Talk about setting goals: David Banner wanted to be a hit rapper, and how the Grammy-winner is releasing his anticipated fifth LP, Death Of A Popstar (a collaboration with DJ 9th Wonder featuring the likes of Erykah Badu and Anthony Hamilton) on December 21. He also wanted to be an actor, so he landed roles in such flicks as Black Snake Moan and This Christmas — and there's more to come. Then there's his activism, which includes speaking in front of congress about the portrayal of African-Americans in the media. I wanted to know just what makes Mr. Banner tick — and who inspires him — so UsMagazine.com checked in with him just before the big album launch.
US: So you think you landed a movie in Alaska? Tell me about it.
David Banner: I smashed the audition, so I'm just sitting back waiting on it. The reason why I'm so tired is just the preparation of it, and really building the character up. For the first time it was something I actually wanted to teach. I want to start a class on audition techniques because audition honestly has nothing to do with acting. It's the craziest process that I really can't see how it connects with actually being in the film. It's a cold person reading back to you, so there's no interaction, there's no space around you, there's no environment to react to, so it's like you really have to go in it with a different mindset. I don't know how other people do it.
US: Tell me about some of the actors you've worked with.
DB: Samuel L. Jackson taught me the art of just being. He said, "It's not about acting. That was like doing the days of Humphrey Bogart and over-acting. It's more about being. Just being, and allowing the essence of who you are to see through that person." He saw me on 106th and Park — I had an album coming out at the time. He said I lit up the crowd. He watched how everybody in the crowd was just hanging on every word. He said, "Dude, that's what you have to be on screen." Forest Whitaker more than anybody affected me. He said something so simple: "It's not about anything but the art. If you stand still and work as hard as you possibly can on your craft, everything else will come." He said he's not worried about nothing else — nothing else on set, nobody else, nothing.
US: What's going on with your new album?
DB: Death of a Pop Star is art. It's different. It's intentionally different than everybody else. I financed the whole album so the pressure of the success of the album isn't really there, because I didn't do it for that reason. I'm in a very good place in life right now; financially, spiritually, just all the way around because I do so much, because of the acting, and the advertising, and the production company that I have. All my money isn't just coming from rap music. So I'm actually able to paint a picture that's really from my heart, and not rally worry about the pressures from corporate entities in the world. That gives me a freedom to really express how I feel and be as political, to be as…whatever I want to be, to push the limits of entertainment and art.
US: You've said, "I can admit there are some problems in hip-hop but it's only a reflection of what's taking place in society. Hip-hop is sick because America is." What kind of different message is the album sending?
DB: Music is supposed to be a direct reflection for every aspect of your life. The happy times, the bad times, people dying, people living. Death of a Pop Star is speaking to the youth from a more well-rounded perspective. We're at war right now. When was the last time you ever heard anybody say anything about the war? Regardless of that, we're in a recession, for most people it's not a good time right now. Where's that aspect in music? WWhen the war was going on, you had people like Marvin Gaye asking you what was going on. Where's the social responsibility? If Death of a Pop Star isn't as successful as I think it should be, then I really don't want anybody coming to me and telling me there isn't any good music, that there's not anybody speaking out, that there aren't people pushing the envelops of music, without it being a social statement.
US: I heard you got to work with Al Pacino! What was that like?
DB: One of the greatest that ever happened in my acting career happened with Al Pacino. The director asked me to set up the shot. I told them, and guess what happened? They did it! My character was the first character that Dr. Kevorkian got organs from. So my character was a lifer, he was in jail for life, and he was going to be executed. Al tried to shake my hand, Dr. Kevorkian character, and I said, "Doc. I think you should leave," and Al Pacino looked at me and he left. As an actor you try not to let your real self in, but in the back of my head I was like, "Oh s***! I just told Al Pacino, Scar Face, to leave and he walked out!" I'll never ever forget that in my life. He came back in and said, "Dude, that was a good choice."
Us: Who else would you kill to work with?
DB: Will Smith is a person that mentors me without even knowing me. I watch how he conducts himself in business. I watch how he positions himself in movies, and the movies that he takes. I watched even the plan he has for his son. How he positioned his son to be a superstar, but made sure that he had the ability to warrant the position he was going to put his son in.
US: What are your future plans?
DB: To really dive further into advertisement and to just really be in my production company and get it on auto-pilot. The Gatorade commercial, it's sort of like I hit a home run the first time I stepped up to the plate. I want to move onto Nike, I want to move onto Apple. I want to move onto those levels of brands and just really, really make good music. We have an opportunity now with the internet and people being so driven from a cyber space perspective that we can make real songs. This is my tag line: "I don't make jingles, I make songs." We have the opportunity to move people. And just really raising the bar as far as acting is concerned. I sort of want to take that rapper/actor tag off. You don't call Queen Latifah rapper/actor; or Will Smith rapper/actor. I want to get that tag off of me this year. And just put out wonderful music that will make people mad, it's going to make them happy, just touch points.
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