It took six weeks of rehearsals and reams of flubbed lines, but by the time 8 Mile hit theaters, Eminem had scored a hip-hop movie masterpiece. Shining a light on both sides of Detroit’s railroad tracks—trailer parks and battle cyphers—Em’s first leading role is a true underdog story, bolstered by callous punch lines and a guy named Cheddar Bob. Ten years after the classic film’s premiere, VIBE rounds up the gang—Eminem, Mekhi Phifer, Anthony Mackie, Evan Jones and Omar Benson Miller—to wax cinematic. This opportunity comes once in a lifetime…
Written by Jeff Rosenthal
VIBE: Eminem, at the time you hadn’t really acted before; but the story was based in Detroit, based off of some of your life experiences. When the cameras stopped rolling, did you feel that you headed further into these guys’ world of acting, or they into yours?
Eminem (B-Rabbit): I definitely felt like I was about to embark on some shit that was not necessarily up my alley. It was all brand new, and I’m so glad I had all of these guys around me. My hardest part, was remembering the lines. ‘Cause really, all I had to do was take myself back into the mind frame of how I felt before I got signed with Dre. It wasn’t really too much to just be myself.
Anthony Mackie (Papa Doc): It was crazy for me because it was my first job. When we started, I didn’t really have no lines. Motherfuckers would be like, “Yo, your character sucks, so we just added this. Do this.” My biggest thing was just trying to be on the same level as Mekhi fucking Phifer.
Mekhi Phifer (Future): You pulled it off, Cat Daddy! You pulled it off!
Eminem: When I look back at the movie, one of the cool things is we all became friends on the set. The film carried over to how we [eventually] interacted in real life.
You always said this isn’t your life story. Does it matter that everybody thinks it is?
Eminem: It doesn’t really matter to me. People who really listen to my music probably know what’s real in that movie and what’s not. There were bits and pieces that were taken from my life, but for the most part, it was the story of the underdog. We rehearsed so much before we even started the film, and I was in every scene. I was there every day from 6 a.m. until—half the time—5 in the morning the next day. It became a point where I felt like I am this person. I’m fucking B-Rabbit because I was living this movie. I had no choice but to be him.
In hindsight, everyone thinks this movie was an easy decision, but the studio and Jimmy Iovine were wondering if this could hurt the Eminem brand. Mariah Carey’s Glitter had just tanked and the last time Universal had worked with a rapper was on Cool As Ice with Vanilla Ice. Mekhi, you initially passed on the movie. Why?
Phifer: I was due to start ER and 9/11 had just happened. They was like, “Okay, we want you to fly to Detroit.” It was like, September 13. “I ain’t getting on no plane! I’m staying here and I’m gonna be a doctor, Goddamn it!” I hadn’t read the script yet, and they were so hush-hush about the script that I had to sit and read it in [director] Curtis [Hanson’s] office because they weren’t releasing it. But when I read it, I thought, Oh, this is kinda slick! They had me go to Detroit to see if me and Em was going to have chemistry…This cat became my man so fast that I was like, “This is gonna be dope.” And when I met all the rest of the guys, I was all in. It was the best decision I ever made.
Omar Benson Miller (Sol George): 8 Mile is so revered, it’s like everywhere I go, somebody’s talking about it. Yesterday, me and Cheddar were walking down the street, heads down, and some kid walked up to us from behind and was like, “Anything goes when it comes to hoes/I’m the kingpin when it comes to flows…”
Evan Jones (Cheddar Bob): [Laughs] Yeah, who wrote that rap?
Eminem: That shit should’ve been a single. “Ten freaky girls! Ten! Ten!”
Benson Miller: I just want to bring up something: Because of Em’s celebrity, not being able to move around so much, Proof was out there a lot. And I can remember the wrap party literally... We kept singing the song and they didn’t want to let me and Cheddar into the wrap party because they didn’t know who we were. Proof came out and it was all good! I’ve been doing movies for a while now, and there’s a lot of funny dudes out there. The inclusive nature of you guys, Em and Mekhi, who were already on and who were senior to us in that sense, was great. It was really something special.
Eminem: I definitely appreciate that.
Phifer: You’re cool cats. Y’all made it easy on us.
Mekhi, your character was based off of Proof. Did you have any long conversations to try and really understand who he was?
Phifer: I definitely spoke to Proof. I didn’t sit him down, because to me the character spoke for itself. I mean, I wanted to portray him as he was in ’95. That’s why you see me with that wig, that crazy wig! [Laughs] And that even came down to the wire—we almost couldn’t do dreads because they couldn’t get the wig right.
Eminem: [Laughs] We used to call Proof “the Wolverine” because at the Hip-Hop Shop, his hair was crazy. I think that, for the most part, being that I wasn’t playing Marshall, Mekhi’s character didn’t have to be exactly like Proof. As long as it had that authenticity, which I felt it did. He just had to be Detroit.
Evan, what was Eminem like in those first rehearsals?
Eminem: I was a fucking dick! [Laughs]
Jones: Like everyone’s been saying, he was fantastic. Right off the bat, he took us to the Detroit Lions game. On the way back, you jumped in our car and played us some new tunes off your album [The Eminem Show], and it was so good. You made us all feel like family.