"Last Holiday" Star Talks Film, Music and Faith
- 2006 10 Jan
When it comes to faith, LL Cool J is the real deal. Of course, like most of his peers in the rap business, he sports a ton of bling – multiple carat diamond earrings, a tennis-bracelet style necklace, and a T-shirt adorned with rhinestones – along with his trademark hat. But underneath the flash, this hip hopper has a serious heart for Jesus, and he isn’t afraid to let it show.
Raised on Long Island as James “Todd” Smith, Cool J survived a childhood filled with physical and emotional abuse. He fell in love with rap, adopted the stage name of LL Cool J (which means “Ladies Love Cool James”) at the age of fifteen and, just two years later, released his first album with the newly-created Def Jam Records, as their flagship artist. Alongside his many musical achievements, which include two Grammy awards and ten consecutive platinum albums, Cool J has also starred in the NBC sitcom, “In the House” (from 1995 to 1999) and more than two dozen films. His diverse range of credits include “S.W.A.T.,” with Colin Farell and Samuel Jackson; “Kingdom Come,” with Whoopi Goldberg; “Any Given Sunday,” with Al Pacino and the upcoming thriller “Edison,” starring Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey and Justin Timberlake.
In his latest movie, “Last Holiday,” directed by Wayne Wang (“Because of Winn-Dixie,” “Maid in Manhattan”), Cool J stars alongside Queen Latifah (“Beauty Shop”), who plays an unassuming New Orleans store clerk named Georgia Byrd. When Georgia learns that she has only weeks to live, she cashes in her life savings and goes off to spend her final days in luxury at a five-star, European resort. There, unaware that her diagnosis is a mistake, Georgia discovers what it means to live – and how to love. LL Cool J plays Georgia’s love interest, a man who is willing to do whatever it takes to spend Georgia’s final moments with her.
Together with several colleagues from the Christian media, I recently interviewed Cool J who, at the age of 38 is the married father of four children. Much like the character he plays in “Last Holiday,” he was warm, honest and completely unafraid to talk about his faith. Here’s what he shared. ...
Q: Gospel music and faith are a strong part of this film. Can you talk about how you relate to that?
A: Well, I’m a Christian. Faith is a huge part of what I do, on every level – and I mean from salvation to tithes and offerings, and on every level and every dynamic that you can think about. The film shows you that there are many types of blessing. Obviously, health is a major blessing. Abundance is another blessing and the type of abundance that she went after was not only material, but also an abundance of joy – happiness, freedom. Jesus said, ‘I came so that you would have life, and have it more abundantly,’ and she got to experience that. And I think that’s beautiful.
On my end, the fact that [my character] was continually searching for love, the fact that he was loyal and the fact that he was willing to sacrifice and commit – those are all Christian principles. Obviously, Christ gave the ultimate sacrifice, but being willing to sacrifice your life, your job and everything you know and love to go around the world and follow someone is extremely important. Everybody here knows that true sacrifice, and your level of commitment always dictates what you get. If you’re not willing to sacrifice in the hot sun and sow those seeds and go out there in the field and really sacrifice your body and your time and your energy to plant those seeds, you’re not going to reap the type of harvest that you’d like to reap. But Sean did that, and Georgia did that. Georgia was willing to take that risk of crossing the bridge of fear, with faith, and it turned out well for her. She looked past materialism and she trusted…in the movie they don’t say ‘God,’ but she trusted God more than money. Instead of taking the riches and trying to find a cure, she took the riches and tried to live life and enjoy her last days. She was willing to detach and become detached from the money and anything worldly – and I think that’s a pretty powerful message.
Q: You’re in an industry that does not nurture that faith. How difficult is that for you?
A: It’s kind of interesting. Sometimes, you have to let your life be the testimony. You have to let your life and yourself be the example. If I can be successful in the secular world and give God the glory, then it’s not so difficult. If ultimately he gets the glory, then the proof is in the pudding. If I can go out and claim a victory for God, and if I can go out and do incredibly exciting things and take my life to new dimensions and new levels and, at the end of the day, when I’m standing in the end zone, give God the glory, then I’ve done my job.
