He’s hardly the sort of guy you’d expect to see in a family-friendly movie. In fact, if you heard the lyrics to some of his rap songs, you’d forbid your kid from listening.

But Ice Cube, 35, who made a name for himself in the 90s with controversial rap music and films about the inner city, is a father of four who’s been married for almost 13 years. When I met with him in Atlanta, he was reserved, polite and sublimely professional. He even smiled a few times. And now, he’s making movies for kids.

“Everybody wants to laugh,” the actor said, about his choice to do “Are We There Yet?” “Besides, it’s easier to get funding for comedies than drama.”

Cube, as he likes to be called, burst onto the scene in the late 80s with the influential rap band, N.W.A., then cut his first solo album in 1990. With its highly controversial lyrics about life in urban L.A., “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted” proclaimed that women were “good for nothing, no maybe one thing” and joked about Snow White in bed with the Seven Dwarfs.

Hardly family stuff – but incredibly popular. Cube’s second solo CD, “Death Certificate,” sold two million copies. Subsequent albums have sold more than 10 million total.

In addition to making albums, Cube also discovered a slew of rap artists that include YoYo, Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, K-Dee and Mack 10.

His films have been just as successful. His first, “Boyz ‘N the Hood,” by director John Singleton in 1990, launched a new genre about the harsh reality of gang life. Since then, Cube has appeared in more than 20 movies that range from thrillers like “Three Kings” and “Anaconda” to comedies, like “Barbershop” and its sequel. 

“Ice Cube has a wonderful ‘everyman’ quality, in the same sense as a Tom Hanks or a Jimmy Stewart,” said “Are We There Yet?” director Brian Levant. “We can relate to him because we see some of ourselves in him.”

With its PG rating, “Are We There Yet?” is geared toward families and younger children. Cube plays Nick, a beleaguered suitor trying to woo a single mom who’s been wooed too many times before. Still harboring the hope that their parents will get back together, her kids do everything they can to drive Nick away, while he drives them 350 miles away – in his brand new, luxury SUV.

“Doing all these crazy little things, getting vomited on and all that stuff, man, it was all part of the fun,” Cube said, with a shrug. “I would hate to be too cool to make the movie good. I had no problem with being the butt of a joke or two.”

He certainly is. In fact, his character even gets to watch his car, a brand new Escalade, go up in flames. But for Cube, it’s all about giving audiences what they want – something that has transformed him into not only a decent actor, but one of Hollywood’s biggest entertainment icons.

Here’s some of what he had to say:

You have a very original name, and I assume it’s not your birth name. Where did “Ice Cube” come from?

It’s a neighborhood thing. Everybody had a nickname, and everybody wanted a nickname. My older brother gave it to me. I was always trying to get him to […] come with me. He was trying to be cool and tease me with it, you know what I mean? And it just stuck.

So you never legally changed your name?

No.

You were incredibly successful as a rapper. What made you want to move into film?

I always look at myself as a trailblazer, you know what I mean? Somebody who’s going to be the first one in, to try something and hopefully, get other people turned on about what I do and try it ... For me, it was a natural progression after doing “Boyz ‘N the Hood.” Before that, I wasn’t thinking about doing acting.  I was just thinking about being the best MC in the world, you know. But after that [film,] I looked at all the potential of creating on a visual level. … Opportunities have presented themselves a lot and I’ve just taken advantage of them.

Lots of rappers go to Hollywood, but few can act. You’re a serious actor, and you’re good at it. Where did you learn how to do that?

I’ve been able to work with people like Lawrence Fishburn, Jon Voight – great actors. And what’s cool is, you know, I’m there and I get a chance to see them prepare and how serious they take it, and what goes into pulling off a great performance. I’m the type that you don’t have to tell me twice. Show me one time and I’ve got it. I had a lot of help for “Boyz ‘N the Hood” from Cuba Gooding Jr. They all helped me with, you know – hitting my marks, staying on camera. Little acting tips that, if somebody don’t tell you, it’ll look like you’re giving a bad performance. Tricks of the trade, like what you do on a close-up or a wide shot.

What do you do on a close-up and a wide shot?

I ain’t gonna tell you the way the guy told me. It’s kinda nasty. [But] as the camera gets closer to your face, you have to do more things to bring out your performance. As the camera gets wide, you can do less. Now, if somebody don’t tell you that, and you’re giving up your best performance on your wide and your worst performance when they get up here in your face, then it’ll look like a bad performance … It’s a way of pacing yourself.

What was it like for you to work with children in a movie? Did you learn anything from them?

Yeah – how to have fun. They was having a ball. They was always enthusiastic, even when it was raining and miserable looking outside. The director was all serious, trying to put this thing together, but the kids were having a ball with the whole process. That’s kind of what they taught me – to not be so technical and have a little fun.

Your character in the film doesn’t like kids. Can you relate to him?

No, I love kids.

You have four, don’t you?

Yeah, and I’m around kids all the time. But I was like that before I had kids. You know – the bachelor, into my little toys, not trying to get tied up. When I met my wife, she already had a son, so it was the same kind of situation [as the film.] Not two kids, but one, and a small baby, but the same situation.

How old are your kids?

4, 10, 13 and 18.

And you adopted your oldest son?

Yeah, and from then on, I was the family man (big grin).

You have been married for twelve years now…

Thirteen almost (proud smile).

Thirteen years – that’s pretty impressive, especially when so many marriages in the entertainment industry fail. We’ve just seen another big break-up in the media, with Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. How in the world do you make that happen?

We keep everybody out of our business. Even family members – nobody gets to know what’s going on between me and her. She won’t tell it and I won’t tell it, because…if we get into an argument, and we each get on the phone and start calling people, then once we make up – a few hours later – those people will still be bringing it up, days later. They start stirring the pot, telling other family members. And then, a little argument that has already been resolved in the couple has picked up legs within the family, which refuels the fire. So we’ve said that whatever happens between us stays between us. If we can’t work it out right here, then we’ll go and get somebody to help us work it out. But we’re not about to get on the phone and start telling everybody what’s going on. And it’s worked.

Are your kids the reason you’ve moved into comedy and done some of the more family-friendly films?

Not really – not just because of the kids. In Hollywood, comedy is the path of least resistance. They’re easier to get funded than dramas. The best dramas are on TV – it’s rarely dramatic movies that people are going out to see on a regular basis. 

Which do you enjoy more?

The comedies – because everybody wants to laugh. The dramas, I would love to do more, because I think there’s a lot of stories that need to be told. But it’s going to take time, as far as me and my company, to be able to command the budgets for those movies that I want to make but the studio doesn’t want to make.

Movies like “Boyz in the Hood,” you mean?

Yeah – stories that will never be told unless somebody like myself comes along and tells them.


Revolution Studios' "Are We There Yet?" stars Ice Cube, Nia Long, Aleisha Allen, Philip Bolden and Jay Mohr and releases in theaters nationwide on Friday, January 21, 2005.

Photos © Revolution Studios