SPOKANE, Wash. – Hollywood isn't waiting around for the Iraq war to end before making movies about the conflict.
"Home of the Brave," an independent film that just wrapped up primary filming here, will be the first to arrive of several in the works. Starring Samuel L. Jackson, it focuses on the difficult transition from battlefield to homefront.
Jackson portrays a doctor facing an uneasy return, and Jessica Biel, Brian Presley and hip-hop star 50 Cent play soldiers who also face the challenges of coming home. Christina Ricci plays Presley's girlfriend.
While surviving shootings (nine, his notorious backstory goes) and stabbings in New York, as he did during his youth as a drug-dealing player, is not like trying to stay alive in Iraq, 50 Cent said he could empathize with what the soldiers go through. A trip to Iraq to perform for the soldiers only reinforced his feelings.
"They don't report back every casualty in a war... and somebody dies every day. They don't report that back at home. You know what I mean, but that's the way it is," the platinum-selling rapper said in a recent interview.
"So, can you imagine waking up in the morning, coming back, and somebody's not in the bunk next to you? Your imagination says, `one of these days.' You have to take into account that it's happening all around you, that one day your bunk is going to be empty; that you will be the person that don't make it back," he said.
The experience can be transforming, the rap star said.
"I believe that would change a person's spirit," he said. "I don't believe they come back exactly the same person, whether they actually killed, themselves, or they just was around killing while it was going on... I believe your spirit changes with that much death around you."
50 Cent, real name Curtis James Jackson III, has sold millions of recordings flaunting his sordid past, with explicit lyrics and images of being shot and stabbed. He figures the persona he adopted as a street tough might help him pursue a film career.
"In the environment that I come from, you have to be aggressive enough to actually get by," he said. "Me, I had to be two people: I had to be aggressive enough to get by in the neighborhood and then my grandma's baby in the house.
"People who meet me, it's common that they say, `well, you aren't exactly what I expected you to be.' And I go, `Well, sorry if I let you down, that I didn't shoot you."'
When approached by50 Cent's agent about casting the rap star, producer-director Irwin Winkler ("Rocky," "Raging Bull," "The Right Stuff" and "Goodfellas") was skeptical.
"I kind of shrugged it off," he said. "I don't want somebody with an entourage. We want to make it very real and in our own time frame."
50, accompanied to this interview by a bodyguard and personal assistant, said he just wanted to fit in, and to work with the distinguished Academy Award-winning producer-director.
When he met Winkler, 50 Cent was grandma's baby and hip-hop entrepreneur.
"I was absolutely taken by him. He was open and friendly; not what you expect from a gangster rapper," Winkler said. "There was some reluctance on my part originally, but it turned out well."
So well that 50's work in Morocco — where the film's battle scenes were shot — persuaded Winkler to expand the rapper's role, adding two additional scenes to flesh out his character.
"This film will be the film that they get a chance to see it and say, `wow, he's talented,"' 50 said.
In the luxury hotel suite where he stayed last month while waiting to shoot the movie's final scenes here, the 29-year-old looked more businessman than gangster. He has his own record label, G-Unit, and wore items from his G-Unit clothing line. He proudly showed off sneakers made in collaboration with Reebok.
While once he sold illegal drugs, 50 now pushes vitamin drinks in a venture with a Queens, N.Y., company that promotes healthy eating among obesity-prone children.
"Home of the Brave" is scheduled for release at the end of the year.
The other Iraq-related film projects include "Last Man Home" directed by Ron Howard.
Though his drug dealing is behind him, 50 Cent's hip-hop world is often filled with gunfire.
"One of the largest forms of entertainment is death," he said. "It's our fate, so we figure out really creative ways to put ourselves in life-threatening situations and, by the skin of our teeth, be able to get by."