Having taken the rap world by storm, his co-starring and major co-producing roles in director John Luessenhop’s action-packed, suspense-filled heist picture 'Takers' should help transform Tip “T.I.” Harris into one of Hollywood’s major players.
In the hot new Hollywood heist film, Takers, directed and co-written by John Luessenhop, a notorious group of criminals -- portrayed by Idris Elba, Paul Walker, rapper-turned-actor Tip “T.I.” Harris, (Star Trek and Avatar star) Zoe Saldana, Chris Brown, the one-time young Darth Vader Hayden Christensen and Michael Early -- have the police scratching their collective heads in amazement at the crew of criminals who are pulling off evidence-free and perfectly-executed bank robberies. Like a well-oiled machine, the crew of hip heist masters are in and out of each financial institution like clockwork, leaving no proof they were ever there, and wisely laying low and refraining from flashing their ill-gotten gains by laying low between each robbery. Feeling it’s no longer time tempt fate, the group plan one last heist before calling it a day. But, this job immediately proves it could be the toughest of their highly-touted heist abilities by the criminal underworld -- at stake is the most money they’ve ever taken before and Matt Damon, a bull-dogged, too-close-for-comfort, expert bank robbery detective who is hell-bent on stopping the crew before they can run off within another dead president.
One of the most exciting and unforgettable performance in Takers comes courtesy of T.I. (AKA Tip “T.I.” Harris) the 29-year-old, Atlanta-born, platinum-plated, rap recording artist (who is currently finishing up his seventh album). When T.I. (born Clifford Joseph Harris Jr.) isn’t recording legendary albums such as Trap Muzik and Urban Legend -- or the singles “Rubberband Man” and “You Don’t Know Me” in Atlanta, Georgia, he’s made some impressive forays into film with roles in American Gangsters and ATL. During a recent stop in Houston to promote his new film, T. I. (who is half American-Indian and African-American) was more than accommodating when I questioned him about his production credit on Takers and learning secret about this biz from Denzel and Will. But even before he stepped in the exclusive, quiet Space City hotel, his reps warned that T.I. would not discuss his recent time in jail on a weapons charge and his marriage, last month, to his reportedly longtime love Tameka “Tiny” Cattle (the mother of three of his children). Shy to the point of painful, it’s no surprise T.I. is anxious to keep his career separate from his home life. “A lot of things are very personal, and luckily I’ve had some pretty famous role models who told me that whatever I wanted to keep personal -- do it,” T.I. said during an interview last year. “They told me that I give a lot of me to the public already, so I should never feel bad about keeping a lot of my life to myself.”
Idris Elba, Paul Walker, T.I., Chris Brown, Hayden Christensen and Michael Early in 'Takers'
Deep inside yourself, how does it feel to attain all the success you have, not just in music, but in film and all of the other ventures you’ve embarked on? “I never take notice of the depth of my feelings in regards to my success, because I spend so much time working so hard. I’m working so hard that I very rarely get to lift my head up to notice any of my success. It’s kind of like if you dive in the water, and you’re swimming under water -- swimming, swimming, swimming -- and you never really lift your head until you get where you are going. You never really notice how far you’ve come until you get there. So, I don’t spend a lot of time taking notice and getting excited or celebrating too much, because that moment has passed, do you know what I mean? You are celebrating the past, maybe even something you did yesterday, but now you need to do some more work so that you’ll have something to celebrate tomorrow.”
Is this part of your philosophy -- one of the reasons you manage to stay so grounded? “I suppose. But I can’t articulate much of how I do what I do or why I do what I do what I do. It’s usually what comes to my mind ends up coming out my mouth. How I feel is usually how I act. I guess that’s just in the fabric of my personality.”
