how to live as a man. When I was like 13 or 14, he told me, “Don’t worry about with what everybody else is doing, be secure within what you got going on and understand the relationships. Everything is about relationships, with people, with God; building off those things and allowing each relationship that you have to help you grow and that’s the aspects of life, really. Living life and understanding the different types of relationships.

WM: What was so interesting about this role that attracted you to it?

NC: What really attracted me to this role I would say the fact that I loved “Can’t Buy Me Love”. I remembered being 7 years old, and that film was the film to see; and that I got to play two characters in one role. My background is sketch comedy and being over the top, so they allowed me to play with it. I got to grow a big huge afro and step into something totally different because with “Drumline”, people would say, “Oh yeah, he was good in it. But it seemed that he was being himself, and it wasn’t too much of a stretch”. I wanted to show people that 1) I wasn’t like the character in “Drumline” and 2) I’m not like this character either, but you can see the difference and you can see the range.

WM: Speaking of comedy, you have one of the “Kings of Comedy”, Steve Harvey, playing your father. Did you get a chance to speak to him about the craft of acting and being a comedian?

NC: He would give you advice as long as you let him. He definitely was kicking me the knowledge. I had known Steve before the film. We had done stand-up in the same places and I’ve opened up for Mr. Harvey a couple of times. It’s like being on the set with one of your mentors. It was definitely a good time.

WM: What sort of chemistry did you and Christina (Milian) have?

NC: The chemistry between Christina and I played very well before we knew each other before the film started and when I heard she was involved with the film, I was like, “Ok”. I heard so many different names of they wanted in that part and the fact that Christina started on children’s television; she was on Disney, and I was on Nickelodeon; and she was involved in music, I was involved in music. There were lots of similarities that allowed us to be friends in the beginning and even we started working on the film, I got to know her even more, definitely we got to be the best of friends on this film.

WM: Any off-screen romance between the two of you?

NC: Like I said, she’s one of my best friends. I was attracted from day one. How could you not be attracted to someone who has a great spirit on the inside and beautiful on the outside? Being in the industry, it’s hard to be in a relationship. I believe that if you can start off as friends and create a foundation, then you have something more to stand on, then just, “This is my girlfriend for the next 4 months and then I’m gonna call Beyonce, and then Ashanti.” I rather establish something than just saying that I’m dating this person or this is my girlfriend. I rather be like, “That’s truly my friend and someone I can grow with.”

WM: In speaking with her, she mentioned that you were a good kisser?

NC: For the experience that it was. Having to literally kiss someone for six hours, I wasn’t complaining at all.

WM: Where did you go to high school, and was your experience there similar to the film?

NC: I went to high school in San Diego, junior high and part of elementary in North Carolina, and some elementary in San Diego as well. My high school years were similar to the film. It wasn’t as trendy or “pop-culturish”, but you had to be rocking the right fashion and have the nicest car at the time, and I didn’t have any of that. When you don’t have those types of things, fashion and all that stuff, it helps you find yourself because you don’t have those things to rely on. When you don’t have the best clothes or the flyest car or the best girl; you have to really dig deep in which I found my gift to gab. I was able to talk my way into a lot of situations and out of a lot of situations at the same time. I believe high school was definitely the place where I learned my skill was to be on the mic in some kind of fashion.

WM: Can you talk about some of the morals that your family instilled in you?

NC: I was raised by my grandmother. She instilled everything into me. She taught me right from wrong from day one. I remembered everyday, being 4 or 5 years old, and walking to school, she would be like, “Raise your right hand and stay on the right side of the street and make sure you do the right thing in school.” Of course, being in a family that was raised in the church, with my grandfather a minister as well, and aunts, uncles, the Christian spirituality was the blue print of my life. I definitely give all praise to God for everything that I’m doing and have done and really that’s where it generates from, but more than just getting really religious and stuff; it’s understanding it’s not about me or me being a celebrity or me being a star, it’s really what I represent. That’s where I draw everything from.

WM: Having established so much at a young age, what advice would you give to someone younger than you who wants to follow in your footsteps?

NC: The real advice or the public service advice? (He laughs) To keep it real, if you want it, go get it. If you want to be in the automotive business, you go to Detroit, and you figure it out. If you want to be in entertainment, go to where it’s at. Go to Hollywood, go to New York. You know what I mean. That’s what I had to do at a young age. I was 16 years old, driving to LA, and sleeping in my car, just trying to make it happen. You have to have that type of tiger mentality. You have to be vigorous. That’s the only way you are going to get it because everybody has dreams and everybody has goals, but the only people who achieve them are the ones that go after it and don’t take no for an answer.
Make sure you have your education first and make sure you keep your priorities straight. Some people want it for all the wrong reasons. They want it for the cars and the women and stuff. There’s an aspect of that but that’s not what it is. This lifestyle is a lot of hard work and it sounds cliché that you don’t understand my life, but once you get into it, and you form with it, it’s nothing but work.

WM: Do you find it hard for people to take your music career seriously because most of them know you as actor first?

NC: In so many areas, when you think about it, you never really see an actor cross over to music. It always music to acting and it’s receivable because when music gives a form of entertainment of art to where it’s very personable, it’s a passion, it’s an intimate type of art to when you hear it, it’s them. When you hear 50 Cents, it’s 50 Cents, Norah Jones is Norah Jones, and when an actor tries to do it, and an actor plays different characters, folks find it hard to believe what he’s singing or saying. It’s definitely difficult in so many different areas because they see me as the little kid telling jokes, or they see me as an actor. In the hip-hop community, it’s about how real are you, or how strong can you be, and really my music just reflects me. If you can accept me, then you can accept my music. I’ve been blessed enough to where it’s a gradual growth but I believe it’s working because it has to do with the type of people I work with. There’s talent there and it’s not a gimmick. This is something I’ve been trying to do since I was 8 years old. I had my first demo tape at that age. The fact that it’s working, you get artists like R. Kelly and P. Diddy; people who are embracing me and want to work with me just makes everything click.

WM: Don’t you have an album coming out soon?

NC: My album drops on Dec.9. It’s on Jive Records, self titled. I was blessed enough to work with R. Kelly, B2K, Just Blaize, The Ying Yang Twins, P. Diddy, Mary J. Blige, and so many people. I produced 4 tracks as well. It’s just a reflection of myself. It’s every aspect from the spiritual side to the gigolo side. It will be hot.