NEW YORK – He's known to millions around the world as Andre 3000 (search): half of the superstar rap group OutKast, outrageous dresser, ladies man extraordinaire. Now he's ready to be known simply as Andre Benjamin (search) — actor.
After a small role earlier this year as Dabu, a trying-too-hard gangster in the comedy "Be Cool," the 30-year-old Georgia boy is starring in director John Singleton's "Four Brothers" (search) alongside Mark Wahlberg, Tyrese and Garrett Hedlund.
Benjamin also has four other films in development as well as a television cartoon. But don't worry, music fans: Andre has not given up the 3000 — yet.
AP: Why did you decide to start acting?
Benjamin: Even before I was doing music, I was in drama troupes and doing stage plays before I started doing the OutKast thing. Once we started doing (music) videos, I would get calls from directors and producers. ... Once I started getting into character I started to like it and like the challenge of getting into character.
AP: Did you have a hard time in terms of people in the acting industry taking you seriously?
Benjamin: Yes. When you're already in a certain genre like music, people know you for one thing. When I said that (I wanted to act, Singleton) said, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. When is the next album coming out?" I just had to do it. ... I had to go out and start doing work so he would see films that I did. I did an episode of "The Shield." He saw that and somewhere in his mind it clicked for him to call me and say, "I want you to play Jeremiah."
AP: Artistically speaking, what's the biggest difference between music and acting?
Benjamin: In music I have control of when I wake up, when I go to the studio and when I turn in an album. I have control of when I want to say, when I want to say it and how I perform. It's all coming from me. With film I'm translating what somebody else has written on paper. I'm translating what I think a character is. I'm on a schedule. I wake up early. I'm on a set. I work with a lot of people so it's about respecting everyone's time and space. It's taking direction and taking orders.
AP: Jeremiah, your character in "Four Brothers," is very much a family man. Is that similar to your life?
Benjamin: Somewhat. I do have a kid (with singer Erykah Badu). I'm not married or anything. I'm not as responsible as I should be. I may not be as responsible as Jeremiah, but I think my true personality is closer to Jeremiah than Andre 3000.
AP: In the film you play ice hockey. Did it come naturally?
Benjamin: I'd never ice skated before. I'd never Rollerbladed before. The whole concept of being on skates with the thin railing, I had to get used to it. It took me about three or four days to learn how to skate period. The first two days it was terrible. I was like a little kid. By the third day, by the grace of God, it clicked. I started to really like it. I started to skate around the ice. I was doing tricks and skating backwards, spraying ice on people. It was fun. I think I will get on the ice again.
AP: How does fame affect your life? Can you walk outside without getting mobbed?
Benjamin: I love to walk outside. Right now I'm so happy that I'm in New York in the summertime. There are so many pretty people on the street just walking. If it came to the point where I couldn't walk around I would hate it. I would stop doing what I'm doing.
AP: What do you have to say about the criticism (from certain actors) that musicians should not act?
Benjamin: That's funny. I feel like if an actor played guitar and one day recorded a song and they played it on the radio and it was good, am I not going to move to it? That's how I feel about it. If it doesn't move you, you don't look at it. I've heard a lot of actors say that too. I hate that. I really hate that.
AP: What's the biggest misconception about you?
Benjamin: That I'm this wild and crazy guy. I'm the total opposite. Andre 3000 is a character in itself. He was made up. It takes a lot for me to do that. When you see me perform on television or award shows I have to get into a certain mind frame to do that type of stuff. It's not the easiest thing in the world. Sometimes I get tired of doing it.
AP: Do you have fear when you go out dressed in your Andre 3000 attire?
Benjamin: I always have fear. Not in the outfits or anything like that. I'm always nervous about getting on stage. You never know because the audience is different every time. They can like it or they may not. I like approval and I like to be accepted. If I'm not accepted I feel like I haven't done my job.
AP: What is something you want people to know about you?
Benjamin: I'm totally not the entertainer type. I never thought I would be doing music and I really don't consider myself a musician. When I meet other musicians and they tell me they have wanted to do this their whole lives. I really haven't wanted to do this my whole life. I'm just really grateful. I think that humbles me because it's really a blessing.
AP: What did you think you were going to be doing?
Benjamin: Art. I draw and paint.
AP: What keeps you driven?
Benjamin: Creativity. Anytime I have something new I feel good. If I am creating something new, I'm fine. If I'm involved in something new I'm fine. I hate to stay the same.
AP: Where do you hope to be five years from now?
Benjamin: I hope to have done a few great films. I hope to have started a worldwide brand of apparel. I just want to travel. I just want to travel a lot. In this job you get to do stuff you never thought of — like hockey.