Since its inception, the Miami International Film Festival (MIFF) has featured and premiered many movies that have gone on to win awards or achieve national recognition.
The 2011 festival hosted the world premiere of Things Fall Apart. Directed by Mario Van Peebles and starring Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Peebles, Lynn Whitfield, Ray Liotta, and Cedric Sanders, the film has generated quite a bit of buzz and is still fielding distribution offers.
“This performance is really unlike anything you’ve ever done,” said Jaia Laplante, MIFF director, to Jackson during a press conference for the film. “And when people see it, they’re going to be extremely moved and stunned by what you’ve done.”
In Things Fall Apart, Jackson plays Deon, a college football star who is suddenly stricken with cancer, which requires aggressive chemotherapy treatments. These treatments leave the athlete a shell of the man he once was. For his part, Jackson came up with the concept of the story and wrote it with Brian Miller. The rapper/actor lost 54 pounds to authenticate his role as a cancer patient.
Jackson has a sense of humor about the journey he took for his craft. He said, laughing: “I starved. I started on that cayenne and lemon pepper diet. And, I think that will kill someone.”
“We got in fights, because I was trying to call doctors, because he was down to like 148 pounds,” said executive producer and Miami native Randall Emmett about the star, who was dubbed by Peebles as “25 Cent” after his transformation. “The Curtis that we all know is an animated, comedic person. And, he went from that person to this little shell of a man that, in the final weeks, really had no energy. And it was scary.”
Emmett, who has worked with Jackson on eight other film projects was not only worried about the rapper’s rapid weight loss, but the “financial gamble” of shooting a drama with an actor who is mainly known as being a thug or playing one. Emmett didn’t have to worry long, though. Jackson offered and made good on his word to put up his own money to finance the project – an estimated $7 million.
The fact that Jackson financed the film and set an example on set motivated Peebles to make sure he made the best film possible.
“50 has an incredible work ethic,” Peebles said about Jackson, who showed up on set everyday an hour early, worked out in and around his trailer, and made sure the musical score for the film was ready at its appointed time. “I think there are three kinds of people: people that watch sh*t happen, people that complain about sh*t happening, and people that make sh*t happen. And, 50 made sh*t happen.”
The main draw for Peebles to star in and direct Things was the energy and passion that Jackson and Emmett showed for the story. After being offered the role of Eric, Deon’s stepfather, Peebles felt inclined to offer his services as a director, feeling passionate about the film.
The only person more passionate about Things than Peebles, is Jackson, although not because he bankrolled it and co-wrote the script. The story is close to his heart, because he lost his childhood best friend to cancer. Based on that experience, he wrote a story that would pay homage to his friend as well as give the rapper/actor a chance to be in a role that wasn’t a drug dealer or a “bad guy.”
“I hope people get a chance to see how excited I am about challenging myself in different ways,” Jackson said about his most challenging role. “It’s not an action film, it’s a family drama.”
Now with his acting career on an upswing, many wonder what will happen with the rapper’s music career. Jackson wants his fans to rest assured that “there’s room for both” his music and his acting. He’s just exploring another of his passions.
“You’re not so much defined in life by what you face, but how you face it,” said Peebles about Jackson and his experiences of being raised by his grandparents when his father left him and his mother. His father was shot to death when the rapper was eight years old. “This brother, in his life, has been dealt some very interesting cards that I was not dealt. And, yet, he’s played that hand extremely well.”
Kimberly Grant may be reached at KAliciaG@aol.com