Whenever you have a photo shoot with Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, you can bet good money that he’ll either arrive on time or be there early. He doesn’t play when it comes to the clock. It’s like everything else in his life that he sees as an obstacle, he wants to conquer it. “I’m only getting younger out here,” 50 boasts as he enters the office space doubling as a studio where the new digital VIBE cover shoot is being held. The team in tow is light for a man who once traveled with a security detail that rivaled Barack Obama’s Secret Service squad. These days Fif’s entourage is a four-deep creative team and his new G-Unit rap recruit, Kidd Kidd. On set, 50 continues to pontificate with his trademark wide smile. “I’m turning 40 in July, then every year after that I’m going down a year like Benjamin Button!” Those words are in jest, but they are also a goal he works towards.
To stay in tip-top shape with a youthful glow that rivals Nas and Pharrell, the man has been an exercise fanatic since recovering from those infamous nine shots. But he also stays up on social media and the blogs. If he’s not on Instagram making inappropriate jokes, promoting his hit Starz cable television show Power, pushing his latest business endeavor (like his own SMS Boxing Promotions) or showing off exclusive kicks and toys, 50’s flexing muscles for likes. Yet, for his newest film Southpaw, he didn’t work out like he normally does. He kept his exercise regimen simple as he plays slick talking boxing promoter Jordan Mains. The role’s not a stretch for the multi-platinum selling rapper who stars opposite A-list thespian Jake Gyllenhaal. Since the Queens native isn’t throwing fists in this flick, he left the heavy bag to his friend, Gyllenhaal, who essentially became a full-fledged professional boxer, complete with a rigorous training program he endured to truly fill the shoes of the troubled, down-on-his-luck pugilist, Billy “The Great” Hope.
Speaking of the 34-year-old Hollywood veteran, who starred in blockbusters like Brokeback Mountain (2005) and Nightcrawler (2014), Jake is punctual as well. A dip into the office with his team of four (groomer, publicists, assistants), and Gyllenhaal greets me with an easy demeanor and all-too-cool style. “I brought Gummy Bears”, he offers with a chuckle, passing his hello gift to the full set of caterers, photo/video team and 50’s crew.
After just leaving 50 about an hour earlier at a previous shoot, Gyllenhaal expresses how relaxed the current set is compared to the last. Music is pumping, everyone is upbeat and 50 is providing comedic relief at every turn. You get a sense that this was what the Southpaw set was like. A free-for-all with some work squeezed in. That work was no doubt handled by one of the best directors in the biz, Antoine Fuqua, of acclaimed cinematic works like the Denzel Washington-led Training Day (2001) and The Equalizer (2014). What Fuqua found in Gyllenhaal was an actor who is committed to the story so much that he stayed in character for much of the taping. Fuqua, allowing for riffs off script and range to let Gyllenhaal and co-stars Rachel McAdams [who plays Maureen Hope, Billy’s wife] and Forest Whitaker [Hope’s trainer] to flow in the moment, captures the tortured life of a once superstar light heavyweight champion whose life comes crashing down around him. The film seems based on the true life story of many boxers who’ve duked it out with bad press in news headlines. Don’t be surprised if you see streaks of Mike Tyson’s family and financial issues, Evander Holyfield’s physical and mental concerns — and Don King’s eerie presence in the form of 50’s thespian performance.
Though the film was supposed to feature Marshall “Eminem” Mathers as the lead role in the early stages of development, he opted out of the running in what could have been Em’s follow-up to the 2002 biopic-ish, 8 Mile. But of course, Mathers didn’t cut ties to the production completely. He’s square in pocket as the executive producer for the film’s soundtrack, which is being released on his Shady Records label. The first single from the project, “Phenomenal,” has been positioned as the unofficial theme for Apple Music’s new foray into the streaming market. It was the main track used to attract the masses to the budding platform. Let’s remember, Mathers has a knack for snagging Oscars for movie soundtrack singles — “Lose Yourself” from 8 Mile still crushes workout playlist 13 years later.
Now comes the supreme test. Can a film where Gyllenhaal acts his heart out and shredded his body by doing 1,000 situps, 100 pullups and running eight miles a day for five months, be enough to make him an Academy Award nominee? 50 Cent sure thinks so. Step inside the kicks of an underdog who gains everything just to lose it all and still comes up swinging.
There’s a scene where people are really going to question where you got the inspiration, when you have the gun on the bed and bullets are all out there. Who and what are you thinking about in that moment? I’m sure there’s personal-type connections that you can draw from. Was there any?
Jake: It’s funny about space like that. Antoine directs in a way where he gives you space as an actor. Tons of space. And I remember him not telling me we were gonna shoot that. Like that wasn’t planned, that wasn’t written in the script. He threw some bullets on the bed and put the gun there. We were at a space in the movie where we weren’t sleeping a whole lot. We were shooting crazy hours and it was like maybe halfway through the movie. My brain was racked, we were just all over the place and he just said, ‘Now, you’re gonna go get him.’ [Laughs] And that was the only thing that went through my mind ‘cause we pretty much shot in chronological order so I don’t wanna give too much away about the movie.
