Ice Cube and Bow Wow at the Los Angeles premiere after-party for “Lottery Ticket”
Can a lot of money buy happiness? It’s an age-old question that is posed in the film “Lottery Ticket,” which stars Bow Wow as a working-class young man named Kevin Carson, who gets more than he bargained for when he wins $370 million in the lottery. Kevin finds out that he won the money over a Fourth of July holiday weekend, so he must wait three days before he can claim his money. When the word gets out in Kevin’s urban housing-project neighborhood that he has won the lottery, his loyalties are tested with his close friends Benny (played by Brandon T. Jackson) and Stacie (played by Naturi Naughton). Complicating matters, Kevin encounters thugs and smooth operators who are after his money.
Kevin must also deal with an eclectic mix of neighbors, which include a reclusive eccentric named Mr. Washington (played by Ice Cube), who all have different agendas after Kevin wins the lottery. At the Los Angeles press conference for “Lottery Ticket,” Bow Wow, Ice Cube (who is also one of the film’s executive producers), Naughton, Jackson, Terry Crews (who plays Jimmy the Driver, an employee of a local loan shark), screenwriter Abdul Williams and director Erik White sat down to talk about their “Lottery Ticket” experience.
Ice Cube and Bow Wow in “Lottery Ticket”
Ice Cube, can you talk about the process of developing your characterization of Mr. Washington? Were there any particular challenges in playing a character who is quite a bit older than you?
Ice Cube: My father was wondering why I kept watching him, looking at his mannerisms. I know he caught me looking at him sometimes and [was] saying], “What the hell is this boy looking at?” But I was trying to pull his energy, and my uncles’ [energy]. I just remember older cats pulling me aside and telling me what I need to do to be a man in this world. What I didn’t want was to play a dude who was 70 that lost his swagger. The old dudes I know still got their swagger. They don’t lose it. I just wanted to draw from these people that have been instrumental in my life, and I couldn’t wait to play him. I was ready to get out of the box and play something a little different than what everybody’s seen.
Terry, with a cast of funny actors, how hard was it to get through a scene without falling on the floor laughing?
Crews: There were a lot of those moments. I call this the urban, funny “Expendables.” It’s all-star. Everybody here is major. We had a ball. I remember getting with Erik [White] and I just said, “Man, let’s make this one of these classics.” In my career, I started out with Cube in “Friday After Next,” and I always stay in the urban-comedy genre because it just never gets old. It’s one of those things that people watch, again and again. This is that kind of movie. It gives you longevity.
People come up to me and they just love these characters, and I think Jimmy the Driver is a character that everybody is going to like, continue to like and want to see again. It’s just been a ball. We were laughing and having a great time, shooting it in Atlanta, where there was just a buzz, with Bow Wow and Brandon [T. Jackson]. They really led the charge all the way, and it just felt like a family.
Bow Wow in “Lottery Ticket”
Bow Wow, you seem to have won the lottery in your own life, by making it big at a very young age. How did your life change when that happened? And are you a gambler in real life?
Bow Wow: Most definitely, there are a lot of things that I can relate to with Kevin. You kind of it on the nose, really. I didn’t notice that, as we were filming, until afterwards when I saw the movie and I was like, “Yo, that’s crazy!” When you make it from nothing to something, your life does drastically change overnight. You get people who you haven’t spoken to in years that want to contact you. You might have that one ex that didn’t like you, and now she wants to come back in the picture. So it was very real. Now do I gamble? That’s a personal question I’m going to keep to myself. [He laughs.]
It was definitely fun playing Kevin because, like you said, there are so many similarities that I can relate to, just dealing with the pressure. I think that a lot of people don’t understand that when you’re in that position, it’s a lot of pressure on you because everybody is watching and everybody wants a piece. It’s up to you to keep your friends tight. The one thing I love about the film is that it preaches the importance of friendship, loyalty, trust — and hopefully a lot of people can leave with that when they see the movie.
Naturi, what was it like to do a makeout kissing scene with Bow Wow since you two are such good friends?
Naughton: We are friends and I’ve known Bow Wow since I was a teenager in the business myself, but having a kissing scene with him was actually very professional. He’s such a pro. [Kudos] to him for just being great in the scene. That scene took forever … but it came out so great. We put in the work, we were professionals and I was working with someone I respect and know that I’ve had a friendship with. It’s a lot easier. It’s not weird, like “Oh my gosh.” You just say, “All right, we’re about to kiss, so don’t be putting your tongue down my throat.”