How did you get involved with this film? “The opportunity was presented to me to become involved as an actor. My agent got me a copy of the script from Clint Culpepper, the head of the studio, Screen Gems. Upon reading the script, I was instantly intrigued by just the layering of the storyline. There were so many stories within this one story. The fact is that it is an ensemble cast, but each of the members of this cast has their own conflicts, their own uphill battles and their own problems that they need to resolve. It takes you inside the lives of the people -- that, we most of the time, just by looking at the news, we see these people rob banks or these same people are choking people for this, that or the other -- but we mostly just see these people as cold as cold-hearted criminals. We don’t ever see that these people actually have home lives. These people are somebody’s brother, somebody’s son, maybe the father to some kid. The story merely scratches the surface of the world that leads these people into making the decisions that they make. Then after that, I had some ideas and criticisms, some constructive comments I made after meeting with the director (Luessanhop) with the producer, Will Packer, and meeting with Clint again, they were like, ‘You have some pretty good ideas, but you seem to be stepping into the role of a producer.’ So, the opportunity to become a producer on this film presented itself, as well. So, I went for it.”
What’s type of ideas did you have? “Well I’m not going to tell you, because the whole reason for changing it is to make it better. I think that the ideas they were used to make the film a bit more relatable and authentic.”
Did the ideas and changes focus primarily on your character or on the whole story? "They had a lot to do with the storyline, and my character, too. Okay, one thing that I can tell you is more about the back story of Ghost. For instance, when Ghost comes to Broadway’s house and he’s pretty much getting to the back story of why these guys should care that he is out. Why these guys should consider, why do they owe him? And also, when they are in the club and talking a bit about him, saying thinks like, ‘He don’t play when It comes to money,’ yada, yada, yada. I wanted to give the audience a little more about these characters that they haven’t seen or heard so that they can understand why these people are committed so much. And, actually, Ghost was once a high-ranking member of his crew, he wasn’t just a worker. Ghost and Gordon (which is another interesting character, they put this crew together, which it would have not read in the script before, but now it connects.”
The Heist Crew in the 'Takers'
Many rappers have said that they don’t like to push the cinematic envelope too far in fear of losing their musical fan base. How does the creativity of film differ from music, does it allow you to express yourself in different ways? Do you see yourself pushing the envelope even further? “With film, man, it’s all about the story, it’s not about me personally or my personal styles, opinions or beliefs. It’s about this character, this story and me doing an accurate portrayal of what’s in these pages and getting it to translate into the screen. Music is a lot more personal. Music is your thoughts, your opinions, your ideas and your beliefs coming out of your mouth. It’s more of an individual effort.”
The fact that they invited you to become one of the producers of the film is very rare in Hollywood. Many times, they would have listened to your ideas and then said, “Okay T.I. we’ll think about the ideas, but go ahead and just do the lines as written.” “They could have, but I learned from my first two films -- I worked alongside two of the greatest in the game -- ATL was produced by Will Smith for Overbrook Productions, so I got a chance on my first film to sit down and soak up game from a cat who had already learned how to catch/drop in proportions. And my second one was with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe (American Gangster) , which also put me in ambience of some the greatest in the game. So, I can’t sit here and act like I don’t know, what I hadn’t heard or been instructed on how to present my talents far above par from anyone else. If I feel like what is on the page doesn’t serve the purpose, if it don’t add to the element of the cool factor, if the whole film is about being cool, then I’m not going to do it like that. My integrity is just not going to allow me to. Most of the lines that get most of the reactions from the audience were adlibbed, so the elements started to roll on it.”
Was it always in your career plan to become a rapper and then an actor? Or did acting happen because of the rap? “It was because of the rap. I wanted to be a rapper, that was that.”
The crew goes on the defensive in 'Takers'
You never thought about making movies? “I saw (Ice) Cube and (P) Diddy do it, so I knew if I made it to a certain level, I know that it was probably an option and possibility for me. But I wasn’t going hard at acting as I was at trying to be a rapper.”
You just signed a three picture deal with Screen Gems. Since you are so inspirational to a lot of people, do you think one of the movies might end up being a T.I. biopic? Would you want to play yourself? “Wow. That’s tough, man, because outside of 8 Mile, I haven’t seen it done in a way that the actor closes the story out -- how to end the story. Plus, I’m still young, I have a lot more life to live, which means I’ll have a lot more to talk about. But, if it was something I got from a writer, a compelling writer who wrote something that I respect and he presents a script to me that changes my mind, then it’s open to discussion. But, I’m not seeking to find someone to write my biopic for me -- at least, not anytime soon."
TAKERS opens nationwide on Friday, August 27. 2010. Check local listings for theaters and showtimes.