Yeah, you have that crowd in the industry, in the entertainment world, that when you mention God, they want to giggle, or you say ‘religion’ and they peer at you with this weird face that’s like, ‘Is it okay?’ or ‘It’s not okay,’ or these weird vibes that people have because they fear being looked upon as different from everyone else. But for me, I love God, and I’ve never had a problem with going out in front and saying that it’s because of the tithes and offerings, and because of the faith and because of the fact that I’m willing to step out of everything worldly that I’m able to be in this position. I don’t have a problem saying that. It doesn’t bother me.
Q: Who nurtured you in your faith?
A: I was raised in church, and I read the Bible constantly. I stay in the Word constantly, on every level, because ultimately I think that we need that strength. You need that power in your life – that wisdom and discernment. You need that rain on all the seeds that are inside of you, and constantly nurture that potential that God placed inside of you, by watering it with that Word and constantly getting that in you, so that you can deal with the industry, so that you can deal with the trials and tribulations and temptations that come your way because of film, because of television, music and various other areas of the world, and the industry that I’m in. For me, it started off as a boy, and here I am.
Q: You went through some pretty tough stuff as a child. Was this the reason that you became a believer?
A: You know, everybody has gone through a lot. The most God-fearing people in the world have gone through a lot in order to achieve victory. When Joshua was leading the Israelites and they were fighting that battle through those lands that were promised to them, they were going through a lot, but they were on their way to victory. So going through a lot doesn’t necessarily mean that you didn’t believe in God, or that God wasn’t with you. Even though the Israelites had to go through all those battles, and those trials and tribulations, God was with them, and they were on their way to victory. So yeah, I went through a lot, but there was no one thing that made me want to love God because I was going through a lot and he was with me then, too. You see what I’m saying? There were a few times when he cleared out certain towns and villages for them, and they didn’t have to raise their swords, but not all the time. Some times, he said, ‘Hey, you want those mountains or those promised lands up there? You feel like what you have is not enough? Then you guys gotta go up there and clear the trees yourself.’ So sometimes you gotta go through some things. It’s not always easy. But that doesn’t mean it’s not correct. You know what I’m saying? I didn’t have to, like, be in a jail cell or be in solitary confinement or be in a hospital bed to understand that God is with me. I didn’t need that.
Q: Even though “Last Holiday” is PG-13, with two sexual innuendos, it’s mostly family-friendly, so it will probably do well at the box office. Since family-friendly films are the ones that do well at the box office, why doesn’t Hollywood make more of them?
A: Come on. Because, a lot of people don’t believe. Come on. For every “Chronicles of Narnia” which, obviously, is what it is… I mean, when you look at it, you know what that is. We know what that is. The resurrection of that lion – we know what that is! For every one of those types of things that come out, there are a lot of people that don’t agree, who aren’t on that page. Everybody doesn’t believe, you know? While certain people are serving the one true God, you got other people serving Baal and Ashtoreth. You’ve got other people serving other gods, and that’s why. Everybody’s not serving the same God, and everybody doesn’t want to promote product – ‘cause that’s really what it is – that speaks to those principles. Because sometimes it doesn’t have to be direct; the principles can be enough to promote the spirit. God came like a thief in the night, right? So sometimes the spirit gets promoted without it being obvious.
Q: In “Last Holiday,” you portray a working class man making a living selling barbecue grills, and you make that very believable. How different is that world from your world?
A: Well, it rains on the rich and the poor, right? The foolish and the wise. I mean, you know, it’s not about … first of all, I am a regular guy. I’m a normal guy. Just because I’ve done some things and got a name out there and had some success in the world, I’m [still] a normal human being, and I have normal feelings. That’s the beauty of this art, the wonder and the majesty of it. I have normal people, my family, to think about. My lifestyle isn’t average. People know that. But that doesn’t mean I’ve become [someone different.]
