After more than a half-decade of killing them softly with her songs, R&B prodigy Alicia Keys is getting ready to kill them much more literally, with a role as a heroic hit woman in the crime thriller "Smokin' Aces." Starring alongside Hollywood veterans Ryan Reynolds, Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia and Ray Liotta, Keys almost makes their profession look too easy, bringing the same confidence and emotional depth to the character that she has injected into her chart-topping music.
On the eve of her movie debut, we caught up with Keys to talk about her huge guns, why the F-word is so much better than the N-word and what it's like to get a shout-out from Bob Dylan.
MTV: A lot of musicians choose acting roles that will keep them in their safety zone: biopics of famous musicians, musicals or Elvis-type movies about singing auto mechanics. Did you even think about doing something like that?
Alicia Keys: That's what I think people definitely expected of me, to be some type of singer or someone close to who I am in real life. But I wanted to do something unexpected, something that took me out of my element. I wanted to trick you completely.
MTV: So here's this movie with a bunch of tough hit men trying to kill Jeremy Piven's character, and right in the middle are you and Taraji P. Henson ("Hustle & Flow") as a pair of sexed-up ladies with enormous guns. After all the hit men in "Pulp Fiction," "The Boondock Saints," "Grosse Pointe Blank" and other films, it's cool to see some hit women for a change.
Keys: You're exactly right, and that's another thing that's so fantastic about [Henson's] Watters and [Keys'] Sykes. A team of two hit women among all these men! I love the strength, I love the power, I love the intelligence.
MTV: So if things went down and a gun were nearby, would you be confident that you could handle yourself?
Keys: I can absolutely handle a gun in real life. My trainer told me that I might be the best one on the set in regards to the handling of gunfire. Not only did I train with weapons, but I trained physically for the part as well. When I was so exhausted by the last run that they had me do, I was like, "You know I can use a gun, don't you? I can come back for you after this movie is done, and I can handle you!"
MTV: "Aces" follows in the tradition of flicks like "Scarface" and "Midnight Run," so I've gotta ask: What flies more in this movie, the bullets or the F-bombs?
Keys: [She laughs.] Wow, I think the F-bombs are flying way, way more than the bullets in this movie. It's a dirty-mouth movie. Dirty, dirty, dirty.
MTV: It must be therapeutic to shoot at people and scream every four-letter word you know.
Keys: Well, I have to say, in regards to anger management, I think it's been helpful. [She laughs.]
MTV: There's some use of the N-word in the movie, too. After the whole Michael Richards thing, where do you come down on that issue?
Keys: I consciously didn't use the word; I substituted more fun words like "mother----er" or "sh--head" or "piece of sh--." There's plenty of other words.
MTV: How did director Joe Carnahan talk you into making your film debut?
Keys: I was performing in Anaheim, California, and he came backstage and was like, "Did you read the script yet?" And I hadn't. He said, "This is not a punk you're going to be playing. This isn't just some pretty love story that you're going to do." That alone made me very intrigued about it, because naturally, as anyone on this planet knows, when you are told that it's something either that you shouldn't or wouldn't normally do, you want to do it.
MTV: Common also makes his acting debut in the film, as Piven's bodyguard. He wrote a new song that plays over the film's end credits, so I've gotta ask: Where's yours?
Keys: My song does not exist. I did not want to do both. I wanted to totally focus on being the actor here, and that's it.
MTV: You've been recording your follow-up to The Diary of Alicia Keys. Give us an update.
Keys: It's coming together incredibly. I am in love with this album. It's very fresh and new. I'm really enjoying the process, and I think this may be the most fun I've had recording yet, in regards to just being free about it and allowing all the new things I'm learning to come out through this music.
MTV: Is there a release date yet?
Keys: It's looking like June. We'll see what's up — it's gonna blow your mind.
MTV: Got any titles you can tell us about?
Keys: As of right now, the songs are [untitled]. You just have to live with them yourself and fall in love with them like I am. I always name my album at the end. For some reason I find that works better for me. After I have all of the work together and I feel the direction, then I know what's the best title.
MTV: Bob Dylan recently gave you a shout-out in his song "Thunder on the Mountain." How did that feel?
Keys: I couldn't believe it! The first person who told me was John Mayer. He said, "You're never going to believe this — I just heard that Dylan has your name in his song." I was like, "What?" Totally not expecting it, obviously, then I couldn't wait to hear it because it wasn't coming out for a while. It was a big honor. As a writer myself, I admire him greatly.
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