T.I.: Back in the "ATL"
Popular rapper from Atlanta, T.I. (Tip Harris) makes his dramatic film debut in ATL, a relationship-driven movie about the hard choices a young man must make in a tough neighborhood where easy money means a life of crime. T.I.'s character Rashad joins local kids in South Atlanta to hang out at a roller rink, their only escape from the mean streets and everyday grind.
As an artist, T.I. released his debut album "I'm Serious" when he was just 19. In 2003, Trap Muzik sold well with tracks like "24's", "Rubber Hand Man" and "Let's Get Away". 2004's "Urban Legend" hit the top of Billboard's R&B/Hip Hop chart. After these successes, T.I. started being called "King of the South" and on March 28th, his new CD "King" streets.
We had a sit down with the cute and talented young star who opted for an uncharacteristic Preppie look in crisp Navy blue and white long-sleeved stripe polo shirt. The Hip Hop bling style peeked out of his cuffs, however, in the form of a honkin' big diamond bracelet and watch. T.I. talked of this first movie experience, being the "host" for the cast and crew since Atlanta is his home, working with one of his idols; Big Boi of OutKast and getting to meet and hang out with musical legend Diana Ross who was visiting her son Evan who is also in the film.
TeenHollywood: This is the first movie for you. How was it?
T.I.: It was a definite transition. I think it was cushioned by people like Chris [Robinson, the director] and the whole cast. Big Boi and Will [Smith's] production company Overbrook they helped everybody out with the things that were unconventional to us at the time.
TeenHollywood: Was Will on the set or did he talk to you a lot?
T.I.: He didn't make it to the set much but everybody knew that Will was a part of it and we had Will's support. It was a family. Even if you don't see somebody there you know he's out making it happen.
TeenHollywood: How did you get attached to this movie project?
T.I.: I knew about it from just working and being and living in Atlanta and working around people like Dallas Austin and T-Boz and all the other people connected with the move. I had caught wind of the project a long, long time ago. I read for Drumline when Dallas did that and I just told him 'next time you do a movie I need to be a part of it'. He told me when they were doing casting and then I found out Chris was involved and I knew Chris from doing videos and I hit it from that angle. Then I found out Will was involved so I hit them too.
TeenHollywood: Smart. You have some pretty tricky skating in the film. Did you roller skate before?
T.I.: No, I told them I couldn't. I didn't know anything about it. It was work, very rigorous.
TeenHollywood: Did you really do that jump over the pile up of people who fell down?
T.I.: I did do a jump. I didn't do that jump but I did jump. They didn't entrust me to jump over all of those people [laughs].
TeenHollywood: Is this a story that you can relate to?
T.I.: I could relate to the movie as a whole. I could relate to a lot of the characters, everybody. I could find something to relate to in all of the characters but me and [my character] Rashad are worlds apart.
TeenHollywood: Atlanta is your turf. Is this an accurate portrayal of the scene in Atlanta?
T.I.: Yes. Absolutely. The only way I could ever be involved with it is if it was an accurate portrayal.
TeenHollywood: And you helped out your director Chris a lot?
T.I.: Yeah. I worked with Lauren [London, his female love interest] and Evan [Ross] and the twins and everybody, just taking them around to show them 'this is this part of town and this is what they do over here. This is how we kick it like this and on this day you want to go to this club'. I showed them, 'if you want to go out to eat, this is a good restaurant to go to. If you want some ribs or soul food, you want to go here'. I felt responsible for everybody involved.
TeenHollywood: How was the chemistry between you and your lovely leading lady Lauren? Looked hot in the film.
T.I.: Well, before they told either one of us that we'd be involved we did a screen test. She was still trying to get the part and I was still trying to get the part. You know, she's a lovely lady to look at. Also, a complete professional. I can enjoy it but, at the same time, I know it's work.
TeenHollywood: How was it working with Evan and did his mother (Diana Ross) come to the set when you were working?
T.I.: Yeah. Me and Miss Ross, we good friends. [laughs] She came to my trailer and gave me advice a little. I let Evan hold the Rolls Royce while she was in town. When I told my mama I met Diana Ross, she said 'you're lyin', lyin' boy. You ain't met no Diana Ross'. 'I'm telling you. I promise I met her'.