Bow Wow: Yeah, she did tell me that. I remember her saying, “Don’t go too hard!”
Naughton: “Don’t go too hard. Make sure you don’t grind on me.” Other than that, it was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it.
Bow Wow and Naturi Naughton in “Lottery Ticket”
Why did it take so long to do that scene?
White: It just kept getting better and better, so I just kept it rolling.
Naughton: It was just one of those scenes where he [Erik White] had to keep getting another take
White: Yeah, I just kept loading mags of film up and seeing what happened. It kept getting better and better between them. The chemistry was great.
What is an Erik White/Ice Cube movie set like?
Ice Cube: Well, let me just say it [“Lottery Ticket”] was Erik’s set, and we were just there to help him make sure he could get his vision [accomplished], and we could help him do it and put a little two cents in there. That’s all.
White: I’m thankful, because working with Cube, he’s such a professional, and he’s got so many incredible films under his belt. I just kind of watched what he did and how he carried himself, and that just helped me know how to carry this all-star cast throughout the shooting process. But it was really laid-back. Everyone was really professional. Everyone knew what they were doing, knew their marks.
So for me, it was just letting them just flow, and just letting them do what they do naturally. That was the biggest thing with Bow, especially. When I first talked with him about the film, I really wanted people to see the real Bow Wow. I really wanted him to draw from his own experiences and feelings, like you said, coming up from being a young child star to a superstar. I just wanted him to show the world that part of Bow Wow, and it really came through. People are going to be surprised and just really happy with Bow’s performance.
Brandon T. Jackson, Bow Wow and Naturi Naughton in “Lottery Ticket”
Abdul, how did it feel to see these “Lottery Ticket” actors say your words?
Williams: Surreal. It was a dream come true. We got an all-star cast. When you’re sitting in your office at 2 in the morning, trying to think, “Is this joke funny? Is this going to play?” And then you hear it, and they even expound on it and improvise and take it to a level that you didn’t think it could go to, and then you see it with an audience and you hear them laugh, I can’t really describe how great that feels. It just validates all your years of hard work to get to this point. So I feel just thankful and blessed.
Brandon T. Jackson did a lot of improv on the set, right?
Jackson: Who told you that?
White: Brandon made Benny!
Jackson: Yeah, I like to improv a lot on set. And it was a blessing that Erik allowed us to have the freedom with the whole script. It was a good time. Just working with Bow again and Naturi and everybody, it was a blessing. It was creative freedom. It was chemistry. We just had a good time.
Bow Wow, Mike Epps and Brandon T. Jackson in “Lottery Ticket”
Do any of you play the lottery or know anyone who’s won the lottery?
[They all say no.]
Do you see “Lottery Ticket” as a comedy or drama?
Ice Cube: I look at this as just a great movie. When you have a good movie, it’s hard to categorize it, because it’s everything. You know, it makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it makes you think. We’ve got a funny movie, but it’s a great movie, too.
One of the themes of this movie is giving back to the community after you become rich. What’s the best check that you’ve written since you made your money?
Ice Cube: You usually get good checks. Whether you’re still writing on, I don’t know if they’re ever good. [He laughs.]
Crews: I’ve got one. I was able to write a check to pay off my sister’s school bills. She’s a lawyer now, she’s an attorney, she’s doing all that stuff. That one felt really good. She is working with me, so it’s great. It’s all family business. That made it all worth it.
Bow Wow and Ice Cube in “Lottery Ticket”
Ice Cube, you’ve been doing movies for about 20 years now. Do you see yourself in this group of younger actors?
Ice Cube: Yeah, I see myself. Like I said, when you’re 70, you don’t lose your swagger, and I don’t expect to lose mine [anytime] soon. It’s a good thing to do things that people enjoy, and they ask you to do it over and over again, and you try to deliver something new every time. But it feels good to still be in the mix, doing my thing, having fun with it and growing my company. We’ve had great people to work with us. My man, [producer] Matt Alvarez … he did a lot of heavy lifting on “Lottery Ticket,” and we just continue to grow.
Erik and Abdul, can you talk about some of the plot twists in “Lottery Ticket” without giving away any spoilers?
