Rappers who appear in movies generally get a bad, um, rap. But veteran movie director and actor Mario Van Peebles, who's directing the 50 Cent-starred film Things Fall Apart, says the Queens-born artist was surprisingly dedicated to his role as a football player who gets diagnosed with cancer.
"50 was not at all what I expected," says Peebles. "50 is a really focused, bright, disciplined, affable cat. In terms of directing him, he’s a dream. He had to lose a lot of weight for this role. So we shot the first part where he weighs 214 pounds and then he got down to 160 pounds."
The director feels the project, which is currently being filmed in Michigan and due out early 2011, will be a hit not only among 50's fan base, but also all demographics. “It’s an independent film but I think it’s going to have a big African-American audience. It’s also a story that’s going to interest all backgrounds... It’s a heavy film.”
Peebles isn't only directing these days, though. The visionary behind such classic and critically-acclaimed movies as New Jack City, Panther and BAADASSSSS, is making his presence felt on the small screen with a role on FX’s dark legal drama Damages and now he’s back in the box office. Peebles plays a supporting role in the late ‘70s-era relationship ensemble Multiple Sarcasms, which also stars Academy Award-winning actors Timothy Hutton and Mira Sorvino.
Peebles, who plays a gay co-worker at an architect firm, says audiences will be surprised by his character. “There’s no such thing as good or bad in this film… everyone is complex. Independent films tend to lead audiences where the major studios, when they spend a lot of money on a film, have to chase audiences. The independent film audience, white or black, is a fairly educated audience.”
Peebles then adds, “Being educated doesn’t mean you are not smart. When I made BAADASSSSS, where I played my father [Melvin Van Peebles] when he directed Sweet Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song, we played at the art houses, but we also played at the Magic Johnson theaters. A lot of black folks are more aware of a blockbuster and less aware of independent films. But it’s kind of like music…what sells a lot to people of color? It takes a while for you to say, ‘Oh, I get Maxwell, but I can also get Jimi Hendrix.’ We come in all flavors and that’s the cool thing.”
But there’s one project that Peebles will always be connected to when it comes to the public-at-large. “People ask me all the time, ‘When are you going to do a New Jack City 2?’” Peebles muses of his classic 1991 gangster film that made Wesley Snipes a star. “You would have to really do that sequel well, or not do it at all. But the writers never really got their concept together. Still, I think there’s a story there that needs to be told.” —Keith Murphy