John Singleton: The Mind’s Eye

John Singleton has brought some of the most thought-provoking stories of African American life to the mainstream. From the coming-of-age films like Boyz N The Hood and Baby Boy, historical gems like Rosewood, dramatic ventures like Poetic Justice and action flicks like Four Brothers, the veteran director/producer has more than made his mark. Because of his authentic characters and his ability to texture each movie with a credible ambience, John’s connection to the Hip Hop community has deepened through his work.

With his new film Illegal Tender, Singleton is delving into the world of a Latino family wrought with a haunting past. We spoke with him recently about his impressive career, including the rumor of the Luke Cage movie and his upcoming film which reunites Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton. First and foremost, Illegal Tender just dropped starring Rick Gonzalez. When you’re taking on a production role versus a directorial role, how do you choose those scripts?

John Singleton: I just read the script, and if it’s cool I go for it. I know a good script from a bad script. What was it about this particular project that captured your attention?

John Singleton: It was a gangster movie, I always wanted to have a cool gangster movie. I love the way that it was written. Rick Gonzalez is a really good young actor, and he was perfect for the role. All of the elements came together. Just going over the selections that you’ve had, everything from the coming of age stories to comedies to the more historical things… then going into picking a script like Black Snake Moan, which was very off the cuff and a little unusual, do you have a particular vein that you really love the most?

John Singleton: No, I just love all movies. You’ve done action films like 2 Fast 2 Furious and Shaft - and you have Luke Cage coming up. Is that rumored or is that confirmed?

John Singleton: Luke Cage is just a rumor, it’s not solid. It’s possible but I still have to put it together with the studio so it’s not something I’d rather talk about. There’s also a movie you have called Tulia, is that supposed to be in the running?

John Singleton: That’s actually happening with Halle Berry [and Billy Bob Thornton]. That’s really happening, I’m doing that next. Can you tell us a little bit about what to expect with that?

John Singleton: There was a famous thing that happened maybe six or seven years back where they arrested 10 percent of the Black people in [Tulia, Texas] saying that they were all drug dealers. They didn’t find any drugs, any weapons or nothing. In this particular case, Halle Berry is playing more of a heroine, but there has been the criticism of you in the past with the depiction of women in your movies. Not to say that you necessarily made these bad women, but people saying that the women seemed victimized. What are your thoughts on that?

John Singleton: Did you see Baby Boy? Who was victimized in Baby Boy? I’d say [that comment is] for people who are not looking at my movies, they’re looking at everybody’s movies and just throwing my movies into the fray. I’ve had a lot of strong women in my pictures, none of them were victims. As far as Hip-Hop goes, you’ve been in featured in a few things. We’ve seen you in some documentaries speaking on it. You did Boyz N The Hood at a very detrimental time for Hip-Hop, really reflecting things that the music was putting out - but not a lot of films had even touched on yet. How do you feel about being a voice for Hip-Hop in the vein of having your films relate to what’s going on in music?

John Singleton: Every movie that I’ve ever made in contemporary pictures has spoken to what was going on in contemporary Hip-Hop. Boyz N The Hood was made during an era where gangsta rap was huge, but it didn’t glorify that world, it showed where it came from. Even 2 Fast 2 Furious had crunk music in it before we even made Hustle & Flow. Going back to having worked with Tupac [in Poetic Justice], in retrospect have you seen any rappers that you feel have that potential to be an enigmatic actor?

John Singleton: No, I don’t see anybody that could hold a candle to Tupac. Never that. What Tupac had was strengths and flaws. His flaws were strengths too because of his sensitivity, and also the fact that he was very convoluted and conflicted. He didn’t know whether he wanted to be a thug or a revolutionary. That made him very conducive to being a great actor.

What Pac would do is, since he was a kid who lived in different places, if he was in a certain environment he was a chameleon. If he was around doctors he’d want to learn as much as he could about medicine, if he was around lawyers he’d want to know about lawyers, if he was around thugs and gangsters he’d want to be a gangster. But he crafted that personality for himself, that’s not who he was. In making a film like Rosewood that was very emotional and hard to watch, how difficult is it for you to work with the actors on the range of emotions? Is it draining for to you to do something like that?

John Singleton: It’s hard when I put my own emotion into it, but it’s the best job and I love it. You did production on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. Comedically, what kind of things did you learn working on that set?

John Singleton: Production, and how production has to go on time. Is that where you met Laurence Fishburne?

John Singleton: Yep, that’s exactly where I met Fish. What else can we expect from you in the next couple of years aside from these films? Are you working on any other TV shows?

John Singleton: We’ll get some TV shows made - hopefully and some more movies. Do you have any particular direction you’d like to see yourself go over the next few years?

John Singleton: I just want to make sure I can continue to be able do the movies that I want to do, like I’ve been doing. Whatever people want to say about anything I’ve done, my stuff is totally different from what they see every other week that comes out in the movie theaters, and that’s why people watch my movies.