White: It’s just keeping them guessing. That’s what we always wanted to do with the film. Always, when you think you’re at the ending or when you think you’ve seen the light at the end of the tunnel, we got to flip it and twist it on you. And that was the good think about Abdul.
Williams: Thank you. When Erik brought the idea to me, and we first sat down and had coffee and started talking about it … If anybody won the lottery, that much money, you have problems, but if you live in the projects, it’s a whole other set of problems that you have — and that’s why we set [the movie] there, and also to show a different view of the projects. So that was the challenge: Keep coming up with twists and turns in the plot. I set it during a holiday weekend, so that would give us more time that he has to keep the ticket secret and create that many more problems for him. The audience, if we keep them guessing, then I felt like we did our job.
Teairra Mari and Bow Wow in “Lottery Ticket”
Bow Wow, out of all the albums you’ve done, which is the one that you think best describes you?
Bow Wow: This movie describes me. I’m not even in album mode right now, to be totally honest. It’s all about “Lottery Ticket” right now … As of right now, that’s all I’m really focused on. I feel like it’s unfair to my fans and my cast mates to be up here talking about anything else other than this. All I’m focused on now is “Lottery Ticket.” I’ve been going heavy on Twitter about “Lottery Ticket.” I always take one thing one step at a time, and right now, this is on my agenda to make it the number-one movie come the following Monday. That’s all I’m worried about right now.
Terry, you have one of the best scenes in “The Expendables” with the huge gun. Do you think people will be surprised with your performance in “Lottery Ticket,” if they expect you to be the badass protector? Are you worried abut maintaining your “tough guy” image?
Crews: Oh man, look at my career. I’ll do anything. I was talking to Erik about doing this movie, and the whole thing about the ‘hood is that it’s all about posturing and tough guys, but it’s really weird, when all that stuff is peeled away, that’s what makes people identify with you. With Jimmy, it’s so funny because people can go, “OK, that’s the real brother.”
It’s really good because they can see the stuff in “The Expendables” one week, and then see what happens in this movie, which actually makes this funnier. It’s really a great opportunity. I just love playing all these different characters. It’s really satisfying, and these guys set it up so well for me. I’m happy it was a great twist in the movie.
Bow Wow, Terry Crews and Teairra Mari in “Lottery Ticket”
There’s a scene with Jimmy the Driver barbecuing for some people. Terry, do you cook in real life?
Crews: Cooking? Oh, no. I do a little barbecue, but that’s about it.
Naturi, “Lottery Ticket” is your third feature film. Does acting get any easier for you?
Naughton: I’m an extremely hard worker, so the process just gets more and more challenging. Being able to go from different films has been great. Everything I’ve done so far has been totally different. To be with this amazing cast in a comedy, it just makes me grow as an actress. From film to film, I realize my strengths and my weaknesses, and I realize how much better I get. I learn the lingo, I ask questions. I’m on set trying to figure out which shots they’re going to use. For me, it’s exploring the art. It’s not just making a movie. I’m enjoying the interaction, the chemistry, the cameramen. Everything about it helps me grow, as an actress.
Being on my third film, and being lucky enough to be in “Lottery Ticket” as my third film is a true blessing. I have never had so much fun. I learned so much. I actually got my comedic timing up, being around all those people, because they are so fun. Just being able to learn how to enjoy the chemistry with people on set, it keeps me growing as an actress. It’s a lot of fun.
Terry, you have your sitcom “Are We There Yet,” you’ve got your own reality show, and you have multiple films out this year. How does it feel to have all of that happening right now, and how do you balance your work with your family life?
Crews: It’s surreal. To quote Abdul, “This is a dream life.” I’m from Flint, Michigan. I’m a cat, who for all intents and purposes, I really should not be sitting here right now. I can’t even say it’s because of how cool I am and how great it is. This stuff is really given to you. It’s bestowed. How blessed I was to have Cube give me a job, when I started out in “Friday After Next.” It was an opportunity of a lifetime.
My thing is to really just be a good steward of every opportunity. You’re high and it’s running good and all this, and then eventually it goes down. I have my family — that’s one thing that helps me balance is to know that my family is always there for me. But I’m going to take it. As it’s coming, I’m taking it. And I’m just getting started. I’m just telling you right now. [He says jokingly] I can’t wait to do the [“Lottery Ticket”] sequel, “Jimmy’s Revenge.”
