LOS ANGELES: Rapper Tip ‘T.I.’ Harris has seen and done it all - three Grammy Awards, a novel, time in jail, a fashion line, TV reality show, businessman and several movies.
Now the Atlanta-based singer is dipping into comedy, appearing in the film ‘Identity Thief’ as an armed enforcer on the trail of a character played by Melissa McCarthy who is on the run from many of those she's swindled.
T.I., 32, sat down with Reuters ahead of the movie's February 8 release to talk about the film, what's left on his to-do list, and his personal views on gun control.
Q: How did you wind up in a comedic film?
A: “I met with (director) Seth (Gordon) and learned he was the director of one of my favorite comedies, 'Horrible Bosses'. I asked him how would this movie compare to 'Horrible Bosses' and he said it's going to be better. I said, “I'm in.””
Q: Were you OK taking a supporting role rather than a lead?
A: “I actually enjoyed the fact that all of the heavy lifting was not on my shoulders. It was Jason (Bateman) and Melissa's show, so the stage was set for me to not screw it up, you know what I mean?”
Q: Last year you appeared on television's ‘Hawaii Five-O’ and ‘Boss’. Do you have role models of hip-hop stars who have successfully crossed over to acting?
A: “Will Smith and Ice Cube. Looking at the roles Cube has been able to acquire, he created those opportunities for himself. So I think I could take that approach.”
Q: Is there a certain perception of you out there that might hinder you from being taken seriously as an actor?
A: “I think people might wonder whether or not T.I. can be anything other than T.I., so it's constantly having to reassure people that I'm able to do what I already know I can do.”
Q: For some, T.I. is a successful recording artist and for others he's someone who had several stints in jail on drugs and weapons charges. Can you confidently say that the past is the past?
A: “I'm not gonna say anything. It's day by day, you know what I'm saying? I'm saying today this is how I am, this is where I am. And tomorrow hopefully will be better than today.”
Q: In 2011 after your last prison term, you showed a softer side by starring in the VH1 reality series ‘T.I. and Tiny: The Family Hustle’, with your wife and six kids. Was that an attempt to right your past transgressions?
A: “Nah. I think it's a showcasing of who I am today. I don't think that it any way diminishes the mistakes of yesterday. It just makes a correction if people assume that the mistakes of yesterday are ever-present today. It gives people a stage of truth and knowledge to judge from. So if you must judge, at least you can judge from fact.”
Q: You've just released your eighth album, ‘Trouble Man II: He Who Wears the Crown’. You also have your own urban fashion line, A.K.O.O. What else do you need to check off your to-do list?
A: “Just to remain relevant and meaningful to the cool young consumer of today. The cool kids are out there being admired by others in their peer group, so you want to find ways to continue to put yourself on their minds.”
Q: How do you do that?
A: “(Social media) is a big aspect for those kids. ... So with Instagram, if you take pictures it has to be a picture worthy of showing. If you say something on Twitter, it has to be something that's worthy of listening to.”
Q: With gun control being a hot-button topic today, and with your own experiences with firearms, what are your thoughts on gun ownership?
A: “I can't possess a firearm (due to previous convictions), so whether they make them illegal or not is gonna be the same thing for me. But I see a need for them. I've been in circumstances where I've had them every day and nothing happened. I've been in circumstances where I didn't have them, and I needed them. In certain areas of society, having a firearm is just as common as having bottled water.”
Q: In what way?
A: “If you're a shopkeeper, a barbershop owner, a convenience store owner and you handle cash in and out of this area, if everyone knows that you don't have a firearm, then you are basically prey. In these areas, bullets are just as common as sticks of gum, you know what I'm saying? So I think I speak for those people.”