50 Cent - From hip-hop to Hollywood
Curtis Jackson, aka 50 Cent, is moving into movies. He tells Kaleem Aftab about his next lead role and his $200m production company
Friday 29 July 2011
Well, it's a pretty fair exchange: in exchange for not being able to walk around in the mall, you can buy everything in it." Curtis Jackson, aka 50 Cent, is fairly relaxed about the price of fame. Nor does he have to worry about heeding the mantra of his first album Get Rich or Die Tryin'. Album sales galore, a burgeoning film and writing career and several sound investments – including a multi-million dollar payday when the vitamin water company he had shares in sold to Coca-Cola – have seen the latest estimates of his wealth hit half a billion dollars.
Eight years after his debut album turned the former New York drugs-runner into an international superstar, the 36-year old proffers the following assessment of his wealth and success: "I see money as a facilitator," he elaborates. "If airlines don't have a plane that goes to where you want to go, a private jet will. If a studio doesn't go after a project and think it's the right project for right now, I can go and get it made. I think that to some people I may appear a little off, but they're just not on the same page as me."
His back story has been told many times, most notably on that best-selling debut album, which in turn inspired Jim Sheridan's 2005 movie, starring Jackson, and in his autobiography From Pieces to Weight: Once Upon a Time in Southside Queens. Briefly, Jackson grew up in Queens, New York. His drug-dealing mother died when he was aged eight, he was bought up by his grandmother, and started dealing crack at the age of 12. Then, just days before he was about to film his first music video, the rapper was shot multiple times in front of his grandmother's house.
It was his musical hero Tupac who made the "thug life" tag a badge of honour for rappers and to start with 50 Cent tried hard to live up to the stereotype: "My first CD contained all of the dysfunctional behaviour that was affecting me. And you become your music to the general public, so I became exactly what the CD was in their eyes. Having it go on to be the widest-selling hip-hop album and sell 12 million CDs worldwide made it intense. So people have a perception of me that's going to be like that until I continue to be successful in other fields. Eventually that will open people's minds up so they think in different ways about me."
One of the ways he's trying to change those perceptions is through film. I meet him after the international premiere of his new film, Things Fall Apart, in Aruba. He wrote, produced and stars in the film, all under his real name Curtis Jackson, distancing himself from his musician persona. "Growing up, I had to be two people anyway," he says. "I had to be aggressive enough to get by in the environment that I grew up in, and I had to be my grandmother's baby in the house. You wouldn't believe it, but I wasn't allowed to curse in the house at all."
I admit that I have quite a fondness for his third cognomen "Fiddy" but apparently only close friends or Robert De Niro get to call him that. Jackson met De Niro and Al Pacino when he appeared with them in Righteous Kill in 2008. "It's interesting being around them, because when you are around someone that has that much aura, and so much attention focused on them, I get a chance to be a regular guy on the side, so it's kind of cool to hang out with them."
Try as he might, Jackson has so far failed to find that breakout role that will make people see him as something other than a rapper-turned-actor. In his only major starring role, Get Rich... he pretty much played himself, in the newsroom comedy Morning Glory he did play himself, Righteous Kill saw him play a drug dealer who meets with an untimely death, and Joel Schumacher's lamentable Twelve found him selling drugs once again.
So it's no surprise that he had to write and produce himself to land a lead role. Things Fall Apart is another tale from Jackson's childhood in which he plays a promising young American footballer whose chances of a professional career are dashed when he is diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. "Charles Pringle was my best friend growing up," explains Jackson. "Some of the dialogue in the film is close to what he actually said to me. Over 12 million people will die this year from cancer and hopefully this film will help us to become more conscious of it. But I don't want to become a spokesperson for cancer. I could have done that without making this film. I thought to be part of a project that has some personal value was interesting. I try to be part of projects that have some sort of artistic integrity. It was a passion project and that helped me to have the discipline to make the physical transformation."
Indeed, the most remarkable moment of Things Fall Apart comes after a time lapse when Jackson goes from bodybuilder physique to gaunt and skinny. The actor lost 60lbs in three months, citing Tom Hanks in Philadelphia, Robert De Niro in Raging Bull and Christian Bale in The Machinist as inspirations. In difficult dieting moments, he would find solace by reading interviews online in which the actors talked about how tough it was to lose weight.
A keen sports fan – he follows only basketball star Carmelo Anthony and his best friend, the boxer Floyd "Money" Mayweather, on Twitter, though he has 4.7million followers – Jackson is now back to his physical peak. When we meet, he's wearing a natty suit and sunglasses adorned with gold cheetahs for arms. This is dressing "business", he says, and in keeping with that mode he wants to talk about the $200 million (£120m) he has raised for his company Cheetah Vision to make 10 films, in the action genre and in which he will appear: "The first of the 10 is Setup, which stars myself, Bruce Willis and Ryan Phillippe. My character has a revenge plot. And then there is Freelancers with Robert De Niro and Forest Whitaker in which I play a rookie police officer." Also upcoming is Vengeance with Danny Trejo.
Jackson feels strongly that he's capable of transcending artistic fields: "When you make it in one portion of art, people doubt you in others. I don't take it personally," he says. "I think it's a reflection of how they feel about themselves. They doubt themselves in different areas and they just reflect that off on you. When I'm passionate about something I pretty much get to it. People say, 'He's a rapper, he can't act'. I guess they forgot about Will Smith, right? And they forgot about Mark Wahlberg, and they forgot about Queen Latifah. They forgot about a lot of people."
Jackson has also turned to books and next year will publish Playground a tale of a 13-year-old facing up to the consequences of his actions, aimed at teenagers who have been bullied in school.
Mall boast aside, he feels that emotional well being cannot be sated by mere untold riches: "When you grow up without money, money feels like it's the answer to all your problems, because every problem in front of you is financial. But when you acquire money, you realise that it just creates other problems, and they have nothing to do with money."
His major problems at the moment seem to be largely music related. His fourth album, Before I Self Destruct, flopped in 2009. That album was attached to a film that 50 Cent wrote and directed, which in turn flopped. His fifth album, inspired by his experiences listening to dance music in UK clubs, has been continually delayed. "That album", he says. "Will only play in the comfort of my own home". Recently he announced that he expects his next record to drop in November – and he's feeling the weight of expectation: "I've got a lot of pressure on me releasing the next record. I'm still trying to top my first album. I don't think I can match the actual sales on that record, but I can match the energy."
'Things Fall Apart', 'Vengeance' and 'Setup' are released later this year
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