Nelly on Acting, Rapping and 'The Longest Yard'

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Ed Gordon talks with rap artist Nelly about his acting debut in the remake of The Longest Yard, starring Saturday Night Live alumni Adam Sandler and Chris Rock.

ED GORDON, host:

Nelly is the latest rapper to try his hand at acting. He plays a convict in the film "The Longest Yard." The movie is a remake of the 1974 prison football comedy of the same name. This "Longest Yard" also reunites "Saturday Night Live" alums Adam Sandler and Chris Rock.

(Soundbite of "The Longest Yard")

NELLY: (As Earl Megget) Y'all got a running back?

Mr. ADAM SANDLER: (As Paul Crewe) Not any good ones.

NELLY: (As Earl Megget) No disrespect, dude, but any man that can take that kind of beating out here, can't wait to see what he can do in a contact sport.

GORDON: Nelly helped produce the soundtrack for the movie, but he admits he didn't know much about the original version that starred Burt Reynolds, who also appears in the remake.

NELLY: Well, you know, it was made in '74, so, you know, it was a little bit before my time, you know. But I got a chance to see it, like, in the '80s, and then I had a chance to review it, like, a couple of months before we started shooting, you know, to kind of re-up on it and make sure, you know, that I understood what was going on. And, you know, so it was cool.

GORDON: Nelly, is this something that you're going to try to hone your craft in? I mean, you've been pretty smart in all of the things that you've done to this point. If, indeed, you say, you know, `This wasn't bad. I could see some other things,' will you start to take acting classes? Will you do other things?

NELLY: I think definitely this is something that I see myself in as far as really having a future, and I would, you know, take the correct steps that I would need to. I think that's part of the reason why I took this role, is that it was something I could relate to easier, you know, as far as me playing football. You know, I've been playing football since I was 11 and all through high school and just hanging out with the fellows. You know, that was something I could do, too, so I thought it would be good.

GORDON: And I ask that because I've watched you do the other side of business and learning it. I mean, you're a co-owner of a NASCAR team. You've got a little slice of an NBA team. I know that you've delved into clothing lines and a lot of other things, and I know you pulled the coattail of others who are in business or who have transformed themselves from entertainers to business people, and I know you're trying to learn that end of it as well.

NELLY: Oh, of course, man. Again, it is funny, though, you just said that, because I just got off the phone with Jay-Z. I look at people like Jay and Puff, Ice Cube, Master P, everybody who's had success outside of music and who's been able to turn hip-hop into entrepreneurship. I'm just trying to take my time, though. I think everything that I've been able to do kind of falls in line with my personality. I love the race cars, so NASCAR was a no-brainer. Of course, I love sports. I mean, it's like a dream of mine to own a franchise, so the NBA team was a no-brainer. I try to stay pretty fashionable.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NELLY: So, you know, the clothes thing was, again, you know, right up my alley, and I've been giving, man, since I can remember, so my non-for-profits is automatic for me.

GORDON: Despite all the fame, you've got to go through what life brings you.

NELLY: Right.

GORDON: And we should note that since then, unfortunately, your sister passed away who was dealing with and fighting leukemia. And I know that you've done so much in bone marrow donation. Talk to me a little bit about what this year has been for you on that side.

NELLY: This year has definitely been one of ups and far, far downs, I would say. You know, losing my sister is like--I've I've never lost anyone that was that close to me. She kind of meant the world to me, man. I mean, she was everything. She was not just my sister. She was my stylist, my home keeper, I would say. Even though my children were her nieces and nephews, she was like a mother because, you know, she looked out for my kids a lot. And, so everything that I'm constantly doing, it constantly reminds of her.

GORDON: What of the downside of fame, Nel, the idea that even people, when you're trying to help with--for instance, the bone marrow donation...

NELLY: Right.

GORDON: ...some will say, `Oh, you know what, man? You're just trying to use your sister's illness to get a little publicity.' Do you get tired of that?

NELLY: I've never got that. I didn't get that. You know what I'm saying? I didn't get that. I never got that I'm doing this for publicity. Never. How could I do this for publicity? This is my sister. You know what I'm saying? This is not like I've searched around the world to find the sickest person that I possibly could find and then try to help them or something like that. No, this is my sister. Fortunately, I've never had anybody blame that to me like that.

GORDON: Wherever you go, St. Louis comes with you, and this time, you've brought a bit of Hollywood to St. Louis...

NELLY: Yeah.

GORDON: ...and that's with the premiere of this movie.

NELLY: Yeah. That was the first time, I think, we've ever had a premiere that size and that large to go down. To have Adam, Chris and Burt come through, man, that was like--that was crazy. St. Louis loved it. I feel real fortunate I can be the one to bring it.

GORDON: And before we let you go, let me ask you this: You still knocking those pins down?

NELLY: Yeah, man. I ain't really got a chance to really get it going, but I've been lacking, man. I've been bowling, like, 180s and 170s right now. That's not good for me, man. I need to get back in my twos, you know.

GORDON: Is that a good way for you to relax, man?

NELLY: It is. Really I'm waiting 'cause I have a few golf lessons coming up. I'm going to try to get into that. I think golf is going to be my next project, so I gotta wait.

GORDON: Well, if you're going to be on that business side, you know you got to do that. Listen, it is always a pleasure to talk to you, man.

NELLY: Thank you.

GORDON: I'm proud of all of what you're doing.

NELLY: I appreciate it.

GORDON: And you know, we're wishing you luck on "The Longest Yard" with Adam Sandler and Chris Rock. Nelly, thanks, man.

NELLY: No, no problem. Thanks, man.

(Soundbite of song "Fly Away")

NELLY: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible) turn off the light. See, I'm going to to read everything in sight. It's kind of hard trying to read at night, but I'm going to change my life. I hope another brother takes this flight. Yes, I will fly away. I won't come back no more. I turn around just to see it for the last time. See, now I know, hey, that it won't be easy. (Unintelligible) I make it this far. I don't know if I can make it this far,

(Credits)

GORDON: To listen to the show, visit npr.org. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American public radio consortium.

(Soundbite of song "The Longest Yard")

NELLY: (Singing) They can punch me high, they can kick me low. That don't mean it's going to take more than that for them to break my soul. Man, it's hard for people to understand what it's like to be gated, incarcerated, most can't take it ...(unintelligible) see better days. Yes I could fly away. I won't come back no more. I turn around just to see it for the last time.

GORDON: I'm Ed Gordon. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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