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Nelly joins the ‘Longest Yard’ team

Rapper turned actor sees more earning potential in movies
/ Source: The Associated Press

Nelly is used to making hits. Getting hit was another story.

The superstar rapper is making his movie debut in “The Longest Yard,” as the running back for a prison football squad that takes on a team of guards. Adam Sandler plays the quarterback and Burt Reynolds — who starred in the 1974 original — plays the prison team’s coach.

Nelly spoke to The Associated Press about doing his own stunts, doing prison time and why rappers make good actors:

AP: You’ve filmed dozens of videos, but this is your major motion picture debut. How was it?

Nelly: It was cool. I don’t want to say easy, because it wasn’t easy. It was natural for me because I could relate to the role so easily, as far as me playing football and hanging out with the guys. My experiences growing up playing football helped. I played in the junior football league and junior high school ball in St. Louis. It wasn’t anything I had to take too many acting classes for. I didn’t have to cry on film or anything like that.

AP: Ever spend any time in prison?

Nelly: Not to that extent. Not prison time. I have spent a few days here and there growing up.

AP: Your character wore No. 23 on his jersey. Any specific reason you chose that number?

Nelly: Michael Jordan. Come on! I wanted to get No. 1 but they already had that slated for someone else. So I had to go with 23. MJ is the best athlete to ever live.

AP: I know you were drafted to play baseball out of high school, but you play a few other sports. What’s your best sport?

Nelly: Contrary to what everyone says I think my best sport is football. But I was built better for baseball. I’m not very big. ... I’m about 5-foot-9, 175 pounds. I used to be about 5-foot-7, 150 pounds. So baseball was good because I could run I could hit I could catch. But my elusiveness made me a good football player. I would have to say basketball is my worst sport.

AP: You’ve played in a lot of celebrity games. Did that help you prepare for this role?

Nelly: Of course. I caught a touchdown pass from Warren Moon. Intercepted Dan Marino. Caught a pass on Deion (Sanders), that was when Deion was young. That’s enough for one day: touchdown from Moon, intercept Marino, and catch a pass on the best corner to ever play the game. This was in the MTV Rock ’n’ Jock game. Let me know if you didn’t see it. I can send you the tape.

AP: Had you ever seen the original movie before you were contacted for this role?

Nelly: A long time ago. Then I had to watch it again to get more familiar with it. But Burt Reynolds did his thing back then. You know, I used to watch “Smokey and the Bandit” and all that.

AP: Who was a better quarterback, Adam Sandler or Burt Reynolds?

Nelly: Oh man, you can’t ask me that. Well, Adam was probably was the better quarterback but Burt looked cooler doing it. Burt was slick back in the day. Adam is a comedian. Burt was always a ladies man.

AP: How was it working with Adam Sandler?

Nelly: He’s funny, real funny. He’s a great guy, too. I consider him a real good friend now. Not a Hollywood friend, a real friend. You know, you got those guys who you call and check up on and see if there’s ever anything you can do to help. He’s one of those friends. He already made a cameo in my new video. I had him right, driving the old Lincoln Continental with some rims.

AP: What was your favorite scene to film in the movie?

Nelly: The games. They were fun. We were out there running and hitting. Those are real hits you see on screen. I wanted to do everything on my own. No stunt double, besides the scene where I get spun in the air. But I had everyone holding their breath on the sideline. The scene where my character gets hit and injured, that was me. These guys were going hard at us. (Former pro linebacker Bill) Romanowski, he wanted to hit us for real. When we got to camp something clicked in his head.

AP: There’s been a recent emergence of rappers on the big screen. Why is that?

Nelly: We bring our own audience. Hip-hop is more than music, it’s a culture. It’s bigger than these hit songs. There are about 50 million hip-hop fans in this country, maybe more. That translates into a lot of dollars when the fans come out to support someone like myself. If you have a new actor playing this role there’s no added draw to the title. Now, you bring in a rapper who sold eight or nine million albums ... a percentage of those people are going to want to see the movie. We don’t do it to take away from the actors that deserve it. Because we’re fans of theirs to. We’re fans of Denzel and Larenz Tate, Cuba Gooding, Samuel L. and those guys. It’s not like we’re trying to take anything away from what they do. There are enough roles to go around. And now there are movies being made specifically for the (rappers). There are a lot of production companies out there giving deals to artists that haven’t even done a movie yet. They know we translate into money.

AP: Why do rappers make such good actors?

Nelly: We get a lot of practice. The videos help a little bit also. We get familiar with being around cameras and being on set. I also think how you conduct yourself and handle yourself on a daily basis. A lot of these rappers are acting out here right now, acting like they’re gangsters when they know they ain’t. Everyone is not going to be successful at it but once you get over that initial fear of performing and you go there and do it, it gets easier. It’s deeper than that, though. I would never disrespect the art of acting, it’s deep.

AP: Dollar for dollar, movies or music?

Nelly: Potential? Definitely movies. Look at Will Smith. He can do two movies a year at $25 million to $30 million per movie. That’s $60 million a year. Do you know how long it takes an artist to make that selling records? That’s damn near impossible unless you own everything. That’s why you see rappers getting into all the other stuff. Clothing lines, rims, labels, energy drinks, jewelry, anything we can parlay into a business opportunity. But movies are the way. Look at John Travolta. He’s out there buying airplanes like rappers buy cars. I’m like, ’Wait a minute, what am I doing wrong?’ There’s a big difference between throwing a hundred thousand on a car and spending $10 million to $20 million on a plane.

AP: You also worked on the soundtrack?

Nelly: I was the executive producer on that joint. We have some artists from the Derty Entertainment label, the Kin Folk, Murphy Lee, we also have Eminem and D12 on there. This was the first (executive producer) project I’ve done. I usually just do a song, get the money, and run.