This article originally appeared in the May 1991 issue of SPIN.
Ice-T’s first acting experience came in front of security cameras—as a street hustler playing the part of a yuppie. He’d walk into a jewelry store and say to the salesman: “My father’s in the area buying land—he’s a real-estate developer—and I’m going to UCLA to be a lawyer. My mom and dad have been together twenty-five years, and I’m interested in buying them a 3.2-karat, flawless, emerald-cut diamond.” Then as soon as the salesman handed him the ring, he’d be out the door. “Being an actor,” says Ice, “is really being a liar—a professional liar.”
Now the rapper is a star in the new shoot-‘em-up drug war movie New Jack City. The hardest part about making this career move was having to play a cop.
“I was uptight with that,” Ice confesses. “It took me all this time to get people to trust me, so why do I have to give credit to the police now? I have an anti drug message, but I don’t know if I’d ever have such a hard line against drug dealers as to kill them. I still have a lot of compassion for their situations. But people stepped in and said, ‘Ice, don’t let your ideals get in the way of this opportunity. We need more people in acting who are real like you. Ten minutes after the movie, people will forget you were a cop anyway.'”
New Jack City is the Black Scarface. It could be the first authentic “Black” movie since the original Superfly. And it’s the first gangster movie in a long time where kids with beepers and guns under their belts cheer the drug dealers’ deaths instead of rooting for them. It’s like cheering their own deaths. That’s how dope the movie is.
“Remember, this movie came through the Warner Bros. dissolution factory,” Ice says. “We made the movie hardcore. But the reason you might not see everything in the movie that would happen in real life is because Warner Bros. wouldn’t let it happen. You can shoot a Total Recall where Schwarzenegger rips a guy’s arm off and beats people up, but you can’t shoot people basing. We show a Black teenager with a gun and it’s more terrifying to the movie company than any horror monster from outer space.”
Four films Ice-T would like to remake and star in: Mad Max, Friday the 13th, Scarface, and The Terminator.
Some directors he’d most like to be directed by: Francis Ford Coppola—”I liked the big sweeping scenes in Apocalypse Now“; Brian DePalma—”he’s pretty hard-edged”; and the late Alfred Hitchcock. “Also, Dennis Hopper, although I wasn’t too crazy with how Colors came out, and Steven Spielberg for how he did The Color Purple. Things our producers couldn’t get past Warner Bros. wouldn’t be challenged if they were made by him.”
As a kid, Ice-T and his crew snuck into a lot of karate and horror films. “Basically we’d go in to talk to girls or steal somebody’s purse. I didn’t sit there and absorb the films. I still have the worst taste in America as far as films go. I go to the video store and I’m renting ‘Blood Bath Stewardesses and Texas Chainsaw School Girls.'”
Some of his favorite TV shows when he was a kid: Ozzie and Harriet, Leave It to Beaver, and My Three Sons.
“But after a while,” Ice says, “you can’t watch those shows no more. You ain’t got as much furniture as them. It’s another world. Watching a drama about white people in suburbia and how they’re living ain’t me. Even the Flinstones are white. The only cool cartoon characters, the only ones with soul, were Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck—they were definitely Black. And I don’t know anybody living like the Cosbys, who’s got a doctor father and a lawyer mother and nobody gets whoppings. I was always violence-oriented. I think when there’s nothing on TV you can relate to, you can always resort to violence because that’s all you know.”
Ice-T’s current role model is Cher. “She can do Silkwood and come off very conservative, then be butt naked on a battleship the next week. The key is to do both well. For me it can’t be Ice-T rapping, Ice-T trying to act. It’s got to be Ice-T rapping and Ice-T acting.”
The person Ice-T would most ant to play him in his own life story is Chuck D. “I want somebody who’s close to me and knows where I’m coming from,” he says. “I’d be afraid to put a regular actor in my position. You’d have to go through the strife I’ve been through to understand it.”