But my head was in… [Pauses] You get to a place. I don’t know how you feel creatively when you’re in the middle of it, when you write something and you see no way back and you see no way forward. All you gotta do is go forward. It happens when you’re in the creative space a lot, so I was in that space physically. Antoine had put me there and then he said, ‘Now you gotta go get him’. I just thought about everything the character had been through. I’d wake up every morning before we start shooting, I’ll go running. I’ll go train. It was just all physical, then [Antoine] would hold me back. I wasn’t fighting. I wasn’t sparring at a certain point. We shot all the fight scenes early on and then he just kept me back. There’s scenes, scenes [then] emotional scenes.
50: You gotta imagine physically getting to that point, and then the film starts and you gotta sustain it. It’s not like you perform, then [the director yells] cut and then you could have something to eat or do something else. You eat the wrong thing, you come back the next day, you go, ‘What the fuck happened?’ You pile on three, four more pounds back on your body. [Jake’s] like back out running, doing all this while still dealing with the actual film itself every morning. I felt like a real fat kid.
‘Cause you had to watch him.
50: Yeah, my character didn’t have to…
But you’re known for fitness.
50: I stay in shape.
Jake: I mean you lost all this weight for a movie you did. You’d go crazy…
50: [Jokes] I made the excuse of doing it for your campaign of going out and getting in shape. I felt like real child obesity issues with mines. Promoters don’t traditionally look like fighters and I was in the same physical condition as the fighters so I was bigger and cuddly. I was cushion-y. That’s what you’re supposed to tell ‘em.
You’re known for going into that mode, like you’re getting on your D’Angelo in the “Untitled” video.
50: Be in my zone, baby.
Jake, you did Nightcrawler. Everyone knows you did the drastic change, lost a lot of weight, didn’t see your friends. You threw yourself into that. This role, I’m pretty sure [was a] similar situation. What was it like to actually transform into what you did for that film? I remember seeing some quotes by Rachel [McAdams saying] like, ‘He’d turn into a beast. It was a little scary at some points.’
Jake: [Laughs] This is gonna sound crazy, but I try and change, like, what I’m made of. I try to change the molecules in my body. I try and change the space I exist in so I surround myself with people who are fighters. I surrounded myself with only fighting. I surrounded myself in the mentality that I believed everything that I was doing. Which sounds a little crazy, but it is a little crazy. So, physically, the first step with boxers is all about their physicality. I just tried to change my physicality and then it would just change me kind of chemically. There, I believed I could be that. Anyone who came up to me, [talked] to me in the wrong way, I believed [it] even if it wasn’t necessarily true. I believed that I could get shit done.
50: I’m telling you, [Billy’s] the guy on the train that [will] hit you, [give you] your Worldstar moment.
Jake: And you know, that’s him. That’s the character. Whether or not, that’s how he needed to walk through every scene and the reason why I decided to learn how to fight. I’ve seen 50 train. I’ve seen how he’s pretty much tore up, so I was just trying to become 50 Cent and I think I got about halfway there.
50: See, that’s all I needed. That’s what I’ve been waiting for the whole day.
I’d wake up every morning before we start shooting, I’ll go running. I’ll go train. It was just all physical, then [Antoine] would hold me back. I wasn’t fighting.
But outside of the physical though, what about the mental aspect? Like you said, you’re trying to change your molecules and everything. I know you went through lots of boxing films. Immediately, I thought of Mike Tyson. If you talk to a boxer, it’s hard to have a conversation. Like when you meet these guys, you see the disjointed speech pattern and all that. Did you bring some of that in the film>
50: [Boxers] get those little things from being hit in the head so often the whole time. If you look at a lot of fighters, they’ll place a strong importance on the female of significance in their life. I don’t know if it’s because of the wear and tear from the physical part and how much testosterone they build while they’re physically training, [or] if that’s connected to the pleasure that they have with the woman at that point. You see them get married a lot too. Fighters commit to having someone with them. It’s not like in other areas. Look at married fighters versus married rap artists. That’s a new fad and sh*t ‘cause some of the good guys got old and said, ‘Yeah it’s time for me to get married.’ Think about it. It’s like in other genres and other areas, you’ve got more people that live single and enjoy themselves at the height of their career when you’ll see the champion who’ll have someone of significance in the crowd that’s notably his partner.
Jake: I know it seems like a contradiction, but it feels like there’s a sensitivity you need to know, like there’s an offensive and defensive thing happening all the time. You need to know your weakness as a fighter. I mean you need to know your weakness because that’s what somebody will go after. If you come in and get hit in the ribs and someone breaks your ribs on the right side, that’s what you’re gonna protect. You’re gonna protect that and use your left side as many times as you can. If somebody’s on the right side, maybe they’ll come at this right side if it’s exposed for a second, but mostly it’s that. Same thing inside as a fighter. You need to be sensitive enough to know that about yourself. Instinctually, you need to know that’s a sensitive thing and I think you need support, which is why there’s so much support around a fighter.
