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Ice Cube on 22 Jump Street, Tasering Jonah Hill’s Nuts, and Laughing at His Own Movies

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 04: Ice Cube attends
Ice Cube. Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Like many things in 22 Jump Street, Ice Cube’s Captain Dickson is bigger, badder, and a bit dumber than he was in the surprisingly hilarious 2012 original based on the classic Fox cop show. The sequel — which essentially rehashes the plot of 21 Jump Street, only focusing on a college instead of a high school — gives much more screentime to the rap legend and more opportunities for his character to spar with Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum’s undercover officers. The movie nods to the audience about how ridiculous sequels can be, and Cube gamely plays along — to a point. Vulture recently caught up with the 44-year-old in a New York hotel to talk about the film, the gross lines he refused to say, what’s next for the Friday franchise, his N.W.A. biopic, and his pointers to 50 Cent on how to throw a proper first pitch.

You’ve been in a bunch of sequels. Did you offer any suggestions on this one?
Well, you know, my thing was, “Let’s make a movie that can stand on its own. You shouldn’t have to see 21 Jump Street to be able to enjoy 22 Jump Street. Let’s not make a movie where we’re relying too much on the first movie, the first jokes. We gotta make a whole new movie that’s funny outright even if you’ve never seen 21 Jump Street.” It seemed like they listened. But I’m not a producer on this movie, so just being an actor, it’s like I’m on vacation.

But it was your idea to shoot Jonah in the balls with the Taser, right?
Yeah, definitely wanted to Taser the nuts. It was a longer scene and we had to trim it, but on the DVD, it’s probably going to be the long, actual scene.

All the cursing out and insulting you do of Channing and Jonah is one of the best things in the movie. Do you have a favorite line from that?
“Motherfucker, you look about 50.” [Laughs.] That’s my favorite line. That was improv’d.

What are some of the others you came up with on the fly?
“I’m wearing $800 shoes that you can’t even see! You gotta pay for this shit.” The way we shot this movie, there was so much ad-libbing because they would just let the take run, and they would shoot lines at you. “Say this! Say this!” They would come with lines and you would come with your own ad-libs, and each take was lasting two and a half, three minutes, just sayin’ shit.

Did you try to intimidate Channing and Jonah on the set?
Yeah. I think they’re naturally a little intimidated by me anyway, so I just use it to my benefit and really try to make them feel it.

Do you fuck with them off-camera?
Nah, nah — not off-camera. Off-camera, we cool. It’s all love. On-camera, I hate their guts.

You’ve said in other interviews that the writers would give you lines that you felt were too offensive for you to say. Given some of your lyrics in N.W.A. and your solo career, where do you draw the line?
When they start talking about too much dick-talk, ass-talk, that shit gets gross. I don’t like to talk about shit — like actual shit, you know what I mean? Certain things, I’d just be like, “Man, I don’t want to see it, so I damn sure don’t want to say it.” And if you say it, they’re gonna have it and they’re gonna use it and you’re gonna be mad you said it, so it’s better not to even say it. But it only happened once or twice where they were like, “Say this, now this, now this” and I was like, “Whoa, hold on, hold on, hold on. I’ll say the first two, but that last one, I ain’t saying that shit.”

I was hoping they’d work in a reference about not having to use your AK from “It Was a Good Day.”
[Laughs.] Every movie I’m in they want to use a line from my music. Everybody loves playing with Straight Outta Compton lines. It’s a trip.

How involved are Dr. Dre, MC Ren, and DJ Yella on the upcoming N.W.A. movie you’re producing, and what has it been like collaborating with them again?
Well, I’m the only real filmmaker out of the bunch, but Dre is very involved because he’s a producer on it and we really want his blessing with the movie. That’s extremely important. He’s been in all the meetings. We understand that this is our legacy and we have to really treat it right. The other members, we’ve gotten their blessing, but they’re not really as involved with the movie-making aspect because, [while] they can really help us as consultants, they can’t tell us how many cranes we need or how much tape or whatever. We’re including people as they’re needed, ’cause if you include everybody, you’ll have too many cooks in the kitchen and come up with a mess. [It’s in] pre-production. We found the cast, so they’re going to make an announcement in the next week or so. We start shooting in August and Gary Gray is the director.

