Tyrese Gibson has ambitions beyond 'Fast and Furious'
The big “get” at this year’s Aruba International Film Festival, running through Sunday, was Tyrese Gibson, best-selling R&B artist, co-star of the mammoth Transformers and Fast and Furious franchises and, to judge by the crowd reaction on this steamy isle, a major sex symbol especially in this corner of the world.
Gibson was here to promote “Shame,” a 25-minute short film he wrote, which opened the festival Wednesday night on a bill with the feature The Driftless Area. The film is an offshoot from a song about infidelity on his recent number-one album Black Rose; Gibson told the audience in a post-screening Q&A that it was the first song he recorded after a five-year relationship ended. “All these characters popped up in my head,” he recalled, telling the crowd that he ultimately wrote the script in 12 minutes on his iPhone.
Directed by music-video veteran Paul Hunter, the film is set in 1968 Detroit and centers on Gibson as R&B singer Lionel Jacobs, who’s struggling with alcohol and drug addiction, and is also cheating on his wife and background singer (Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson) with another of his background singers. The short (impressively shot in only two days) has high production values and is clearly intended as a calling card for Gibson as both a dramatic actor and compelling singer.
Gibson himself proclaimed that he never gets high and doesn’t drink (“no red wine, no white wine”), but he doesn’t judge those battling addictions. “Pretty much all of us have things we struggle with,” he advised, noting that one of the challenges of his life was his mother’s alcoholism. He freely admitted that he cut his mother out of his life for a year and a half until she hit rock-bottom and he helped her get through rehab; she’s now been sober for almost ten years, he reported.
Later that evening, this reporter shared a roundtable with Gibson, joined by Simon Braund of Empire magazine and Andres Martinez of Yahoo Americas, and the actor-singer remained just as open and frank.
“I’m one of them actors that started off in the dramatic space,” he reminded us, naming his early films Baby Boy, Annapolis, Four Brothers and Waist Deep. “When you become really successful in box office, you get typecast and put into a box. When you think of Tyrese or other actors that do the big box-office movies, they automatically think of you for that. And when you do dramatic roles, they can’t accept you in a big box-office movie either. We all deal with the same struggle. But I’m not one of those people who gets bitter or mad or tries to use the black card: ‘They’re not calling me because I’m black!’ That shit is so fucking…get over it. I’m just one of those people who says: If you have a problem with anything, fix it. Do the work.”
Gibson has a host of filmmakers he admires and would love to work with. “If you want Paul Haggis, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen, Lee Daniels, James Mangold, Martin Scorsese and all of these guys to have you in mind for movies that they’re [writing or directing]…these guys have a list of people they call all the time, the same fucking people… I gotta be on this list. So instead of me complaining, I said I’m gonna create something to get on their radar.”
Gibson calls himself “very passionate about writing” and says he’s written seven screenplays. But his passion project right now is the story of the late R&B singer Teddy Pendergrass, whose life rights he purchased from his widow. A major soul-music sex symbol in his ’70s heyday, Pendergrass saw his life change overnight when a car accident left him a paraplegic.
“I spent a lot of time with Teddy before he died, five years,” Gibson says. “I was one of the best men at his wedding, I was also a pallbearer at his funeral. I didn’t want ‘Shame’ to be a full feature—I wanted to keep it as a short because they’re both around the same time period, I have a very raspy voice when I sing and Teddy Pendergrass did as well, and I just didn’t want one movie to cannibalize the other.”
Gibson explains his fascination with the R&B icon. “There’s something very powerful about a man who had more number-one hits than anybody, sex symbol, confident. He had this manly-man gravitas about him. And all of a sudden this independent single child, he goes from all of this power to being completely dependent. His brain is still the same, but his body is dead… In his mind he’s still ego Teddy Pendergrass, sex symbol, hot stage performer, and all of a sudden he can’t move. There’s something very interesting and powerful about that dynamic, and we’re gonna explore that.”
The actor also shares that “I know some stuff. Teddy Pendergrass and Marvin Gaye were archenemies. Teddy had an affair with Marvin Gaye’s wife. A lot of people don’t know that. We’ll get into all that in this movie.”
Gibson is completely undaunted by the challenge of such a demanding role. “I’m ready, I got this,” he assures.
Though he didn’t want “Shame” to compete with the Pendergrass project, Gibson says he’s been in discussions with several studios about expanding it into a TV series a la “Empire,” and he’d be more than willing to take the character of Lionel Jacobs to the small screen.
Despite his presence in two of the biggest movie franchises of all time, Gibson insists, “My interest is not to be a movie star, I’m just focused on the arts. I love it. I got a lot of people that look up to me, and the fact that I have this God-given stage to motivate and inspire people, that’s the biggest gift in the world. It’s something that I don’t take for granted. You got people waking up every day saying, ‘How can I be more famous?’ That’s not my interest. Being around the Vin Diesels and the Will Smiths of the world, I don’t want that life. That’s a different level of pressure that I don’t necessarily want to carry.”
Gibson, in fact, welcomes the ensemble nature of his big box-office vehicles.
“I don’t care that I’m not in every single scene in these movies, that I’m not number one on the call sheet. It doesn’t bruise my ego. When we have that many people in one movie, I get two, three weeks off sometimes and I love it! I get to go do some other shit.”