Nick Cannon ('Drumline')
”Firing On All Cylinders”
Nick Cannon, who makes his motion picture starring debut in Fox’s just-released ’Drumline’ is well-known as the star (as well as he director and executive producer) of his own Nickelodeon series, ‘The Nick Cannon Show,’ now in its first year on the popular cable network.
The multi-faceted Cannon began performing as a youngster, dabbling in drums, harmonica and synthesizers at the age of eight. He soon mastered song-making and recorded his first child-inspired harmonies on his boom box. Before hitting his teen years, Cannon began performing his music and comedy routines on the stage. He then founded his San Diego-based rap duo, Da Bom Squad.
Cannon headed to Hollywood at age sixteen, and immediately landed plum assignments at such renowned venues as The Improv, The Laugh Factory and The Comedy Store – performing alongside the likes of Chris Tucker, Chris Rock and Damon Wayans. The industry took notice of this rising new talent, with Cannon winning the gig as warm-up act for Nickelodeon’s long-running hit series, ‘All That.’ The show’s producers recognize that Cannon’s talent belonged in front of the cameras and soon made him a series regular and co-host of the cable network’s “All That Musical Festival and More” 47-city tour. His later work as co-host of Nickelodeon’s ‘Snick House’ and the host of its music-based “TEENick” programming block catapulted his career, leading to the creation of his new, eponymous series.
Sitting down, face-to-face with the talented young man, I first asked him why he had chosen ‘Drumline’ to be his first leading role ? ”Actually, when I read the script it was a well rounded script for whoever the person was to get the lead. You get to be sad, happy, ecstatic, every emotion that I could possibly play in this film. And the actual topic a lot of people don’t know about, you know, this so-called phenomenon. I thought it would be an honor for me to shed light on it. It wasn’t like all the other films I was reading. I HAD TO DO IT!” he emphatically raises his voice.
You’ve obviously played drums before ”Yeah, I think my playing drums on a regular drum set helped a little bit. But this was something totally different. You have to be an athlete to play in the marching band. You have 40 pounds of drums on you marching up the field. You have to count your steps and the dance moves. It’s a lot different than just sitting down and playing the drums.”
Is there a lot of intense preparation?”Yes, definitely there is a lot of training before the film started. About a month and a half before I was practicing four hours every day and then going home and practicing on the script two hours. And once we started, I still had to practice because I had to look better than all these professionals out there. The guy who was training me, I wouldn’t let him leave. He was with me 24 /7 making me happy!”
Rumor has it that you actually slept with your drumsticks tied to your hands !? ”Oh yeah, when I first got down there. There’s a certain way when you’re in the marching band that you have to hold your drumsticks. I was holding it like two sticks, but when you’re playing a snare drum you have to hold it between your two fingers and have them control it. It wouldn’t stay. One night I took the drumsticks and taped them to my hand and just went to sleep. When I woke up I felt like I could get it. I had to get in that groove where I got used to it. We have battle wounds too. It wasn’t easy, but it paid off.”
Are the close-ups of just ‘hands’ still yours drumming ? ”Most of them, yeah. There was a scene in the bedroom, that wasn’t me. I don’t think that’s because I couldn’t do it, I think it was too precise. I was trying to make it as much as I could without needing the extra guy. Well, the sound of the drum, may not be me, but the look of it was me. They actually made sure every hit was precise and they moved it all around. For the film we had pads on our drums so it wouldn’t make noise. But I had every take down and they added a lot.”
The Producer is an Academy Award-winner and the Production Studio an Emmy Award-winner so is there any way this movie can fail?! ”I don’t see it failing. Once I left Atlanta, I felt really confident. I felt like I did a great job and the director did a phenomenal job and all the other actors too. It was well executed and I think everybody stepped away from this film overly satisfied. We knew what we were setting out to do and we did it. I think whatever it does at the box office, it really doesn’t matter.”
With all the repetitious movie themes doing the circuit, this is a refreshing change of pace, but do you think this will actually re-ignite interest in marching bands ? ”I think it’s a good spin on musicals. It’s a musical but people are not just singing and dancing in the street, but it’s necessary to have the music to see what the movie is about. If they can figure out more creative ways to do things like that, then you have a success every time. People love music, it’s universal and it’s not like overly pushed over the top of your head like it’s part of the story. People really dig it.”
Was it hard for you from writing your own material to being stuck in a script? ”Not really because it actually helped me understand, because I know when people write something or they’re directing something, they have a vision and they want to get it across. My job as an actor is to make sure that I can help them execute what they originally wrote or had in their minds that they want. I can understand when someone is trying to get this emotion across or something like that because as a writer, I understand trying to help people get that vision when I’m doing my thing I want people to see my vision. I think it helps me understand more and helps me appreciate the craft for what it is.”
What were your challenges between doing television and a full-on movie? ”Actually, in my experiences, I would honestly have to say, that they make it a little easier in television. Because in television I have so many jobs. On my show it’s all me for like half an hour and then I have to write everything. I have to do the music composition too. For film, I just have to show up on set and say lines and that’s it. To me it actually a break. I don’t have to worry about continuity or wardrobe. In film I get to actually focus on one thing instead of having to make sure everything else is taken care of. It’s a lot easier on me.”
