Tyrese Gibson stands more than six feet tall, crammed with hulking muscle. In this month's naval drama "Annapolis," the camera admiringly zooms in on his massive arms as he portrays a merciless commanding officer and boxer. By the time he's done preparing for his dream role, however, his current appearance will seem scrawny by comparison.
"I'm probably going to be benching about 415 pounds once I get into that mode," Gibson said with a grin as he discussed his desire to play Luke Cage in an upcoming superhero flick from the makers of "The Fantastic Four" and the "Spider-Man" films. "They're just saying that 'Luke Cage was a real big and muscular guy, and we want to make sure that you appear to be that.' "
For the benefit of those poor souls who wasted their childhoods playing outside, Cage has filled the vibrant pages of Marvel Comics for more than three decades and was the first black character to receive his own comic book series. Developed to capitalize on the so-called "blaxploitation" film trend of the 1970s, Cage possesses superhuman strength and resistance to injury, the result of scientific experiments he underwent while in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Something of a cross between Shaft and a member of the Black Panther party, Cage is a "hero for hire" who's been known to invoke the catchphrase "Sweet Christmas!"
It was this past Christmas season that was particularly sweet for Tyrese, as he continued to receive indications that Marvel would select him from a wide range of rumored names (including Jamie Foxx) for the high-profile gig. "They have me in mind, along with a few other people," he said, not wanting to jinx himself. "Do I have a better chance at getting it? Probably."
Tyrese would indeed seem to have the inside track, as "Luke Cage" director John Singleton has worked with him three times ("Baby Boy," "2 Fast 2 Furious" and "Four Brothers") and has stated that he'd like Marvel to hand the role to his frequent leading man (see "Tyrese As Luke Cage? Maybe, Says John Singleton"). In order to show Marvel that it'd be making the right decision, the star recently began a strict workout regimen that will hopefully render him superheroic.
"I just have to get in shape for it; that's the only thing," he said. "They want me to be really massive, and big, and it's going to require a whole other level."
Marvel Chairman and CEO Avi Arad has stated that he expects the film to be brutal enough to earn an R rating, and that longtime nemesis Diamondback will be the film's villain (Terrence Howard has been frequently linked to the role). "This will [have an] urban soundtrack, it will be great," Arad said of his goals for the film. "The whole idea behind Luke Cage is that he's anything but a hero. He's [a mercenary] for hire, and men like that find out it's a good business by accident. And then [find out] what's really inside him."
With Singleton and Arad looking to move forward in the production process, Tyrese plans to continue preparing himself for a once-in-a-lifetime part that he sees as far more than just another superhero flick. "It is important," he said of Luke Cage's trailblazing legacy. "Dave Chappelle said it. He said, 'Never be the first black person to ever do something, because you're going to go through way more hell than anybody else [who is] just following in their tradition.'
"The idea of [Cage] being the first-ever black comic-book hero was a lot, as far as a statement," he added, looking ahead and keeping his muscular fingers crossed. "Those are big shoes to fill, man, and I've got to do it and do it right."
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