The talented and outspoken Mario Van Peebles has been a fixture behind and in front of the camera for over 25 years. Drawing from the DNA and classic works of his famous father, Melvin, Van Peebles has worked with the best of the best, creating some memorable moments on the big screen.
Working with rappers isn’t new territory for Van Peebles. In the course of his filmmaking career, he has excelled using Hip-Hop and urban culture as a backdrop for his cinematic works. Just think Posse and New Jack City, and you know that Van Peebles has what it takes to depict the diversity of Black life on camera.
Just this week, Van Peebles has released the DVD version of his new film with rapper 50 Cent – he checked in with AllHipHop.com to tell why rappers make some of the best actors in the biz and to premiere an exclusive clip from the movie:
AllHipHop.com: It’s a pleasure to talk to you, Mario! So, I just got a chance to watch your movie All Things Fall Apart with 50 Cent. First, let people know how you became affiliated with this film.
Mario Van Peebles: Initially, I was just going to act in it. I met with 50 to talk about the film, and he started talking to me about its genesis – that he had a friend that had passed of cancer. The more we talked about, and I saw the emotion that he had and the energy that he had for it, it started to shift over and then eventually to would I help guide it, would I consider directing it?
So I said yes. I had worked and been directing for a minute. The first film I did was New Jack [City], and I sort of took Ice T through a process of being on screen with guys like Wesley [Snipes] who were veterans, and Chris Rock from comedy. So, we put together all these different folks to get them in the same movie tonally. So, me and 50, we hit it off – 50 is…you know, he was really ready to leave that rap persona behind.
I said to him, ‘Literally, you’ll be carrying no gun. You’ll have no backup for this movie. The rap persona won’t be a part of it. Are you ready to bring your A Game to that? As an actor, I’m on the same team with you, but as the director, I’ll be the guy saying OK, we need this, and we need another take of that. Are you ready for me to be in that capacity, because you don’t always like your coach, you know what I mean? [laughter] I’m not trying have you mad at me. I just want you to know the truth. If not, we shouldn’t, because I’m gonna be your Lou Gossett [laughter].
AllHipHop.com: Well, we’ve seen a lot of rappers jump into the acting pool over the years, and even 50 Cent – this wasn’t his first role. But in your expert opinion, does he have the [acting] chops for the job?
Mario Van Peebles: Right, it wasn’t his first role. But my point is, it was his first role with such a degree of turn away from the rap persona. My point was that he’d really have to drop all that, and have no gun, no backup, with veteran actors like Ray Liotta, Lynn Whitfield, and myself, and in essence, be unarmed, only be armed with his acting skills and be able to bring it.
I thought he brought his A Game to it. I understood him, I think because I’m an actor and a director – like if you’re a doctor and a patient, you have a better bedside manner. So I could really help him get to the character from the inside, not just the outside. And once he started working at it, I thought he brought it. I thought he did his thing. I thought he brought a different level definitely of the Curtis Jackson I had ever seen before.
AllHipHop.com: I thought he was good. So, you’ve worked with rappers in the past. Do you see any of the skills they need as rappers translate well into the discipline required for acting?
Mario Van Peebles: Some have it; some don’t, you know? There are some people who can come from sports, who can come from comedy, they come from theater. We come from all walks of life, so some have it, some don’t. I mean, I have brothers and sisters who are not in the business. Just ‘cause you like something doesn’t mean you’ll be good at it, you know what I mean? Or, it doesn’t mean you’ll make a living at it, right?
If you could make a living at doing everything you want, there’d be a lot of food tasters and porn stars, right?! You’re like, ‘I like this,’ and people are like, ‘You better work on your directing, player!’ [laughter] So, it doesn’t mean you’re going to make a living doing that, you know? But I think here, [50 Cent] was ready to take that jump, and it was cool because I was ready to do it with him.
I don’t know if you saw that scene in the garage [on All Things Fall Apart], but there’s a scene where you have Dion and Eric talking about what happens when what you love is no longer possible to do career-wise. You know, there are three loves in your life – do what you love, do it with people you love, and say what you love with it.
A lot of our young men are dropping out of school to play ball or to rap, but if you go to school and you want to be a dream team attorney and you fail, you might still be a lawyer. And if you were trying to be a brain surgeon and you failed, you might still be a doctor. But if you try to be a ballplayer and you fail, you’re a tall brother washing dishes. If you’re a rapper and you fail, you’re a broke brother with rhymes…
AllHipHop.com: Yeah, Mario, how about that?
Mario Van Peebles: We’ve got 50 percent of our young brothers dropping out – 50 percent of guys who look like me or look like 50 [Cent] are somewhere in the spectrum. And they drop out to do this, and never think about their B Game. That’s a luxury. I understand where you’re trying to survive, but you’d rather throw money in the air and have champagne. Yeah, I get it. But if you don’t think about that B Game, and say, ‘Aww, wow, what do I do now?’ That conversation is valuable.
We all want to play ball, but we forget to own the team. The advantage I had in life is that I had a dad who said, ‘I’m gonna teach you how to own the team. I’m gonna teach you how to own the movie; I’m gonna teach you how to produce it. I’m gonna teach you how to be a businessman.’ I think what 50 has said is, ‘I’m gonna take my hustle to the boardroom, and I’m gonna own Vitamin Water. I’m gonna produce my own movie. I’m gonna team up with other brothers and do something and say something positive. That’s beautiful, when we start to say, ‘It’s not just about me; I can team up with we, and we can all get money.’
AllHipHop.com: One last thing on the topic of 50 Cent, since I have you here. A lot of people have disputed that 50 went through that dramatic physical transformation that we see in the film. Can you confirm once and for all if that was real?
Mario Van Peebles: It’s real. 50 Cent had been on a liquid diet before when he was shot. So he already knew what it would be like to do nothing but liquids. What you see is real. As you can see, he went there.
AllHipHop.com: Those pictures are disturbing. ‘Went there’ is an understatement, Mario! [laughter]
All Things Fall Apart is available for purchase on DVD at major retailers and on iTunes. See the official trailer below: