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T.I. Looks Ahead
Contributed by: Benjamin Meadows-Ingram
Source: Vibe.com
Posted on: February 22, 2008 06:24 MST
Filed under: Rap


Clifford “T.I.” Harris has seen better days. VIBE’s senior editor Benjamin Meadows-Ingram, who has written three cover stories on the self-proclaimed “King of the South,” caught up with the rapper/actor—who’s still serving time on house arrest for illegal weapons possession— to discuss merry memories on the set of American Gangster, what Denzel Washington taught him about the science of transforming into character, and why he sees himself eventually hanging up the microphone.

VIBE: How do you feel about the reception American Gangster got?

Man, I think that it was definitely a phenomenal experience. I’m proud of the film. It was definitely a learning experience that I took away from it. It got me a lot of respect as an actor and it kind of overrode all of the doubt that comes with hiring a rap artist as an actor in a major motion picture. Most of the time when people consider casting rappers as actors, it’s not in a movie of this magnitude. You know, it’s very few of us that can really be taken seriously in a movie like American Gangster. I’m proud to be one of them.

I’m still doing better than those suckers... You ain’t got to worry about me. God don’t give you more than you can handle.

Did you enjoy the film?

Absolutely! Absolutely!

Did you feel like you were breaking ground?

I mean, I thought I was part of a film that was breaking ground. It definitely wasn’t all about me. I was a piece of a groundbreaking ensemble. It wasn’t like it was my movie and my movie alone, you know what I’m saying?

You sure? That’s what I thought it was. (Laughs) Nah, just kidding.

(Laughs) It was definitely Denzel and Russell’s movie. I was fortunate enough to be involved and to work with the likes of Ridley Scott, you know what I’m saying. That was just a blessing in itself.

What were some of the significant differences in terms of working on American Gangster as opposed to ATL?

[For] one ATL kind of revolved around my character. American Gangster accented around my character. I think that it’s very important as an actor to do both. It’s important to show people that you can carry a movie and it’s important to show people that you can come in and spice up a movie no matter how big it is, no matter whom else is in it to show that intimidation isn’t a factor, and that the size of the role isn’t a factor, that you can still come in and do your thing.

What did you learn from doing American Gangster?

[That] Ridley [Scott] is one of the coolest cats you could ever meet. A person of his accomplishments, you’d expect a totally different man then what you get. Like when you meet him and he’s so cool, and he’s got on a hoody and some cargo pants and he’s just chilling. It’s kind of like, "Damn, I wasn’t really expecting this." And how much humility he has and how much time he takes to actually convey what he wants to see on screen. You know, most people wouldn’t be bothered. People with half his accomplishments or a fraction of his accomplishments wouldn’t be bothered as much. So I was really impressed by that. I was real impressed by how efficient he was. It was times we had five or ten minutes to get a shot done and people was saying “Aight well, I know we ain’t gonna get this shot” and he’s like, “Nah, let’s go!” And he’d walk on set and he’d say, “Well your character’s gone do this, this, this and this and he’s feeling like this, this, this and this, ba da boom ba da bing, ACTION! Cut! GO!” It was just like working with the ultimate professional. It was definitely an experience.

How many days were you on set?

Man, I guess from September to November.

I ain’t even gone sit here and lie and say I make more money acting than I do [doing] other [things].

I’m sure you filmed a lot more scenes than what actually made it into the film.  

I was in a lot more scenes than it was scripted for me to be in. In the script, Stevie only had that one scene. Once I got there and started working, Ridley approached me and [said] he saw how I was working as far as improvisations were concerned and he just started putting me in a lot more scenes.

And why am I not surprised at all?

Why you say? (laughs)

That a man like yourself would go on set and somehow figure out a way to get into more scenes.

(Laughs) Nah, that’s nothing you can figure out how to do. I think that you have to just work at it.  You have to be good enough.

Which scene were you scripted for? The one at the dinner table?

Nah, I wasn’t scripted for that scene. I believe that the one where I say I want to be like Frank.

That’s at a cocktail party, wasn’t it?

Nah, it’s outside at a family gathering.

Oh right, when you’re sitting in the chair next to him?

Yeah. When I tell him I quit baseball. I think that those are the two scenes. That scene and the one where he introduced me to the talent scout.

[Film is] something I can see myself doing until I’m 60...I’m going to have to let music take a backseat.

Last time we spoke, I guess the thing that was being said around our last cover shoot, was that Denzel gave you your wings. Can you talk a bit about working with Denzel on this particular film?

Sure, I mean that was actually the scene where he gave me his approval as an actor. He also gave me some very useful advice in telling me, “Just keep it simple.” You know, not to try to convince people, just believe. If I believe, [the audience] believe. And Denzel is probably the best actor of our time. He’s probably the best black actor of our time. I’m going to take that advice with me, man, as far as my film career goes.

Have you been getting calls for more roles?

Absolutely! And we will definitely be involved in more films in the near future.

Anything in particular you wanna talk about in those roles?

Nah, nothing that I can speak about just yet. Just know that it’s happening.

A lot of rappers in the music industry talk about how Hollywood’s such a lucrative transition in terms of the stability, the money that can potentially be involved.

Well, I can’t speak on the lucrative part. I mean I ain’t even gone sit here and lie and say I make more money acting that I do [doing] other [things like construction]. I mean [acting’s] more rewarding. It’s more rewarding to start out with something new. It’s kind of like when you get that new promotion and you have new responsibilities. Just to start getting in your groove and to be acknowledged for this rather than that. And to be known. You’re already known to be one of the best in this, but to begin to be known as one of the best in something else, you know, it’s rewarding.

With acting it’s definitely [about] challenging yourself more so than finding this monster foothold in Hollywood. Obviously everyone would be happy to make Denzel money in a movie.

Yeah, sure. How about this, all I can say is that I’ll never be able to make as much money as I intend on making doing just one thing. Film is definitely something that I have over the years developed a huge passion for and I have an extreme respect for the art. It’s something I can see myself doing until I’m 60. Whereas [with] rapping I’m going to mature to the point where I’m going to have to let music take a backseat at some point in my life.

TIP how you holding up sir?

Man, I’m still doing better than those suckers (laughs). I’m great, you know me. You aint got to worry about me. God don’t give you more than you can handle. I’m straight.
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