DON’T even think about questioning Fred Durst’s tough-guy credibility just because he directed “The Longshots,” a heartwarming, family-friendly movie being released Friday.
“Wait, wait. He is still a badass,” grumbles Ice Cube, one of the stars of the film, as well as the producer who handpicked Durst to direct it. “We are badasses. We would kill or die for our families and that, to me, is what qualifies for being a badass.”
Ten years ago, when Limp Bizkit frontman Durst and Ice Cube headlined 1998’s ironically titled Family Values Tour, it would have been hard to imagine that the two rappers accustomed to notoriety could reunite to make a sincere family movie, but that’s what they’ve done with “The Longshots,” the story of bookish Jasmine (Keke Palmer), and her beer-drinking ne’er-do-well uncle, Curtis (Ice Cube), who find inner strength and purpose in her newfound talents as a high school football team quarterback.
Ice Cube has already developed a reputation for making successful movies dating to 1995’s “Friday,” a reputation enhanced by his Cube Vision production company. For Durst, though, directing a feature is still a new arena. “The Longshots” marks his sophomore effort; his first was “The Education of Charlie Banks,” a coming-of-age story that played at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival to generally positive reviews and is slated for an October theatrical release. It was the sensitive “Charlie Banks” that persuaded Ice Cube to enlist Durst.
“Cube first said to me, ‘I liked “Charlie Banks.” I want that in my movie, man,’ ” Durst says. “He wanted to dip into his dramatic side.”
Durst’s voice retains a consistently mellow, almost sleepy tone as he speaks by phone from his Sherman Oaks home, having spent a hectic day finishing up the sound mix and tweaking some digital edits on “The Longshots.” Just hearing Durst talk about post-production headaches like a real-life dramatic director might cause eyebrows to rise, inasmuch as he was once best known for wearing a baseball cap backward, feuding with other bands, appearing in pugnacious live shows (including the Woodstock 1999 festival at which Limp Bizkit was accused of inciting acts of violence), and sparking rumors of dalliances with the likes of Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears. And then there was his music, a hard-edged blend of metal and rap, with hit songs like “Nookie” that won him far more fans in the frat house than among the art-house crowd.
But Durst, at 38, is now comfortable enough to reveal a receding hairline and wants to go beyond what he calls “the rock star, Tyler Durden in me,” a reference to the alpha male in “Fight Club.”
“I never thought I’d be singing in a band. I’m not a singer,” Durst says. “But I can express myself and make you feel something. And that’s the Fred Durst in my movies.”
Growing up on a farm in North Carolina, the son of a policeman and social worker, Durst says he “always wanted to tell stories in movies.” He would borrow his uncle’s video camera and create “break-dance narratives” and movies about skateboarding. He was fond of John Hughes’ films, particularly “The Breakfast Club” -- “How powerful was that?” he asks reverently. But it was “Hearts of Darkness,” the documentary about the making of “Apocalypse Now,” that made him want to direct. “That took me to the other side: The guy with the beard, the director, who would sacrifice everything to make the movie,” he says. “It changed my life.”
Making music videos
AS A young man, Durst also developed his musical talents, trying to break into the hip-hop scene while also sampling different lifestyles, including work as a tattoo artist and a stint in the Navy. “I always loved music,” Durst says, “but that’s one slice of the pie.”
It was, however, the most fruitful slice; he formed Limp Bizkit in 1994, and in 1997 the band released its first album, “Three Dollar Bill, Y’all$,” which went double platinum.
The success of Limp Bizkit placed Durst right where he wanted to be -- in the director’s chair -- albeit at the helm of most of the band’s videos (some of which starred actors such as Halle Berry, Thora Birch and Bill Paxton).
Producer-director Lili Zanuck (“Driving Miss Daisy”) was impressed by Durst’s reel, so when he began sending feelers out to the film industry that he wanted to direct a feature, she took him seriously. “I knew that I wasn’t having lunch with Limp Bizkit Fred Durst,” she says. “He was a grown-up.”
Durst also struck up a relationship with director David Fincher, visiting the sets of “Panic Room” and, later, “Zodiac.” The two almost collaborated on the skateboarding movie “Lords of Dogtown,” but Durst was passed over for the project. “I was sad,” Durst says. “But I was a first-time director and it was too big of a budget.”
Durst refers to Fincher as a mentor. “When everyone else around me was telling me to milk the music thing, Fincher gave me an ultimatum,” Durst recalls. “He said, ‘You have to make a choice. If you do, I know you can do it.’ ”
Durst had to fend off some comers looking for “a long-form Limp Bizkit video” as he read scripts sent to him by his agent and began working on several screenplays with a team of writers. He finally got the nod for “Charlie Banks,” which was shot over the summer of 2006.
The film centers on the relationship between two New York City boys -- a street tough and a thoughtful idealist -- who come of age against a backdrop of wealthy collegians and literary references. Durst says he could identify with elements of both characters. “Throughout the journey, you are learning constantly,” says Durst, who says he learned the directing trade “like a sponge -- just by being around the business.”
It was partly Durst’s lack of experience that got him his second gig, “It’s not a coincidence that Cube Vision works with a lot of first-time directors, instead of with guys set in their ways who don’t want to compromise,” Ice Cube says. “We still want to make the kind of movies we want to make.”
Durst agrees: “This is an Ice Cube film -- that I directed,” he says.
One of the director’s biggest challenges was managing the child-labor law-mandated schedules of the young actors during the production, which was shot in Louisiana (doubling for small-town Illinois). Another was maintaining the vision of a non-saccharine family film. Inspired by Walter Matthau’s character in the original “Bad News Bears” movie, Ice Cube says he had to convince “the suits” that his character could constantly clutch a brown-bagged beer can to keep the movie gritty and real. He says Durst had his back and he credits his director for pushing him to be “more vulnerable and beat-up” as a character. “I trusted that we wanted to make the same movie,” Ice Cube says. “Not a Disney comedy about the blunders of football but a dramatic movie about two people who get their pride back.”
Although Durst says he still makes music every day -- to demonstrate, he plays some beats over the phone on his Mac’s Logic sound effects software -- Limp Bizkit is on hiatus.
“We’ll surprise people when we think it’s a surprise,” says Durst, who has a new film heading toward pre-production. He is collaborating with Zanuck on a drama, “the untitled Fred Durst project,” about a series of characters, each loosely based on himself at different stages of his life, including a tattoo artist and a military man.
As for being a movie director, Durst says he is “extremely grateful” that his career as a rock star has helped open this door. “I feel like a new man,” he says.