Born O’Shea Jackson in Compton, California, on June 15, 1969, Renaissance man Ice Cube is an actor, writer, producer, director, rapper, philanthropist and father. N.W.A., the rap group he co-founded with Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, MC Ren and DJ Yella, was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2016.
Cube made his feature film debut in 1991 in Boyz n the Hood, and proceeded to parlay his critically-acclaimed performance into an enviable career. He has become one of the most bankable names in Hollywood as a writer, star and producer.
His production company, Cube Vision, has been making memorable films for over two decades. And his movies have cumulatively grossed over a billion dollars at the box office. Here, he talks about his latest outing in Fist Fight, a comedy co-starring Charlie Day.
Hey Cube. How you been, brother?
I’m good, good. How about you, Kam?
Great, thanks. What interested you in Fist Fight?
I thought it was a great concept based on a funny premise. And when they started filling in the pieces with Charlie Day and Tracy Morgan, I just knew we were going to have a great time and hopefully shoot a funny movie.
In this film you play a teacher who is sort of like a bully. Did you ever have a teacher like your character, Mr. Strickland? And were you either bullied or a bully when you were a kid?
In my neighborhood, you were either one or the other. Going back to my memory bank, there were teachers who were no-nonsense and intimidating. Most of them were coaches or gym teachers. But a few were classroom teachers who just didn’t take no mess. I just went over the top with it, because we were having fun with the comedy.
Growing up, was there a spot where kids would settle their differences after school?
There wasn’t just one spot. But it had to be out of sight of teachers, like behind a building, which is where most fights took place. There was never one particular area where we always got down.
Who came up with the idea of flipping the script by having the after school fight be between two teachers instead of two students?
Well, the script was brought to us by [director] Rich Keen and New Line Cinema. I don’t know exactly who came up with the concept, but that’s what made it funny to me. It’s unusual to have two teachers going at it, instead of two students. That unique premise was one of the things that hooked me.
How did you and Charlie Day go about generating the bully-nerd anti-chemistry that the story called for? How did you know how mean to be without going over the line and ending up looking cruel?
It’s a dance. We had a mutual respect for each other’s skills. And when you have that mutual respect, you’re more giving actors. You’ll make sure he shines where he’s supposed to shine, and vice versa. The key is to not get in the way of the character, and to be honest and true with it. Still, real personalities creep in every now and then. It’s all about knowing the script, and understanding its ebbs and flows. So, we worked well together. I think we’re going to end up doing a few more movies together.
Well, you already set up the sequel to Fist Fight in the closing scene.
Yeah, without a doubt! Without a doubt!
You guys had a terrific supporting cast: Dennis Haysbert, Dean Norris, Christina Hendricks, Kym Whitley, Jillian Bell and Tracy Morgan. Was this Tracy’s first film since the accident? I don’t remember seeing him in anything.
Yeah, this was his first movie back. It was great to have him. I’d worked with him before in a movie called First Sunday. It was cool to see him again, to be able to hang, and to just have him here. That accident he was in was horrible. It was great to have him around again.
I’ve interviewed him several times, and he’s one of those rare people who’s just naturally funny.
Yeah, he doesn’t have to tell a joke. All he has to do is talk. He’s just a funny dude. God blesses some people with a gift.
Fist Fight was Richard Keen’s first full-length feature film. It’s pretty impressive considering it was a directorial debut.
Without a doubt! He did a great job. And he’s the one who really sold me on the movie. He cut together a trailer showing what the movie would look like by cutting Charlie and me into pieces of other movies. That sold me. I said, “Dude, if you make this movie that you’re showing me, then I’m in.” And he definitely went above and beyond expectations.
He certainly was able to keep it exciting by setting the film in a high school on Senior Prank Day. That way, all sorts of surprises could pop up during lulls in the action.
Yeah, it’s cool, because people think it’s just a fight, but there are a thousand other things going on. [Chuckles] It’s nice to have a lot of surprises in a movie like this.
What message do you think people will take away from Fist Fight?
I think it’s really talking about the school system, and the underlying problems that society’s facing when it comes to educating kids. Do we just coddle them or do we really try to hold them accountable for what they learn?
What do you think of the Academy Awards nominating a half-dozen black actors after none the previous two years?
I don’t really know what they’re going through, but I’m pretty sure the nominees deserved it, and that’s all that matters, that our work is recognized. We don’t want any quotas. Just recognize good work.
Last year, it was unfortunate that your biopic, Straight Outta Compton, was only nominated for Best Original Screenplay. And your scriptwriters were all white.
It ain’t no thing. At least I don’t make movies for no Oscars. I make movies for the people.
Thanks again for the time, Cube, and best of luck with the film.
Take it easy, Kam. Catch you later.
Fist Fight is in theaters now. For more information on the film, go to fistfightmovie.com, and for more on Ice Cube, go to icecube.com.