BEVERLY HILLS, California — Their disparate sensibilities have blended together for a genre-bending musical flavor that's yielded many sold-out concerts, dozens of awards, 30-plus music videos, two platinum albums and four multiplatinum albums. So, now that Outkast are moving their act to the big screen, why would anyone expect normalcy from this rarely idle, always wild pair?
"It was written around the music," André "3000" Benjamin recently said of "Idlewild," the quasi-musical that — it can be said with some level of certainty — is unlike any film that's ever come before it. "We'd been trying to do a film since we started, so me, Big Boi and Bryan [Barber, the duo's longtime collaborator/director] wrote ideas and scripts for an Outkast movie. This happened to be the one that worked."
From the moment that the first images begin flickering onto the silver screen, "Idlewild" makes the same bold pronouncement as the first few beats in any Outkast song: there are no rules here. Barber expands, shrinks and even "scratches" his images as though they were on a turntable; Benjamin's Percival sleeps in a room filled with dozens of synchronized, beat-keeping cuckoo clocks; Antwan "Big Boi" Patton plays a character named Rooster who has conversations with a cartoon on the side of his flask.
"There are elements of our personalities inside of the characters," Big Boi said of the film, set in the 1930s American South. "But for the most part, it was about knowing where the character started ... and where he ended up. You just really had to take him there."
Andre and Big Boi have taken each other to some very elevated places over the years, and they've always had significant help from Barber. So when it came time for the duo to make the jump to films, it seemed natural to hit him up yet again.
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On his own, Barber has also gone on to become a significant figure in the music world, bringing his Outkast-honed talents to Destiny's Child's "Girl" and Bow Wow and Ciara's "Like You," not to mention the multiple-VMA-nominated video for Christina Aguilera's "Ain't No Other Man." For all three, the nerves of a first movie were lessened by the flick's music sequences, as well as their thorough knowledge of each other's strengths and weaknesses.
"Big Boi is a totally different guy from Dre, in the sense that you can have sushi and tea with Dre and listen to jazz, but with Big Boi you'd want to go and have drinks and hamburgers and go party at a club," Barber laughed. "Big is more playful, so it's harder for Big to get serious; whereas Dre, it's harder for him to become playful."
Barber kept that in mind, listened to the tracks Outkast were developing for the movie, and combined it all in his unorthodox script about an introspective mortician (Andre 3000) and fast-talking nightclub owner (Big Boi) on the run from a trigger-happy mob boss (Terrence Howard).
"Terrence had just finished 'Hustle and Flow,' " Barber said of the casting coup that landed the Oscar nominee just months before he hit it big. "But 'Hustle and Flow' wasn't out yet."
"Acting with Terrence was real fun; they tried to hype it up before he got there," Big Boi remembered, saying that Howard's intense reputation was already well on the way to being established. "They were like, 'Oh, he's going to come on set, and he's going to already be in character,' and that was really psyching me out. They were like, 'He's going to hate you; he's not going to like you.' "
When Howard did show up for his first day of filming, Big Boi was relieved to find a very different personality. "Terrence walked in and he's like, 'What's up, bro?' " he laughed, cracking up Andre. "We were talking and kicking it the whole time. He gave me a lot of good pointers and really was a cool guy to work with. He's one of the top actors out there today."
The question in the minds of millions of Outkast fans, however, isn't whether the two of them worked well with Howard — but how they worked with each other. Maybe it's the Speakerboxxx/ The Love Below split album, or years of separately filmed videos and solo appearances, but rumors have long been swirling that "Idlewild" and its soundtrack will be their swan song (see "Outkast Deny Breakup Rumors: 'Everything Is Still Tight,' Andre 3000 Says").
Such rumors are likely to be intensified after the release of the flick, which has a mere handful of scenes featuring Andre and Big Boi together.
"It was Bryan Barber," insisted Andre, looking over at a nodding Big Boi. "He wrote [the script] that way. It was just a clever way of not doing the obvious, where we are in every scene sharing the job."
"It's unfortunate that people would look at it and say, 'They ain't wantin' to be in scenes together, because they don't like each other,' " he laughed. "We had nothing to do with the script, honestly."
"We love all you haters, man," Big Boi insisted, putting his arm around Andre. "They've been saying it for three records. 'They're breaking up?' 3 million albums. 'They're breaking up?' 4 million albums. 'They're breaking up?' 10 million records sold.
"Keep on, haters; we love the feeling you're giving us," he continued, looking at Andre. "There's a brotherhood right here that nobody can dispel, between me and him. This is my dog. Before there was Outkast or a movie or anything, it was Antwan and Andre and we had an idea. There's a mutual respect here — we're not breaking up, we're just busy as hell and we can't be together all the time; we're grown men."
"Please don't go on vacation; we need you all," Andre laughed, addressing the haters. "Stay on your job."
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