Ice Cube (foreground) with Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum
Expected to outgross the original, 22 Jump Street opens Friday across the country, including in East Hampton. I got a jump on the sequel. On assignment for the Australian magazine, FilmInk, I was among a contingent of journalists who visited the set in New Orleans last November. That day, in an abandoned Vietnamese church, that was serving as a police facility, we watched an improvisational scene in which Captain Dickson, played by rap icon/actor Ice Cube, rips into his dimwit officers, Schmidt and Jenko, played by Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, respectively. Afterward, Ice Cube did this brief interview with us. I note my questions.
Danny Peary: In 21 Jump Street, you yelled at lot. Does Captain Dickson yell all the way through 22 Jump Street, too?
Ice Cube (laughing): Not all the way through it, but about two-thirds of the way. You know, I’m trying to become the meanest, nastiest captain of them all. We’ve seen nasty black angry captains who are always giving their officers shit, but I want to be the top one.
DP: Were you told right away in the first film, to yell all the time?
IC: Well, you know, I was told this movie was done with tradition in mind. Dickson is kind of like a hyper, super cliché of the mean angry captain. I looked at some of the best angry captains. On the TV show, Starsky & Hutch, they had a good one. I saw a good one on Beverly Hills Cop, the one that gave Eddie Murphy so much shit, and so I wanted Dickson to be right up there. It’s been a lot of fun, especially the second time around, because the first time you’re kind finding your feet but the second time you’ve zeroed in on who this guy is and it’s just about trying to up the ante.
Q: How do you do with improv?
IC: I love to ad-lib. I kind of take what’s there, and change it for myself, maybe thinking of something totally over the top. That’s kind of the formula for good comedy. Start off with a great script, but you’ve got to have actors who can expand on that, go places with it, not just somebody who’ll read the lines and get out the way, you need someone who really has the flavor to go with it. I just turn the switch. I just look at Jonah and at Channing, and all that comes up. I think about how much they’re getting paid compared to me, and it comes right out! I’ve had a lot of practice with comedians who improvise. My whole acting career I’ve been working with Chris Tucker, Mike Epps, Bernie Mac, and Charlie Murphy. I’ve gained a nice, little tough skin to be able to hold it in, but Jonah has woken me up a couple of times on this movie. I’m not proud of that but it’s happened. He comes up with some shit, you know.
DP: What’s your main strength as a comic actor?
IC: My dark sense of humor. I think it’s kind of my strength. I can almost make anything funny, which is a little twisted, but I always could make a joke out of pretty much anything.
Q: Before the original film, people were saying, “Why are they doing 21 Jump Street? It’s a terrible idea.” How was it brought to you as a good idea?
IC: Well, I saw Jonah, and he told me, “Man, you gotta do it, you gotta do it, you gotta do it.” I saw what they were doing with it, spoofing the TV show but creating something new for people who hadn’t seen it, so I knew that it could work for the people who loved the series and people who never heard of it. It was packaged right. It worked, thank God. Now I think the audience expects us to let them in on the joke, make them part of the joke. Here we are making a bad sequel to a bad TV show. That’s funny for a lot of people, so here we go.
Q: Has your role been expanded?
IC: Yeah, yeah, they’ve expanded my role and you’ll see a lot more of Dickson on the screen, interacting with the two guys a little more during the whole case. And there’s a big surprise when it comes up Dickson that’s going to freak out everybody.
Q: Are they going to let Dickson out of his office?
IC: Yeah, yeah, he’s out of the office a little bit. When you do a sequel you gotta spend more money so we spent more money on the office. There’s no more Korean church this time, Korean Jesus is mad. Korean Jesus has got to take a backseat; Vietnamese Jesus, it’s his time to shine.
Q: Do you like working here?
IC: I love New Orleans. I first came here in the ‘90s, I had mixed emotions, but the more and more I come the more and more I get a chance to really get out and see things and meet people. I’ve been loving New Orleans for the last fifteen years. Every time I get a chance to come out, I jump at it because I know I’ll have a good time.
Q: Have you been out to Channing Tatum’s bar, Saints and Sinners, on Bourbon Street?
IC: Not yet, not yet. I’ve been trying to stay focused. I’ll probably go on my last day here, before we go to Puerto Rico to shoot. Then I’ll hit the bar!