Jonah recently told a story on Fallon about how he and Channing could never make you laugh on-set, but that they were on a plane with you and they heard you cracking up — while you were watching yourself in Friday.
Yeah, that’s true [smiles]. It wasn’t like I sit and watch Friday all the time. I hadn’t seen it in a long, long time, and I was starting to think about the ideas for the fourth one, so I watched all three of them again just to refresh my mind, and the shit was making me laugh. It was funny.

With the 20th anniversary coming up next year, do you have any plans to celebrate it?
I’ve been talking to Gary Gray about it. He has a lot of behind-the-scenes footage of us rehearsing and trying to get it right, so I think we gotta figure out how to get that released.

How does working on Friday compare to working on something like 22 Jump Street?
All comedy, to me, has to rest on chemistry and timing, and when you get [that] right, you can make the weakest dialogue feel right or make a flat scene exciting. That’s the biggest thing you work on in getting a comedy ready — what is the ebb and flow? What is our style of making this comedy? Because comedy has different styles and textures. The Coen Brothers, their comedy is more humorous than bust-your-gut laughing, but it’s good and it’s exciting. Fargo is some funny shit. Our comedy with the Friday movies is upbeat reality. It’s real shit, but it’s done in an upbeat manner, so it works. With 22, it’s like they got their own style, which is extremely complex because their style is to include the audience in on the jokes. You’re not only doing comedy with the actors, but you’re also including the audience with some of the dialogue about the sequel, so it‘s a three-way street. The audience feels like they’re invested in the movie because the shit they’re thinking, we’re saying.

Does that style have any influence on your ideas for the next Friday movie?
I just think you have to have all the pieces in place and have an organic story of what it is. Friday is the day the bully gets his ass whooped. That’s basically what the movie sums up to, and everybody loves that day. You have to find that simple story and tell it in a complex way, where it’s like fucking shit going on everywhere. The worst thing we could do is try to make the first one over again. We have to make a new movie that can stand on its own.

Queen Latifah pops up in this movie. What’s your friendship with her like?
Real cool. It’s been more on the professional level. When we see each other, we get a chance to talk and holler and then she goes and does her thing, I do my thing. It’s always cool to look across and see people like Queen Latifah, Will Smith, and LL still being trailblazers [and examples of] where a hip-hop artist can end up. We all are still making our path and making our own way, but still encouraging each other on our journeys. That’s cool. Hopefully, one day we’ll get in a position where we’ll start working together to create things, something big, like a studio or something.

Who are some of your other favorite rappers who’ve transitioned to acting?
I like T.I. and Ludacris. I think they’ve made nice headway into the movies, and if they keep going and get the right roles, they can really build the momentum. Those are the two that come to mind after me and Will. I mean, Ice-T been doing it forever. He’s one of the first ones. When he did Breakin’, it showed you that you could do rap but make it to the big screen, too.

And he appeared in your ESPN 30 for 30 about the L.A. Raiders. That showed off your more serious side, and it makes me wonder if you’ve thought about doing more dramatic stuff, like Boyz n the Hood.
I love drama. I want to do more, it’s just that comedy’s been in my wheelhouse. It’s like, every time I do a meeting with a studio and I start talking about a drama, they’re like, “Well, what comedies do you have?” It’s just work for me. I’m comfortable doing them, and we’ll be in a position where we could do more drama soon.

You threw out the first pitch at a Dodgers game this season, and it was pretty solid. Got any advice for 50 Cent?
He need more practice [laughs]. Rehearse before you go out there, man. Throw it around a little bit, warm it up. You can’t go out there cold. If you go out there cold, you’re going to embarrass yourself.

They showed him warming up and he was getting it right over the plate.
So what happened?

Well, did you hear his excuse?
What was it?

A shoulder injury due to “excessive masturbation.”
[Cracks up] That’s pretty funny. His shit must hang to the left because that was wide left.

Ice Cube on 22 Jump Street, Friday, and N.W.A.