In his new film Freelancers, 50 Cent says he isn’t sure whether his character, a corrupt cop searching for his father’s killer, is a good guy or bad guy. But the artist’s multifaceted success seems similarly schizophrenic: after making a fortune as a street hustler-turned-gangsta rapper, he created a business empire selling vitamin water and sneakers, and launched a philanthropic initiative to help underprivileged kids. And his future acting roles include a turn as a criminal computer expert in The Tomb, and a kind-hearted football player with a terminal illness in the self-financed All Things Fall Apart.
50 Cent spoke to The Hollywood Reporter at the recent Los Angeles press day for Freelancers, where the natural showman offered unexpectedly understated charm. In addition to talking about the origins of his new film, he discussed what lessons he takes away from the film roles he chooses, and reflected on the challenges of tackling material that might seem uncharacteristic out even contradictory to the larger-than-life persona he’s created through his albums.
The Hollywood Reporter: Talk about how you sort of pick the projects that you take on now, and what in particular sort of appealed to you about this one?
50 Cent: I have a crew of people that actually sit down and read all the screenplays, and when things stick out to them they send it to me and I get a chance to read them myself. On this project, what was really interesting is I read the entire screenplay and I didn’t know if my character was a good guy or a bad guy. Internally, he’s being pulled in multiple directions by both crews that he was a part of, from his best friends growing up and then Sarcone when he [joins the police force]. And even with his girlfriend, it wasn’t acceptable for her in the early stages [until] he became a police officer, but he did more dirt as a police officer than he did in his original life.
So that was what made the project itself exciting to me. And then when I was able to sell that to [Robert] De Niro first, to get it to him and have him check it out. His agent got him to look at it and he was interested in the project. Immediately, I told Forest [Whitaker] he was doing it; De Niro was just interested, but when Forest checked it out already having in mind me and De Niro, that made it easier for me to get him on board.
THR: The movie has a fairly cynical attitude about police. Is the movie just a dramatization or do you feel like it fairly represents their behavior?
50 Cent: There are stories of things that are very similar, but it’s not based on someone’s life story -- it’s fictional. But those things logically made sense -- the temptations of doing things the wrong way for law enforcement. Like the point where Sarcone asks my character, “Milo, what do you think your life is worth?” And he says I don’t know, [and Sarcone responds], “What would you say -- $38,000? Because the city of New York thinks your life is worth $38,000.” So at that point it actually made sense. Imagine being someone who actually was going in the wrong direction, looking at that $38,000, and it would help sway them to go in that direction.
THR: How do you feel about like the portrayal of Milo, because we can sympathize with him wanting to avenge his father, but at the same time he’s poised to become a bigger crook than ever before?
50 Cent: Yeah -- you have compassion for him because you see them kill his father and you see the journey that he’s went through, but once you have the capability of making those mistakes initially, when you go on to a new set and you still haven’t done any work on yourself, then that makes you a great candidate to regress into those same actions. It made perfect sense to me that he end up not knowing whether he was a good guy or not, because he still has to deal with reality of each one of those situations that he did. So he’s saying, it is what it is -- he can’t point himself out to be a good guy because he didn’t do things the right way, but he’s looking at it like I got what I had to get done, done.
THR: That leaves his journey in sort of an inconclusive place. Where do you see this going?
50 Cent: He would have to change; in a sequel, he would need a more positive influence. When he had A.D. and his partner right next to him, they were positive and negative on his shoulders consistently. And his friend A.D. was overcompensating, because he grew up in an African-American environment, an urban community, and he was white, so he was more aggressive than they were. And that happens when people feel like they’re out of place, that they go in the pocket even stronger. They become a bigger portion of the thing that you would think that they are afraid of, and they embrace it in a way that’s unbelievable. And I’ve seen that before in my life. There were a lot of elements to this story that was exciting, because I could identify with it on a different level.
THR: Having explored so much of your own past through your music, and through acting, what sort of perspective do you gain on playing a character like this?
50 Cent: You’re a little more conscious of your actions. I mean, you only need one decision; you can make a decision without thinking one time, and the rest of your life will reflect that decision, so you’ve got to be conscious of what you’re actually doing out there. For me, to see even the drug usage at different points in the actual film, it’s all so familiar -- something that’s been around the environment that I grew up in. So there was a lot of different parts of this actual film that I saw and was bugging off of it.
THR: At this point, how aggressively are you seeking acting roles that take you outside of sort of the persona for which you’re best known?
50 Cent: As far away from the perception of 50 Cent as possible would be interesting for me, but it’s just got to be the right project. I want to read it and be excited about it, not just say, okay, this is completely left field so go do this, 50 – nah, I’m not with it. If it’s done right, if I’m excited about it when I read it, I’ll do it. And I have some good people around me trying to help me navigate the right steps from here.
THR: Where do you balance making those strategic choices, and sometimes just saying, I don’t care what they say – I’m going to do it anyway?
50 Cent: Well, All Things Fall Apart was that for me. It was a passion project I financed myself. My partner told me, “Oh, you’re going to lose the money, because it’s not action. Who’s in it?” I wanted Lynn Whitfield to play my mom, and Mario Van Peebles to come, and got them. But he was like, “You’re going to be a football star that goes down with cancer -- why don’t you be a soccer player that goes down with cancer? Soccer’s a world sport; we can actually sell this shit to 50 countries. Can we just rework the story?” I said no, this is how you’ve got to go.
So I did the project and I feel like my peers saw the discipline when they saw me drop 60 pounds for the role. I was on liquids for nine weeks straight. And there was a point that I was saying, oh shit, what the f--k am I doing? But putting a few million dollars up will be a strong motivation to keep you focused after you’ve started. But there definitely was a point where I was like, you know what? I don’t care if this film company don’t like me no more. I quit. I’m going back home and I’m going to have me a burger. Why did I do this? I’m so stupid. To prove what? And then what if nobody watches it, nobody sees it or appreciates it? It was just one of those things, though. My best friend growing up died of cancer, so I made the project based on my experience with him.