After 'Toys,' Cool J. changes his tune about acting Actors work hard, rap star's learned

December 23, 1992|By Barry Koltnow | Barry Koltnow,Orange County Register

When he made his screen acting debut in last year's "The Hard Way," rapper L.L. Cool J. probably didn't make a lot of friends in his new profession when he dismissed the art form as being too easy.

"I have to be honest with you; I don't see what's so challenging about acting," the overly confident rapper said at that time. "It just doesn't seem like something that's so ridiculously overwhelming or difficult."

Well, one film later, Cool J. is rapping a different tune.

"Now I understand why actors get paid so much," said a humble Cool J., who stars opposite Robin Williams in the new, Barry Levinson-directed "Toys."

"It takes a lot of thinking to be a good actor. Based on my experience so far, I'd have to say that any truly great actor would have to be really intelligent.

"It was very difficult this time and it was very scary being around stars of that magnitude. I used to think this was easy, but not anymore."

Cool J., whose real name is James Todd Smith, plays Williams' first cousin in the film -- the fact that one is black and one is white is not explained and apparently doesn't matter. He is a tough, well-disciplined military intelligence officer who is brought in to head security at the family's toy company.

It is a meaty role -- his part in "The Hard Way" was small, and it seemed the producers wanted his music for the soundtrack as much as they wanted him as an actor -- and it signals the start of what he hopes is a serious acting career.

"That's why I didn't do any music for the soundtrack in this picture," he said. "If I'm going to have a multifaceted, multidimensional career, then I'm going to have to build a diverse portfolio.

"I'm going to have to do many different things, and you can only do that by separating them. My music is one thing and my acting is another."

Cool J., 24, is a product of Queens, N.Y., who started listening to rap music when he was 9. It was mostly an underground scene back then, and he said he was heavily influenced by the likes of the Cold Crush 4, Fantastic Romantic 5, Double Trouble and, of course, Grandmaster Flash.

He recorded his first rap album at 17 and picked up a Grammy for the single "Mama Said Knock You Out" from his third album. His fifth album is due in stores next month.

With four platinum records to date, Cool J. said he knows he is a role model for young rap fans and that he plans to exercise some of that responsibility on the new album. "I've decided that on my next album I'm going to have no profanity," he said. "A lot of times, I think we use profanity for lack of better things to say anyway."

But, while he has decided to take a different road, he refused to condemn other rappers who continue to use profanity or who vent their rage in songs whose lyrics sometimes anger white audiences.

"I am not an ambassador of rap and therefore cannot speak for other people," he said. "But each individual has lived a different reality, and their music reflects that reality. I can't say a guy's wrong for being angry if I haven't lived his life."

Cool J., with album sales in excess of 10 million copies, is anything but angry these days. And, if he can get his acting career going in a big way, he said he'll be even happier.

"I'm trying to have a platinum career, and that means I'm not going for quick money and then fizzle out. I don't want to go out in a blaze of glory. I want a long career.

"But I have to shine in the right light," he added. "The parts have to be right or I'm not interested. I'm not going to take parts where I'm running down the street with gold chains around my neck and a TV set on my head and rapping a song.

"I want to come across dignified. I want roles that allow me to show myself and my people in the right way."

Cool J. is so serious about his acting, in fact, that he has promised what would once be considered the unthinkable. He said for the right role, he would be willing to remove his trademark hat, which he didn't do in his first two films.

"It's just an insignia," he said with a shrug. "People think it's more of a big deal than it really is. I went out one day and threw a hat on. That's it. There's no dark, taboo secret under there. It's just a hat."

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