TeenHollywood: Hilarious! What was Evan like to work with?
T.I.: Evan's a cool kid. He's not arrogant, not obnoxious. All the ways you would think someone in his position would be, he's not. I value that and I commend him for that. He's a good kid aside from who his mom is and how much money he has. I can appreciate that. He knew nothing about the setting he was in and he knew that I knew everything about it. At the same time, when we're in his setting, if he take me somewhere I've never been before, it'll be the same thing. We relate to one another in a lot of ways and, in the ways that we don't relate, we listen.
TeenHollywood: He's 17. Did you feel like a big brother to him?
T.I.: I felt like a big brother to everybody. I felt it was my watch. I felt like if anything happened or something needed to be taken care of, I felt responsible to do it because I was the only one who was really from there [Atlanta] and this is about my character. I guess you could say I took my character home with me and kept taking care of them even after we shot. We're all cool.
TeenHollywood: Can you talk about your album coming out this month? Did you change your style on it at all?
T.I.: I have a philosophy that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. So, I just kept everything that people liked about my first albums and added everything that I felt I could have done better. I just basically found out what people liked about me and found out a lot of different ways to give it to them.
TeenHollywood: Any collaborations on it?
T.I.: Yeah, me and Jamie Foxx did a song and it's hot. Me, Carmen and Pharell did a song. Travis Barker from Blink 182 came and played on one of them. Young Jeezy, BG, Young Buck from the G-Unit, PSE of course, lots of people came and helped out. Too many to name.
TeenHollywood: How about Will on the next album?
T.I.: I told Will, you know, you help me out in the movies, I'll help you out in the music. (he's kidding). Even exchange ain't no robbery. [laughs]
TeenHollywood: Who has a career you would like to emulate?
T.I.: I don't know about patterning myself after people. I look at a lot of people's careers and I could take things from it that I would like to do for myself but I have to go from Tupac to Ice Cube to L.L. to Puff to Jay-Z to OutKast. I've got to take something from everybody. I can't just take one person.. Donald Trump, Oprah. There's a lot of people I could take things from.
TeenHollywood: What would your reality show be? Donald had one.
T.I.: I've been offered a lot of chances. I don't really dig reality TV because it isn't real most of the time. I like "Curb Your Enthusiasm".
TeenHollywood: Anything wild and fun happen on the set of ATL?
T.I.: Hey, man we just had a lot of fun. There was a lot of time that we spent around each other, everybody included. You really need to sit down with everybody to have everybody's input. We were all together for a long time. We used to go to Chris's house that he has in Atlanta, go to barbeques and kick it and they came to my house. We just kicked it.
TeenHollywood: You are working with pros like Mykelti Williamson and Keith David. Were you intimidated as a young actor?
T.I.: When I found out who was actually going to play the role and Mykelti included, they were the most experienced actors on the set. In the scene with me and Mykelti, I was like, 'man I can't half ass because this is a real professional. I'm not going to embarrass myself'. That's how I felt with Mykelti and Keith David as well.
TeenHollywood: When you see the final film, is there anything you want to work on or change for next time?
T.I.: I used to have to ask Chris, 'Am I going a hundred percent, fifty percent? What do you need for me to do?'. If you say a hundred, I'm going to give it to you. Well, it's not just when I see the film but when I see pictures [taken on set]. Like I didn't know they were taking pictures and they just end up in magazines somehow, I would never fix my face like that. How did they catch me in such an awkward pose and want to show it to everybody?
TeenHollywood: They're sneaky. Did you have fun having a complication with Big Boi?
T.I.: Big and I, we've got a personal relationship. That's the first time I had any experience in the music business was with Big Boi, Andre, all the La Face family. Youngbloodz, we came out here [L.A.] for the Source awards. That was like in '99 and I was on OutKast's bus and from then on I was like their little dude, the new guy. To go from that to right here, I appreciate being involved, being among the elite.
Lynn Barker is a Hollywood-based entertainment journalist and produced screenwriter.