“Would you mind taking your shoes off before you come inside?” a willowy brunette asked T.I. at the door of Brett Ratner’s mansion.
FOR THE RECORD:
T.I.: An article in Thursday’s Calendar about rapper-turned-actor T.I. said that his album “King Uncaged” would be released in September. The album does not have a release date yet.
“Yeah, no problem, no problem,” said the rapper-turned-actor as he bent down to pull off his immaculately white sneakers.
It was only 1 o’clock in the afternoon last Friday, and T.I. — born Clifford Harris — was full-on doing the Hollywood rounds. That morning, he’d met with Academy-Award winning producer Brian Grazer. Now, the 29-year-old and his entourage (manager, publicist, security guard, driver, reporter) had arrived at Ratner’s house, where he had been invited to discuss a role in the director’s next film.
As he waited for Ratner to enter the living room, he sipped a cocktail and surveyed the filmmaker’s expansive Benedict Canyon home. The setting, with its polished hardwood floors and plush couches, was undoubtedly far different than the one T.I. had lived in only last year. In December, he emerged from a federal prison in Arkansas after spending roughly seven months there for charges related to purchasing machine guns and silencers.
Since then, he’s been busy making up for lost time: the Grammy winner had his first comeback show in New York earlier this month; his seventh studio album, “King Uncaged,” will be released in September; and he’s got a sizable role in “Takers,” the heist film with an ensemble cast including Matt Dillon and R&B singer Chris Brown, out Friday.
“Just another day at the office,” T.I. said, climbing into a black SUV after his meeting with Ratner had wrapped. “I just picked up where I left off [after prison.] Most times, you know, opportunities present themselves. I execute and take advantage. I wasn’t planning on meeting with Brett Ratner today, but when the call came, I knew there was an opportunity. So I had to make [things] work. Champions find a way.”
That they do. Even on the set of “Takers” — in which he plays Ghost, a thief recently released from prison who’s trying to get back in good with his former posse of bank robbers — T.I. had to find a way to navigate the challenges imposed by a criminal sentence. The shooting schedule was complicated by his curfew, which required him to be in bed by 1 a.m. During production, he wasn’t allowed to hold any gun that fired blanks — all faux weapons had to be rubber. And during one scene shot at night, the ankle bracelet he wore to monitor his whereabouts was set off, lighting up and forcing a reshoot.
But he didn’t find the various impediments distracting, he said.
“Nah, it’s never difficult to focus for me, man. Once I commit myself to something, then I mean it. That’s dead on that.”
Hollywood as priority 1
That’s not to say he hasn’t had to learn how to behave in Hollywood. On the set of his first film, “ATL” — a movie about four high school seniors growing up in Atlanta who are in a skate crew — T.I. said he was almost fired for showing up late to set.
“If I’m going to a concert and they say I gotta be there at 10, and I don’t show up until 12, everything all good because the show can’t go without me. Whereas, on a film, if you five minutes late, you late,” he said. “I had just got from music. I had just got a 7, 8 million-dollar check. So I was pulling up in Rolls Royces, smoke coming out like Snoop Dogg. … I didn’t treat the circumstances as delicate as they were.”
After a stern talk with director Chris Robinson, he straightened up his act, and later landed a role in 2007’s “American Gangster” opposite Denzel Washington.
“I wanted to do it so much I didn’t care whether or not I made a dollar off of it,” he said of the crime drama. “I ain’t made no money in movies yet, because of the fact that a movie usually takes about three or four months to film. … At the time of ‘American Gangster,’ I was getting $100,000 a show and doing four to five shows a week. And I only probably got $100,000 for ‘American Gangster,’ something like that. But I didn’t mind. I wanted to do it. I like surprising people, man.”
“Takers,” which he also produced, is the first in T.I.'s three-picture deal with Screen Gems. The studio is already discussing the possibility of a prequel to the film, depending on how it performs at the box office.
“He has so much swagger,” said Clint Culpepper, president of Screen Gems. “He’s not tall, but he walks like he’s 6 4.”
Back at his suite at the Montage Beverly Hills last week, T.I. collapsed onto a chair after his long day of industry meetings. The blinds were all drawn in the hotel room, and nearly a dozen suitcases were scattered across the floor, overflowing with polo shirts and Louis Vuitton sneakers. He turned on the TV, mindlessly switching the channel every couple of minutes as he spoke about his desire to win an Oscar.
“I’d rather be acting full time at 40 than rapping full time at 40,” he said. “I just think — especially the direction that music is going in, hip-hop, especially — I think it’s more suited for a teenager than a 40-year-old. My values, principals, beliefs and things I consider important are worlds away from where they was when I just came in the game.”
T.I. has six children, and it’s rumored he married his longtime girlfriend Tameka “Tiny” Cottle this summer, though he would not confirm the report.
“Some people see me as a distinguished young gentleman entering into the next phase of manhood,” he said, yawning. “And some people see me as a young drug dealer slash thug who has managed to make his way into the entertainment industry. It just depends on who you ask. Some people think I’m very humble, considerate, focused and noble. And other people think that I’m very arrogant, aggressive and just — some people think that I’m just a thug.”
He tries not to pay any mind to those who harp on his past, he said.
“Man, they talk bad about Jesus. So they talk bad about him as much as he did right, I can only imagine how much they gonna talk about me.”
Times staff writer John Horn contributed to this report.