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August 2005
"A Breath of Fresh Air for Hollywood"

"A Breath of Fresh Air for Hollywood": From Rapper to Actor, and now Producer An Interview with LL Cool J

By Wilson Morales

When you look at films these days, you will notice that a lot of films are made with actors who are singers and rappers or directed by guys who have done music videos. So much has been made about the musical talent taking away from those who have done theater or went to film school and can't land a gig (acting or directing) in Hollywood. But what they haven't realized is that because of the success of some individuals (Will Smith, Queen Latifah, and Ice Cube, for example), more folks are able to get their talent on display. Twenty years ago, "Krush Groove" came out and electrified those who saw it. It's a cult classic for those who appreciate the music business. That film brought attention to a lot who were in the film. From Blair Underwood to Andre Harrell to Russell Simmons, the list of talent goes on. It was that film that introduced to a young rapper who has gone on to do many things in the music and film business. LL Cool J aka James Todd Smith blaze into the scene with "I Can't Live Without My Radio" and hasn't stopped entertaining the audience. Now, twenty years later, LL has received possibly the biggest creative deal of his career. Lions Gate Films, the motion picture acquisition, production and distribution arm of Lions Gate Entertainment, has signed a multi-year, multi- picture development and production deal with LL Cool J. LL Cool J and his manager Jason Barrett will be producing all pictures through this venture. In speaking with blackfilm.com, LL Cool J spoke about his picture deal and what it means to him.

LL: I'm really, really excited. I feel like it's a breath of fresh air for Hollywood. I loved the idea of being a portal that so many actors and actresses and writers and producers and directors can walk through. It feels great.

With a big picture deal that you have with Lions Gate, will you be able to do other films for different studios?

LL: It's nine pictures and it's a producing deal. This is a venture. I have a company with Lions Gate and we have a venture together and basically I'm going to be able to take the best talent that I can find, the best writers that I can find, the directors that I can find; even the A list directors and A list writers and A list actors and actresses that feel that they have been tied down by the whole studio system. They are looking for a breath of fresh air. They are looking for interesting ways of getting films down. There are a lot of people who have ideas that a lot of the larger studios won't touch; but they are really interesting ideas. It may be romantic ideas or love stories, but they are different. This gives me an opportunity to get those films made for them, and that's a beautiful thing.

There are a lot of films that go to festivals, but never make it out of the circuit.

LL: That's right. Now they have a guy that can pick up the phone and call LL Cool J or my company, Alchemy Entertainment, or Lions Gate and tell them that they are interested in this venture and they have something for it. They can also call William Morris. The sky's the limit in terms of contact, but the point is now you have a place you can go to where you have a real legitimate shot of getting a movie made. My mentality is one of creativity and looking for thing that are on the cutting edge and exciting and I'm going to take all of the energy that I put into my career throughout the years and the different things that I have done and put into this venture.

How did this deal come about? Did they come to you or did you go to them?

LL: It was sort of a meeting of the minds. We had a great meeting, Michael Paseornek, President of Production, Lions Gate Films, myself and my manager Jason Barry. We all got in a room and talked with the rest of the Lions Gate team. It just turned out to be a really exciting meeting. I think it says a lot about Lions Gate and their commitment to urban culture and African American films as well. They were willing to come out on the edge and say, "Hey, we want to pull the trigger and we want to be a part of this business. We believe that this is a legitimate and viable business out here and we are willing to come to the table." For me, it was just a great opportunity because I have so many connections and I meet so many great talented people who are just frustrated by the lack of opportunity and the fact that I can give out that opportunity really makes it happen for people is incredible.

Will this producing deal limit you from acting in films?

LL: No. I can act in these movies and I look forward to acting in these films. I don't plan on doing anything that I feel isn't of high enough quality for me to be in. I don't plan on doing that at all, but it's not an acting deal. I have a great team. Jason Barry is the president of Alchemy and is also my partner in the venture. I have a great team of people who are dedicated and committed to different things 24/ 7 to make sure that this venture works. I have spent my free time thing about how I will make this thing work and how to bring these stories to life. So no, there will none of this unable to other stuff going on. This is going to be a streamline operation run completely and totally with the right principals and business. When I have to delegate things to people, there will be someone to delegate to. It's not an issue on that.

Do you have an idea as what will be the first film of the ground?

LL: Well, right now, we are thinking about doing a remake of "Fatal Attraction" and we also have some other materials. We have been bombarded with scripts and materials. That's an understatement. There are so much materials out there that we are dealing with now; and there are so many scripts that we have, and I looked through all that stuff and there are so many exciting writers and directors that we are meeting with. The sky's the limit. We have a lot of plans to make this stuff and bring it to fruition. It's going to be about me and other actors as well; not just me as an actor.

What is about the Alchemy Entertainment that will bring credibility to the company?

LL: Great films. All you have to do is look at my career. I've spent 20 years building up my career. I've been guiding LL Cool J. If you feel like LL Cool J is going to a certain level of credibility and if you feel like the energy I put into building LL Cool J is incredible, then just think about me transferring the commitment and the energy that I put into building myself through music and film and television into this venture.

When you say 20 years that you have been in this business, did you ever think you would get this far from the time you appeared in "Krush Groove"?

LL: I'm very thankful and it's very blessing. I'm confident. I'm confident that I can build this thing and make it work. I think I have a responsibility to go out here and to not treat this venture in any way that's going to be perceived as foolish and just squandered away this opportunity. I think that two many people have worked too hard and too long; too many of ancestors made too many sacrifices for me to squandered this ventured or for me to not treat this thing with respect and honor. I have a complete and total responsibility to honor this opportunity and as far as whether or not I would be this far, that's about commitment. You have to start out at the end of the line or something close to it. I achieved a lot of the other visions in my life. I have a normal mission that I keep, but now I have a new vision; and the vision this time is to build this thing into something that's huge and powerful and I think Hollywood needs me.

You need to have passion in order to succeed.

LL: I have incredible passion for this thing. This is a vision that comes out of my spirit. When I think about all of the comments I've heard in the past about the actors who went to school and struggled and they couldn't get a job and they felt like rappers were taking their jobs, this is the perfect reason to look at something and say, "You never know why God blesses certain people with certain things." You should never assume that someone is taking something away from you because in reality this turned out to be; with all of the jobs I was able to get throughout the years in films has turned out to be an opportunity to give away more jobs than I had or provide more jobs than I've had and that's the beauty in all this. Being able to look at guys and giving them the opportunity. There's nothing that feels better than knowing I'm going to help artists bring their dreams to life. That's a beautiful and incredible thing and I'm really excited about it and I'm going all of my energy to make it work.


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