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Wednesday, 6 November, 2002, 00:38 GMT
Rap star Eminem stirs up cinema
Eminem in 8 Mile
Eminem was totally committed to his role

Eminem's first feature film 8 Mile is one of the highlights of this year's London Film Festival. The BBC's Tom Brook asked the film's director about working with the controversial rap star turned serious actor.
The word on the eagerly awaited big-screen debut of controversial rapper Eminem has been positive.

His film, 8 Mile, opens in the US on 8 November and in the UK in January and reviews have not yet appeared.

But several critics who've already seen the film have expressed admiration.

Eminem is being praised for his strong on-screen charisma and competence as a novice actor.

The picture's first public screening in Canada was greeted with a standing ovation and words of approval from Eminem fans.

Realism

All the characters and plot in 8 Mile are fictional, but the drama that unfolds bears a strong resemblance to Eminem's life.

It's a star-is-born story in which an angry young white man in Detroit, trapped in a dead end life, rises above it all by developing his talents as a rapper.

Eminem's character, Jimmy Smith Junior, is a sharp-witted rap artist and his ability to rhyme is a weapon he uses to win respect in a world of urban decay.

Director Curtis Hanson
Director Curtis Hanson wants the film to further understanding

The film's 57-year-old director, Curtis Hanson, whose past credits include Wonder Boys and LA Confidential might not, at first sight, seem like an obvious choice to put together a picture starring one of the world's pre-eminent rap artists.

But Hanson says there's much in this Detroit-based tale that piqued his interest.

He says: "It's a story about people that are trying to figure out how to live their lives in a city that used to promise a future to everyone who came there and now appears to promise nothing, characters who're struggling in contemporary society as we all are, that's what it's about.

"It also happens to be the world from which hip-hop and rap came, I'm a great music lover and also interested in rap and hip-hop culturally and that's part of what the movie is about."

Eminem is certainly helped by Hanson's able direction, as well as a supporting cast that includes Kim Basinger, Mekhi Phifer and Brittany Murphy.

Sexuality

The film may get noted for its acting, direction, realistic almost documentary-style cinematography, and moments of raw sexuality, it will also be seen as powerful image building enterprise.

8 Mile is a public relations tool that will enhance Eminem's reputation among non-rap fans and his detractors.

Much of the public still sees him as a callous misogynist and homophobe, but the film includes carefully placed plot points that reveal the close-to-the-real-life Eminem on screen character to be otherwise.

Curtis Hanson wants the film to further understanding.

"I think a lot of people have had a lot of trouble understanding hip-hop and all of the anger and rage and violence expressed in that music and that in fact is part of what our movie is about," he says.

Eminem
Eminem proved easy to work with

"I think people that see this movie will have a better understanding of where that music came from and of the people to whom it gave a voice."

Eminem's is making his screen debut in a $50m Hollywood endeavour that required his full co-operation.

The rap star is not noted for his social decorum, but Brian Grazer, the Hollywood producer of 8 Mile, found him easy to work with.

Although as Grazer recalls he was a little mystified when he first met the rapper.

"He's a very hard guy to read so I couldn't tell whether we were connecting or you know anything like that, and I said to him after about an hour and a half: 'Do you think you'd do a movie with me?'

"He just said 'yeah', and I thought does he mean that?

"Usually, in Hollywood, there's more dialogue going on but I trusted it and a year and a half later we had a script that we had worked on together and started shooting it."

Commitment

Once committed to the project, Eminem, by all accounts, took his acting duties seriously.

He lost weight, changed his hair colour and rehearsed diligently for six weeks.

In working on getting his character right Curtis Hanson says: "He responded to me in a way that one hopes every actor will.

"Truthfully, it was different with him because he'd never done it before.

"But he gave me what I would call total commitment, respect and honoured the story that we were both there to tell, from beginning to end."

8 Mile is expected to play extremely well with Eminem's fans and, given the expected strong positive response from critics, also find a wider audience.

The big question posed by the film is whether Eminem can act.

The general view is that in 8 Mile the rapper certainly strikes a strong pose and does well portraying a persona close to himself.

Whether Eminem can convey someone quite different on screen isn't clear.

But certainly, given the recent rash of disappointing screen debuts from such pop icons as Britney Spears and Mariah Carey, it's certainly fair to say that Eminem has made a very auspicious first foray into the movies.


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