But there still must come times when you would love to suggest changes or something ?! ”Yeah, but luckily I’ve been able to work with producers and directors that allow me to input where I feel it’s needed. But it’s like what you call picking a battle. Certain things I have to voice my opinion on, but everything else you put the trust in the director or producer’s hands. That all happens as the relationship you create. I usually trust everybody that I’m working with that they’ll get the best performance out of me.”
Any behind-the-scenes secrets? ”Besides me telling you that our drums had pads on them ? That’s the biggest secret. There were a couple scenes that you could still see the pads on the drums. But, that’s the biggest secret so you could here the dialog.”
Were all the actors close on and off the set? ”All the guys in the film hung out together. After work, we’d go the waffle house and get kicked out. There could be a movie of things we did after work. There was just that much we did together.”
Any real passions ”To me directing, but I’m not meticulous enough. You have to be well thought out to be a director. Me, I’m a creative person. I’m into writing and producing. I’m going after Quincy Jones’ spot. I need a magazine. I need all that stuff. It’s just I really want to have an effect on the industry as a whole. I want people to appreciate the work that I do whether it’s producing a film or acting. Whatever I can do.”
Will all your movies and TV shows be designed for the younger audience ? ”It’s what I want to do a lot in my career, because I never want to exclude the younger audience. I want them to always be able to come see my films, so you won’t see me in rated R films. But I do definitely want to create an older audience and have people be aware of who I am and the things that I have to bring to the table. I just want to do family things. Where a six year old and a grandmother can go to together. I think that’s the most difficult and challenging thing to do; to please a lot of people, because anyone can do an R rated film with a lot of cussing.”
Tell me more about your upcoming movies, ’Can’t Buy Me Love’ and ’If You Were My Girl’ ”It’s actually one movie ! It’s a remake of the original ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ and it’s called ‘If You Were My Girl.’ It’s on that same take where it seems like it’s geared toward the teen audience but it has comedy and kids will love it and the older generation remembers the original. It’s just another film that everybody can go and enjoy. Take your kids, take your grandmother. We just finished it last week actually.”
What’s next then ? ”The next we’re deciding on. I’m going to focus on my music career after this. Hopefully after that triple platinum, you know,” he sarcastically laughs ”then I’ll go ahead and start on the next film.”
When did the music bug first bite you ? ”When I was 14 years old I had a group out of San Diego that we started in my friends bedroom. We had keyboards and we were making tapes and we got about a thousand dollars together and we went to the studio and pressed out some CD’s and spread it throughout San Diego and got on the radio station. We were called Da Bom Squad. Da BOM Squad. We were number three on the radio station for like four weeks straight. It was cool but it showed me what type of work you have to put in to get into the music business. The music industry is probably the hardest to get into. It’s all based on relationships. It’s a very closed society. It gave me my drive to be in the music industry. You know, selling CD’s out of the trunk of my mother’s car at the mall. That’s the story of the big ol’ BOM Squad. Now it’s doing my solo project. Da BOM Squad paid off. Spending all that time in the studio.”Is there anyone out there that you look up to ? ”Actually, Will Smith is a great mentor and a great friend to me. But it’s a lot of similarities. He’s taken a phenomenal job with taking his career and he has a production company exactly like I want to do. I’m going to follow in his footsteps. Switch up the game a little bit in a couple different areas. Of course, I have to keep my stand up comedy going and a lot of my writing.”
So you still do standup then? ”Yeah, I do standup. I’m looking forward to next year doing standup. I got a bag full of jokes. It’s about life and I think some of the greatest comics are clean stand up comics. Like Cosby. People that everybody can sit down and enjoy and the kids can laugh at.”
In ‘Drumline’ did you really have your hair shaved off?! ”I did. I definitely had my head shaved. My hair was down to the middle of my neck. They shaved it in the middle of the film. It’s finally growing back now. I’m back in the game. It helped me get the job because I had long hair and I was willing to cut it. That was one thing the director wanted to see someone really go through the transformation. That helped me change over. It was a different look and it was a different mindset. I went from being a roughneck kind of kid to a clean cut team player. I was wicked. Whatever that character needed to do, I would do it. If it was in the script, I did it. I like those type of roles, the type of thing I can have fun in. Like wow, he really did that. He really went through that. I like to be creative like that.”
Of everything that your character ('Devon') portrays in the movie, how much of that is you? ”Most of it is me to some extent. He’s a little more cocky than me. I’m a humble guy. He thinks he’s a man, I only think I’m kind of a man. I’m half a man ! It’s just a different extent of myself. I think that’s what acting really is, taking a piece of yourself and bringing it to a character and meshing it together. It’s definitely part of me. He’s a little bitter and angry. I’m not that angry though. I’m a little stern. I got to be a roughneck at certain times and I think it’s pretty believable.”
Describe yourself in three words ”Wow! Describe myself in three words. Amazing,” he loudly laughs. ”No, diligent, strategic and hilarious,” he gently laughs and smiles.
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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