PARK CITY, Utah — Dressed in salt-stained boots, a big puffy jacket and a gold chain with links thick enough to tow a car, a brand-new Nick Cannon shuffles into the room. Immersed in something of a coming-out party here at the Sundance Film Festival, the 26-year-old star is wearing the sideways-turned-baseball-hats of DJ, clothier, party planner and — most importantly — heavy-duty dramatic actor. It’s 9 a.m., and all Cannon needs is a cup of tea (“I think I’m gonna mess with this vanilla caramel truffle stuff,” he says with a raspy throat), a place to sit down and a chance to talk about giving birth to the next stage of his career — by dying.
MTV: We’re not giving anything away by saying that your Sundance flick, “Weapons,” has a “Pulp Fiction”-like structure. We start by watching you die, then we go back in time to see how it happened.
Nick Cannon: Yeah.
MTV: I can’t remember the last time I saw an opening scene so instantly memorable. How did it feel to sit in the theater and have 600 people cheering a shotgun blast that blows your brains all over the screen?
Cannon: That was crazy, man. I obviously knew what was gonna happen, but I had never seen it put together. I didn’t realize how realistic it was gonna be! It’s unreal to see yourself getting your head blown off, and at the same time the reaction was strange — some people you could see were very disturbed by it, and others loved it.
MTV: The director, Adam Bhala Lough, chose to put it in slow-motion, having you make eye contact with the audience and then just explode into a mess.
Cannon: Yeah, that was interesting. It’s definitely not something you’d want your mother to see.
MTV: But it does drive home the realism of what a weapon does to a human being.
Cannon: Yeah, and it sets the pace for the movie. Once you see it, you’re like, “OK, this is what I’m in for.”
MTV: What we get after that is a lot of violence and heavy drama, with your character as an unusual moral center.
Cannon: My character, Reggie, is just your basic, regular kid. He’s on his way to a job interview, and he finds out that his younger sister has been raped. He has to do what he feels is the right thing, the manly thing — to seek revenge for what happened to his sister. He has so much pain and anguish, feeling that the family has been violated, that he just can’t stand for it.
MTV: Part of what makes the movie seem realistic is its weird humor. Reggie’s trying to kill this kid quickly so he can still make his job interview.
Cannon: Yeah, the crazy thing about the film is that these youths have been so desensitized to gun violence that nobody seems to take life precious. They’re just like, “Yeah, whatever. We’ve got to go kill somebody.” It’s very matter-of-fact.
MTV: So is the movie an attempt to show the foolishness of wannabe gangsters and endless retaliation?
Cannon: Yeah, yeah. You see it quite a few times in this film, and it’s like, these are people’s lives being taken away. Art is depicting life right now, because stuff like this is happening every day. That’s how it is.
MTV: You’ve got a lot of young fans. How do you expect them to react to “Weapons”?
Cannon: I’m not sure. I don’t think this one is for them. But I don’t always want to do films that people can pigeonhole me and say, “This is what he does.” I wanted to show people I could do something different. I want to create a new audience while also keeping my old audience.
MTV: How was your acting technique altered to create such an intense character?
Cannon: On this one, I stripped everything away from myself. I wasn’t trying to be a star; I wasn’t trying to be a good-looking cat or any of that. Usually it’s all about the hair and makeup and making sure my gear is right. [He laughs.] But this time, it was like, just let it go and be this kid.
MTV: This is your first Sundance — what do you think of all this madness?
Cannon: Man, I love it. It’s an experience, and I understand all the prestige that goes along with it. I’m just embracing it and enjoying it.
MTV: You’re doing a lot here: hosting parties, DJing, even reading to local schoolchildren.
Cannon: I’m doing so many things! Yesterday I had four parties. It’s crazy. I was DJing up at a house, I was DJing at Tao and the DC Shoes house. And tonight I’m doing the same thing. I’m trying to change the name from Sundance to Fundance. [He laughs.]
MTV: You sound hoarse, and I see you working on that tea.
Cannon: Yeah, we were going hard! We went until about 5 this morning, and then back up at 8. It don’t stop.
MTV: Are there any other celebs up here you’ll be partying with?
Cannon: I’ve been hanging out with Damon Dash, who’s a producer on this film, and Diddy came to my party last night. I look up to those dudes as businessmen, and they’re trying to take me under their hustler wing. I’m the new generation of the party-thrower! We’re getting it done.
MTV: Have you grabbed any of the free stuff at the swag lounges yet?
Cannon: No, I’ve been trying to push my own swag on people. I’ve been giving out my PNB gear to people, giving them different hats and stuff like that. That’s been interesting. I’ve got a team of guys who help me put that stuff out there. We hustling.
MTV: But nothing for yourself?
Cannon: I’m gonna stop by the Fred Segal lounge later. I already got a couple MP3 players, snowboarding gear and stuff like that.
MTV: Have you hit the mountains?
Cannon: Nah, that’s not my deal. I’ve tried that before. I do a lot of things, but snowboarding’s not one of ’em.
MTV: You’ve just announced plans to star in a biopic about tennis legend Arthur Ashe, and you’re coming off adult roles in both “Weapons” and “Bobby.” Is Hollywood looking at you a bit differently these days?
Cannon: People are definitely paying a lot more attention to me, and not just saying, “He’s a kid who can make you laugh.” I’m gonna keep down this path and keep trying to do stuff that reflects my craft. All day, man, all day.
See everything we’ve got on Nick Cannon.
Visit Movies on MTV.com for more from Hollywood, including news, reviews, interviews and more.
Want trailers? Visit the Trailer Park for the newest, scariest and funniest coming attractions anywhere.