- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2007

LOS ANGELES

The actors and actresses playing American soldiers coming home from a tour of duty in Iraq in “Home of the Brave,” opening in theaters today, must have done grueling research. They probably talked to men and women who have seen and experienced violence most of them can barely imagine — with one exception.

Perhaps playing a soldier was a cakewalk for Curtis James Jackson III, better known as rap star 50 Cent.

Mr. Jackson’s mother was murdered when he was just 8, and she was 23. He took up her profession and became a drug dealer at the tender age of 12. After two arrests, he turned his life around, heading into the studio with Jam Master Jay. But he still hadn’t left his violent roots behind: In 2000, he was shot nine times at close range, miraculously surviving.

Mr. Jackson laughs off the suggestion the role required little preparation, though, saying he did as much research as his co-stars, who include Samuel L. Jackson and Jessica Biel.

But then, Mr. Jackson — while he continues to record as 50 Cent, he is credited as Curtis Jackson in the film — is trying to prove himself as an actor.

The 31-year-old star was discovered by Eminem and became one of the world’s biggest rap stars, selling more than 20 million records worldwide with hits like “In da Club” and “Candy Shop.” He made his film debut in the 2005 feature “Get Rich or Die Tryin’,” which was directed by Jim Sheridan (“My Left Foot”) and based on 50 Cent’s own life. “Home of the Brave” is the first film in which he’s really had to act. He plays a soldier who comes home broken after killing an Iraqi woman.

He impressed director Irwin Winkler, better known as the producer of films like “Rocky,” “The Right Stuff” and “Good Fellas.” The part was originally a much smaller one, but Mr. Winkler says, “We rewrote him because he was so good.”

Mr. Jackson gets many scripts but chose this one because it was the kind of movie he likes watching. “I enjoy a lot of war films,” he says. “Watching it from the perspective of entertainment is cool, like ‘Black Hawk Down’ or ‘Full Metal Jacket.’ ” But his outlook became more serious after research brought him into contact with “real graphic images of real people.”

The choice also became easy when he heard who else was appearing in the film. “Samuel L. Jackson has a reputation for being in quality film projects,” he notes.

It might surprise some to see the two Jacksons in a film together. The established actor turned down a part in “Get Rich,” saying he did not want to work with rappers. “Maybe if he does five movies and he shows some talent,” he said of 50 Cent.

Samuel L. Jackson now denies having said he would never appear with a rapper. “I said I would never do a movie where I was propping a rapper up,” he says, going on to say he won’t appear in a movie in which a rapper gets billing above him. When asked what he thought of 50’s performance, he says, “I haven’t seen the movie.” (The two don’t share many scenes.)

Mr. Jackson the younger points out that the older actor has been in films with rappers LL Cool J and Queen Latifah. “There’s been lots of rappers who’ve evolved into great talent,” he says. And he adds that things were friendly on the set: “Every time I had to act with him, he actually came over to talk to me.”

He had a good experience making what he calls an “incredibly relevant” film: “The people who didn’t die in all those [war] films I did enjoy? This is what happens when they come home.”

“Home of the Brave” is the first movie to explore what the troops find on their return from Iraq. Its sympathy toward their struggles could make it popular with conservatives. It would be an irony for Mr. Jackson. Pundits like Bill O’Reilly have long lambasted him for his lyrics.

Mr. O’Reilly might also be surprised to find that Mr. Jackson is somewhat sympathetic to the struggles of someone else he admires — the president. Mr. Jackson sees President Bush’s position in politics similar to his own in music.

“The hip-hop community is so competitive that the artists are conditioned mentally like fighters. Whoever falls into the championship spot becomes their target,” explains the man who started boxing at 11. Other artists are jealous of 50’s success and talk about how they would do it differently — just like President Bush’s opponents. “It would be difficult for anyone to run the country,” he concludes.

Mr. Jackson says he’s still making music: His next album, “Curtis,” comes out June 26. And he’ll continue to make movies alongside heavy talents. He’ll play a fighter in Louisiana State Penitentiary known as Angola in “The Dance” alongside Nicolas Cage and will star with Robert De Niro in a police drama, “New Orleans.” Laughing, he says, “I want to go to the top and stay there.” Or die trying.

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