Musicians have generally had a hard time making it on the big screen. The case of Madonna far overshadows all the Britney Spearses, Mandy Moores and Mariah Careys. Hip hoppers generally have more success, like Will Smith, Ice Cube and to a lesser extent Ice T. Still, it may be a crapshoot for Outkast, whose Idlewild opens on Friday. I caught up with them at a recent press junket where they talked about their prospects
“Honestly, I think anything we try to do, we try to make sure that we’re being true to ourselves, and I guess that’s being an artist,” said Andre Benjamin (aka Andre 3000). “But we also know that it has to sell. So, we want people to come to the theater to see it, but at the end of the day, if people just talk about it and say, ‘This is a necessary film and it’s something that needed to be made, and had to be made.’ It actually had to be made because all the chips were stacked against us. So, at the end of the day, if nobody comes to the theater, we just know we had a great time doing it, and somebody will be influenced by it. This ain’t no bullsh*t interview answer.”
If Idlewild fails, it won’t be for lack of trying. The ‘30s gangster musical has just about everything: romance, action, cool visual tricks and A-list costars like Terrence Howard and Ving Rhames. That last one is the only place where the boys maybe felt a little out of their depth.
“The first day we shot was the scene on the sidewalk outside, when I was with Zora and the kids, so that was my very first scene I had to shoot,” said Antwan A. Patton (aka Big Boi). “I was so nervous. At the same time, I was gearing up for it. Ben Vereen was kind of like a mentor the whole time. We would go running through it. He already had me psyched up a little bit because, before Terrence got there, he was like, ‘I’m telling you, this guy’s going to come in here, he’s a veteran actor, he’s going to already be in character, he’s not going to like you, he’s going to treat you like sh*t. Don’t play into it. He’ll try to sucker you in and try to be your friend, just to throw you off. You can’t let him take the scene away from you. You have to go toe-to-toe with him.’ So, one day, when Terrence showed up, he was in the make-up room and I saw him, and my heart was beating fast. So he turned around and was like, ‘Man, what’s up, man. I’ve been checking you out for a long time. Hey, man, wanna hear some songs?’ And, he had a guitar. I was like, ‘He’s trying to sucker me in.’ So I let him come in there and we talked and we kicked it, and he was a good guy. So, to go back to the first day of shooting, I was so nervous to where I turned the nervousness into the anger that I needed for the scene. After we shot a couple of times, Terrence was like, ‘Brother, the way you’re staring at me, you had me shook up, for real. You looked like you were going to kill me. You really had me going.’ And, for him to say that to me, I was just like, ‘Okay, alright, ‘cause I know how to do it now.’”
Learning on the set seems to be the best approach for Benjamin too, who’s shown he can be believable in comedies like Be Cool and dramas like Four Brothers without any formal training. “I have mixed feelings about the studying thing,” said Benjamin. “I think there are certain things that you can learn because there are certain techniques. You’ve got lighting, you’ve got spots that you have to hit that you can’t overstep your mark. Those are the technical things. But, I have learned from doing. I’m still an amateur, but I have learned that there’s something innate, something that’s in you, that makes you you and makes Johnny Depp him, and there’s not a class that can make that really happen. There is a class that can tell you to speak up, to project louder, or something like that. But, what people buy into is your own thing. So, maybe there’s some classes you can take, like some vocal classes. Being that we’re both from the South, maybe you have to play a role that you have to get an accent down. So, there’s certain things you can do.”
Patton even learned the technical parts from his costars. “One thing that I’ve learned, by talking to different directors and the veteran actors like Ving and Terrence on the set is that it’s really all about timing. It’s about timing and keeping yourself in the moment and actually going there. I don’t know if there’s a class that can teach you to be a certain type of person or play a certain type of role, but you can go learn the technicalities to sharpen up and be aware of your surroundings. But we’re in the studio making music. I don’t know when we’ll get time to go do no training.”
Directed by longtime Outkast videomaker Bryan Barber, the visual effects like moving still photos and a talking rooster flask were inspired by European cinema. “As far as the extra added values in the movie, we call it that funk,” said Benjamin. “That’s the funk you bring to the movie. We are film fans. Bryan would say, ‘Have you seen Amelie? Did you see how they tricked this?’ So, we knew what kind of game we were playing here, and we knew what type of film we wanted to make. It can’t be so straight and narrow all the time. It has to be magical, in some kind of way, at least for this film. So, we were happy about that.”
Idlewild opens Friday.