Bow Wow and Loretta Devine in “Lottery Ticket”
If you won $370 million, what would be the first thing you would splurge your money on?
Naughton: That’s hard. That’s a lot of money.
Ice Cube: Yeah, it’s a whole lot of money.
Naughton: It’s too much. For me, I’m from Jersey. I grew up in the ‘hood, like in East Orange, New Jersey. I might fall out like Loretta Devine did [in “Lottery Ticket”]: “Oh, Jesus!” I really don’t know what I would do, but I know I would want to do something great.
Ice Cube: I’m done splurging.
Jackson: Honestly, one of my favorite movies is “Titanic,” so I would order Leonardo DiCaprio and all of them, and bring them to the ‘hood in Detroit, and I would have him re-enact it. “Rose, never give up!” I really don’t know what I would do … It’s too much money for one man to have, so I would just give back or give it away. I think the message in the movie says what we should do with it, but I don’t know.
Bow Wow: Splurge though? I’m going straight to Vegas. I’m gong to try to double up.
Jackson: There goes your gambling problem right there.
Ice Cube, you’ve gone from N.W.A. to “Boyz n the Hood” to family films to finding new talent. Do you feel like you’ve come full circle?
Ice Cube: I don’t know if I want to come full circle. I just want to keep going forward, and just keep doing what feels good and right. I feel like I’m a filmmaker, and ‘hood comedies are our specialty. People love them, so why should I not do them because I want to do something hard? I really use my records to have the freedom of that, but my movies are for the audience. We do them for everybody to enjoy them.
If people want to see more family fare, that’s what we’re going to give them. We’re going to be good at it, and we’re going to try to be better than everybody else. We’re going to find new talent. There’s a lot of gems in our community and our world — untapped talent, people who don’t really get a big shot, I want to give them a big shot. That’s how I live, and we’ll keep going forward and not worry about what happened in the rearview mirror.
Brandon T. Jackson, Naturi Naughton and Bow Wow in “Lottery Ticket”
What can you say about the “Lottery Ticket” soundtrack? And to the cast members who are also music artists, do you see yourselves ever collaborating on any music?
Bow Wow: Nowadays, you don’t really see the soundtracks and that type of stuff anymore [become big sellers]. It was just big for them to bless me with the opportunity to do that. I didn’t want to just do it alone. I wanted to bring my cast mates with me, so that’s when I actually did my record “For My Hood,” I wanted to make sure that Erik directed the video. It only made sense because he did the movie. And I wanted Naturi and Brandon and Teairra [Mari] and all my cast mates to get in it. I wanted Cube and I wanted Terry in it, but they just weren’t available at the time.
Ice Cube, when you first became very successful, did your friends change and want something from you?
Ice Cube: The first thing they tell you is, “Don’t change! Don’t change!” But what you realize is that you don’t change that much. It’s everybody around you. You find yourself kind of alienated. Everybody is talking about you before you get there, and you can feel it. It’s a whole different thing. Everybody that wants to be successful should always be careful of what you wish for. A lot of artists and entertainers want to put the genie back in the bottle and wish they could go back to being who they were. It’s not like that, so you’ve got to make the adjustment.
What the adjustment was this; here’s what I made: Who was cool with me before I made the money was going to be cool with me now. Who wasn’t cool with me before I made this, I’m giving them problems all the time, like I was before. I was all, “Don’t get nice on me now!” That’s how I approached it. I just made sure I stayed myself … I just wanted to stay myself. That’s what I did and it all worked out. We’ll live. This is a good problem to have, but we’ll live.
Members of the “Lottery Ticket” team at the film’s Los Angeles premiere. Pictured from left to right: producer Andrew A. Kosove, Brandon T. Jackson, Terry Crews, director Erik White, Bow Wow, Bill Bellamy, Naturi Naughton and producer Broderick Johnson.
Erik, what was it like having “Lottery Ticket” as your first feature film that you’ve directed? And how did you deal with all the improvisation with this large group of actors?
White: Like I said before, I felt incredibly blessed for a first film to have this kind of cast. You don’t [usually] get this kind of cast for your first film. So it was really like everyone playing off of each other. And coming from videos and commercials, I knew how to control a set, so it was really about just getting with the actors and letting them just flow and letting the chemistry happen. So for me, it was easy, actually. I got lucky with these guys. I’m lucky for my first film that I got this opportunity.