You’ve taken on a wide variety of roles and, unlike a lot of actors, you’re not afraid to show weakness.
With Christ, his strength came with the ability to be weak, even though it was the ultimate show of strength. When he lay on the cross, it was the ultimate weakness and the ultimate strength at the same time, so you don’t always have to be the heroic guy with the guy, jumping up and flexing your muscles, in order to be strong.
Q: You played a sensitive guy, a wounded man, in “Kingdom Come,” with Whoopi Goldberg. Is that the kind of role you’re talking about?
A: Well, I like these types of roles. Being a rap artist and doing the things I do, there’s a certain preconceived notion that comes with what I do. When I walk into a room, people already have an understanding in their minds about what they think they’re dealing with, just based on my profession. But your profession is not you – it’s what you do. What you do is not you, you know? There’s more to you than what you do, and these types of roles give me an opportunity to become someone different and be someone different – to touch people in a different way and be even more relatable with people. So it actually works better for me to have a ‘make down’ than a ‘make up’ or ‘makeover.’ It works better for me to strip down and go the opposite direction, you know? I think people can relate better to me when I get on a bicycle, as opposed to jumping in a big white limousine. Now the blind can’t lead the blind, and I’m not saying I want to be poor. I want to be as wealthy as possible, to be able to fund the Kingdom and help as many people as possible. But at the same time, in order to relate to the people, it’s better for me to be considered one of the people.
Q: Can you talk a little about the music industry and rappers? You’ve got kids. How should families be looking at that?
A: Here’s the thing with that. There’s that old cliché: you don’t want to be so heavenly that you do no earthly good. And then there’s the flipside of that, which is that Jesus went and ate with the tax collectors and had ladies of the evening washing and kissing his feet. All different types of people were judging who he was with and where he was at and what he was doing, but he was shining light in the darkest places. He said, ‘I came to save the sinners.’ I’m not saying that I started off rap to do that, but what I’m getting at is this: there is nothing wrong with being a part of the rap industry. There is nothing wrong with watching videos or listening to the music. You just have to keep guarding your heart and have a true understanding of where your place is at in this world. He did not put blinders on and ignore everything that went on in the earth. He wasn’t a monk – and he wasn’t like the Pharisees or the Sadducees, who tried to be super perfect, sit in the high places of the synagogue and avoid all the regular people and be all uppity and uptight. So I say this about rap music and hip hop: enjoy it, but if you’re a Christian, you want to make something people can relate to and enjoy, so add some God in there, too.
On my new record, I have a song called “Mary, Mary,” which will also be attached to another film that’s coming out, a Tyler Perry movie. This is how you do it – balance. My kids, they can watch the videos, but we’re not going to overdo it. The videos are not going to raise you, but you can watch them. You know what I’m saying? If you’re a young lady, or one of my daughters, and you see what the girls are doing in the videos, I’m going to talk to you about it. But I’m not going to, like, not expose you to it. You have to be prepared for war. In war, there are swords, battles, blood, horses getting hamstringed – everything that goes on in war. So to raise your kids over there, by themselves and isolated from everything, they’ll never be able to handle the war when it comes. So we have to be prepped, and we have to be prepared, for those types of situations, you know?
Q: This has been really uplifting. Are you getting these types of questions from other journalists?
A: Well, this is my first interview [today] but the answer will probably be no. God makes people laugh – that uncomfortable anxious thing. But this is the best way in the world to start off [these interviews]. It’s super refreshing. (laughs) I’m restored! (laughs)
Q: We are, too. Thank you.
A: Thank you, and God bless you.
Starring Queen Latifah, LL Cool J, Alicia Witt and Gerard Depardieu, "Last Holiday" (Paramount Pictures) is rated PG-13 and opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, January 13, 2006.
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