50: They have to have their entourage of people.
Jake: [To 50] Do you feel that way about hip-hop, too?
50: In the beginning, it’s like that because the entire experience is new. [Rappers] bring everyone with them and it’s a huge entourage for the new guy. He walks in, he got one song and he’s like, ‘Yeah, we on fire right now.’ Everybody like, ‘We can really make it.’ Then as they go, they realize their information creates value and those that didn’t get any new information, have to create altercations to be valuable. They know how to deal with that from their environment and you say, ‘Okay, the people that are with me are causing the trouble’. You see it happen long enough till you start to go, ‘Wait’, and you kinda gotta distance yourself or break down that group.
We’re seeing that happen a lot in hip-hop right now. It seems like there’s a string of drama and just craziness. You’ve been able to maneuver a lot of that, being at the center of it as well.
50: Well, for me, I work at a different pace and level. I got a lot of different things I want to be involved in. I challenge myself, being involved in projects. This is definitely one of those projects that you see has the artistic integrity attached to it that I wanna be connected to. You said [the film] already got some buzz. You see that? I’m in this mothaf**ka. He better get what he’s supposed to get.
Jake: You know what I would say? I feel [50’s] an artist. First and foremost, he’s a businessman, that’s very clear but he’s an artist and his commitment to what he does, no matter what it is… Look, there are a lot of people that can come into a space, particularly in a movie, someone of his stature and feel like they own the place. They can show off here and there. There was no other actor as available as 50. We moved in many different ways. We’d shoot this scene [and then say], ‘Oh no, we’re not. We’re gonna go do this [instead].’ Antoine could always say, ‘I can call 50. We have a scene we need to shoot. We can always call 50. He will be there.’ And that, to me, is commitment to your work.
50: Wait, wait, wait. I’m a mogul. [All laugh] See, this is what happens. I want everybody to pay attention. When you get in trouble, you f**k up, you’re a rapper. After you get money, you been in it for a while, they say “mogul.” You get a new title. I was just demoted.
Jake: What am I?
50: [To Jake] You’s a biga** movie star, man. And I want you to blow some of the stardust on me, goddamit.
Jake: If you give me some of your money, okay.
[50 and Jake laugh]
For me, this movie was about looking at my own anger, about asking myself, seeing the times in my life where I reacted to something I shouldn’t necessarily react to and why.
[To 50] But you’ve probably done more movies than…
Jake: Than me.
50: Look, I did my acting classes onscreen. I did it in films, Netflix and other places. I work with acting coaches. I did different things but you see me kind of developing and getting more comfortable with it as I worked on those actual projects. I consistently took roles that were different to challenge me in different ways. I wasn’t looking at every aspect of those projects like, ‘This has to be a theatrical release’. I’m not concerned with that. I’m saying, What is the character? What exactly will it require for me to [play this part]?
Like The one with you and Sly and Arnold.
50: Yeah, I was a nerd in [Exit Plan]. I was locked up. I made my relationship with Sylvester Stallone’s [character] while he was locked up and when he comes out, he wants to work with me on a computer scam in the joint with him there. He broke out of the prison that we was in ‘cause that’s what he was doing, getting sent to prisons and then breaking out. It was a cool one. For me, the character went so far away from who I am as 50 Cent to the public that I wanted to do it and I had a relationship with him that developed from Righteous Kill. When [Robert] De Niro and [Al] Pacino worked together at the same time, it’s different ‘cause their personalities are so big, their talents are so big that they go, ‘We want  to do press.’ When [one’s] not doing it, they’re [both] not doing it. And then I’ll be sitting there, [saying] ‘Well, I’ll do all the press. I don’t care. I’ll do it for you.’ I’m not going to pass up the opportunity to be associated with De Niro and Pacino. I’ve watched their body of work all these years and I’ve seen so many amazing things out of these guys that yes, I’ll sit there and explain to you what the experience for me is like. When I was done, he financed the Expendables and had told Stallone he owed me a favor—they needed to work with me on a project. I was originally gonna play what Terry Crews played in Expendables but I had Power, my fragrance, my new album and some other things that I had committed to that I couldn’t actually commit to the film at that point.
Those type of things happen in movies. What’s that like to come back [to film] and get something that’s meaty enough for you to say, ‘Okay, those are worthwhile.’
Jake: You create your opportunities. At a certain point, you believe that other people are gonna give you those opportunities and I think really early on in my career, I was like, ‘Oh if I get this role or if I do this thing…’ After a while, you go, Wait, I am who I am. I’m gonna create from wherever I create from and it’s gonna echo as big as I am. I don’t need to play a superhero to have somebody see what I am. I can be who I am in whatever space I am [in] and we’ll see it and we’ll appreciate it or they won’t.