Did any of the cast have any nervousness about working with a first-time movie director?
Cube: We work with a lot of first-time directors. We always have, probably always will. We like the collaborative spirit of first-time directors, and I think we do well with them.
Brandon T. Jackson and Bow Wow in “Lottery Ticket”
Brandon, you’re a comedian at heart, so can you talk about what it was like to do that dramatic scene with Bow Wow on the roof in “Lottery Ticket”?
Jackson: Honestly, this is going to sound so corny, but I used to watch a lot of Disney movies when I was a kid. Remember “Aladdin”? Aladdin used to look over the skyline at what he could have. I didn’t want Benny to just be funny. I wanted him to represent the kid who really wants to do more, but he can’t because of his current situation of being in the projects, because it’s not his fault, but it’s his birthright and what he was born with. So I tried to embody that.
If you look at the film, when you see the projects, everybody is poor, but you look over there and there’s a big skyline of richness and you’re like, “Why can’t we just go past this block?” In that one scene, I tried to embody that for every kid that feels like they want to get out. In that one scene, that’s what I was trying to do.
I talked to some of my cousins and listened to what they would say, and they were like, “We just can’t control it. We can’t eat.” It makes no sense that we’re in America and some people just can’t eat. That’s bad. They have to depend on the government to eat. So I started listening to them and I just felt it, and then I tried to get mad at Bow Wow, but it’s hard to get mad at this dude, because he’s got those hazel eyes and he’s nice. He’s a cool dude, so I’m trying to find reasons to get mad at him in that scene …
White: I told Bow, “Nobody talk to Brandon this morning.” I wanted him to feel the tension of people ignoring him, and start to get into his own head. So by the time they got on the roof, Brandon just exploded. So it was crazy.
Jackson: Yeah, it was nuts … That was two hours, but it was a good time though. Thank you, Erik, for that.
Bow Wow and Gbenga Akinnagbe in “Lottery Ticket”
In “Lottery Ticket,” Kevin works at Foot Locker, and he dreams of designing his own sneaker line. Bow Wow, have you been approached to have your own brand of sneakers? And what can you say about the message that “Lottery Ticket” has, particularly for young people, about how they should spend their money if they get rich?
Bow Wow: I was approached about doing a sneaker, and I was actually going to open my own sneaker store in Atlanta, but it didn’t [work out]. I’m glad it didn’t, because this [being an entertainer] is what I do. I don’t really know how to sell shoes. I’m just a fan of it, so I don’t want to invest too much of my money in it and lose out. I just didn’t want to do it, but that’s one thing I love about the character, too. Like I said, it’s funny that you’re asking me all these questions, because I’m just sitting here thinking of all the similarities with Kevin, whether it’s sneakers or the girls or just whatever, it’s just so like me.
But to answer your question [about the sneaker line], I was approached to do it, but I didn’t do it. I backed out of it. I was actually a deal Stephon Marbury, but once I saw he went crazy, I was like, “Whoa! Let me back up out of this real quick. I don’t know if this is a good thing to do.” I went on ahead and backed out early. I saved face, so it’s all good.
Williams: We didn’t want to be heavy-handed at all with the message for the movie, but if its one thing that we hope it’s “Don’t stand in your own way.” That’s what I think the journey that Kevin realizes. Yeah, with a lottery ticket, you can capture all your dreams with that, but what we really wanted to show was that the boundaries were all in his mind. The Stacie character gets that; she’s already on a trajectory. Benny he has that — he knows he wants to get through, but he doesn’t know exactly how to get there.
Kevin knows what he wants. He has an entrepreneurial dream, that he’s a sneakerhead who wants to start a sneaker company, but like Brandon was saying, “how do you get there from here?” And what we really wanted to show was, “Don’t stand in your own way. Don’t let any mental boundaries tell you want you can’t do, or your environment tell you what you can’t do, or haters tell you what you can’t do.” A lottery ticket helps, but it’s not necessary for you to achieve what you want.
For more info: “Lottery Ticket” website
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Photo credits: Photo #1: Getty Images. Photo #12: AP. All other photos: Warner Bros. Pictures.