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One part of Eminem's real world that's well represented in "8 Mile" is his friend Proof, via Mekhi Phifer's character, Future. Em's D-12 partner and regular hype man also makes a brief cameo appearance.

 "I was a little nervous and scared ..."
"Me and Proof go way back," Em explained. "Proof is similar to the character that Mekhi plays, as far as coming up together, and Proof was always trying to get me to do the battles. I had it in me but I didn't always wanna do it. I was a little nervous and scared, and Proof was just that cat that was coming up in Detroit. So he's similar to the character, metaphorically or symbolically, that Mekhi plays."

"We battled once," he continued. "The very first battle I won at the Hip-Hop Shop, I went through a lot of MCs and Proof was the host. It was a battle to see who was gonna be the host, 'cause Proof didn't want to do it anymore. Proof was starting to get a buzz and he wanted to move on to other things. There was a battle to see who was gonna host the Hip-Hop Shop, and I won it. And at the end of the battle there [were] questions, like, 'What if him and Proof battled?' So we started to battle. But we couldn't keep a straight face, 'cause we know each other so well. We started to say some things back and forth and we just both got tongue-tied."

"8 Mile" sees Future more or less mentoring Em's character, Rabbit, as he navigates through the Detroit rap underground and a dead-end job while saddled with a troubled mother (Kim Basinger), a two-faced girlfriend (Brittany Murphy) and a cute little blonde daugh ... uh, sister. It may sound like old territory to anyone who owns an Eminem album, but Em said "8 Mile" unearths new secrets from his otherwise well-publicized past.

  "I can't tell everything in my music."
"There are some things that were taken out of my real-life story, some things that I didn't even discuss on record," Em said. "I've had a lot of stuff happen in my life that not everybody knows about. I can't tell everything in my music. There are some instances taken out of my life and there are some that are completely fictional and just made up. Because you know, I'm not playing me in the movie, but I'm playing somebody that's like me."

Despite the similarities, Eminem's first major motion picture (save for throwaway appearances in the Dre/Snoop flop "The Wash" and the straight-to-video nightmare "Da Hip Hop Witch") is no spot-on biopic. In fact, Rabbit is far enough away from the real Slim Shady that "8 Mile" required the talented Mr. Mathers to, you know, act.

"I wanted to dabble [in movies], I wanted to see if I could do it. I didn't know it was gonna be this big of a deal," he explained. "When [producer] Brian Grazer got involved, then it got bigger. Then [Oscar-winning director] Curtis Hanson got involved and then it got bigger, and then I got involved and it got massive. It got out of control. Then Kim Basinger joined. ... The cast started getting bigger and bigger, and then all of the sudden it was like, 'Whoa. I gotta take this seriously.' "

Em dove right in. A fan of multifaceted character actors like Denzel, De Niro, Pacino and even Robin Williams ("He can slip into those roles, and I respect anybody who can just go from one thing to the next"), Eminem committed himself to Hanson's rigorous rehearsal schedule and even shed a few pounds at the director's request. "I ran on the treadmill like a little gerbil for a long time," he said, smiling.

 "It was like acting boot camp."
"I thought when I first read the script that it was gonna be impossible for me to memorize all these lines. But the truth is we did a lot of rehearsing. We did two months of it. All the biggest scenes we rehearsed off camera. ... Me and Mekhi, me and Brittany, everybody came together. So if it looks like we're friends onscreen it's because we became friends. We had no choice but to. There were like eight hours of rehearsal a day, two months up until we started shooting, just to get us warmed up.

"I work a lot of hours in the studio, but it's on my own time and it's something I'm in control of," he continued. "It hurts being on someone else's schedule and somebody else's time. It was gruesome. It was like acting boot camp. It was tough. Like five in the morning 'til seven, eight at night. [Then] get back up, literally have enough time to go to sleep, and come right back. I couldn't help but be this character in the movie.

"I just wanted to be natural in the film, basically do what I would do in a situation like that if I was placed in it, or what my character would do," he said. "Basically I just wanted to feel real in every scene. And I felt like as long as I felt authentic it was cool."

NEXT: Slim Shady ain't 'trying to be Hollywood,' but he may get the chance to flip off an Oscar crowd ...
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Photo: Universal

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