LL Cool J: From Rap to Wrap

Pimps, drug dealers, killers, and con men. Those are a few of the personae that Hollywood has tried to foist upon rap star LL Cool J. Each time he turned them down cold. "It would have been tempting for me to take those roles, had my music career not been going as well as it has been," says LL (the name stands for Ladies Love Cool James), whose four albums to date have gone platinum. "I wasn't about to play the guy who enters a neighborhood and brings down the property values."

When director John Badham came along with a role in The Hard Way, it fit snugly into LL's cinematic view of himself: He's cast as an undercover cop alongside James Woods and Michael J. Fox. "I was honored to be given a role that actually sheds the right kind of light upon me and my people," LL says. "I want to portray intelligent, thinking human beings--role models. Otherwise you're just looking like a savage on screen."

Soft-spoken, dressed in blue jeans and a calf-length black mink coat--"I hate animals," he jokes. "That's why I wear 'em"--with a thin braid of gold around his neck, LL Cool J is blase about the squealing female fans who turned out each day to watch him shoot his scenes on location in lower Manhattan, perhaps because they unwittingly accomplished something else for their hero. "All of a sudden I was given an extra-large trailer."

With two tiny parts already under his belt--a cameo in Kiush Groove and a small bit as a rapper in Wild Cats--the music star laughs at the notion of taking acting lessons. "John Badham kept telling me to do my thing. That was the only direction I required. So I did a little jumping, a little chasing, a little dialogue, and a little humor. It was all natural." LL Cool J smiles and fiddles with the floppy brim of his cherry-red crushed velvet hat as he suavely adds, "Just like Breyers ice cream."

Michael Kaplan