The man who directed Ice Cube and Queen Latifah at the beginning of their movie careers has a prediction about which rapper will "wow" Hollywood next.
"I've had a great success with working with people who started in the music industry," proclaimed F. Gary Gray, who directed Latifah in her first major film role for "Set It Off," and whose own first feature was Cube's "Friday." "Mos Def is, mark my words, the next movie star. I am going to be the first to say it. He's the one — definitely."
Gray recently wrapped up "The Italian Job" with an ensemble cast featuring Mos, Edward Norton ("Fight Club"), Seth Green ("Austin Powers in Goldmember"), Charlize Theron ("The Devil's Advocate") and another rapper-turned-actor, Mark Wahlberg ("Boogie Nights") (see "Mos Def Shooting Heist Flick In Italy With Mark Wahlberg"). Before landing the "Italian Job" role, Mos had small parts in films like "Monster's Ball" and Spike Lee's scathing critique of black stereotypes in entertainment, "Bamboozled." He also co-starred in the 2001 Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play, "Top Dog/Underdog."
"I think Mos Def was an actor before he was a rapper," Gray said recently. "Mos is so talented, and he contributes a lot. I embrace that as a director. I like to create an environment for my actors to create, and he flourished in that environment."
Scheduled for release May 30, "The Italian Job" is loosely based on the 1969 heist flick of the same name, mostly remembered for an elaborate chase sequence involving the tiny European cars aptly called Minis.
"It's not a remake, it's [an] homage to the original," explained Gray, whose credits also include the soon-to-be-released Vin Diesel vehicle "A Man Apart." "I think the only similarity is that we use the Minis and that it's a gold heist. It's a great heist movie. It's very sexy, it's very cool, it's very clever, and the cast is amazing. It's a director's dream to work with a cast like that.
"We shot around the world," he continued. "We open the picture in Venice, Italy, where we shot this great boat chase scene. And we go into the Italian Alps, where it is freezing to death, but it was fun. We made it out of there. [We] shot some action in the Alps, in the Dolomites' extra huge glacier. [We] brought it to Los Angeles. It was just a fun picture to make."