His one unfulfilled dream is to complete a triathlon, which would be the perfect cause for his charity: Camp Cool J for the inner-city kids of Queens. LL Cool J first tasted fame at the tender age of 17, and, somehow, he deftly managed to avoid the honey traps and minefields that come with the territory of being a steadfast presence on the Hollywood scene.
Interviewed by George Wayne
Photograph by Patrick Fraser.
George Wayne: How’s it hangin’, Todd?
LL Cool J: I feel great.
Your granny was the only person to call you “Todd,” right?
That was many years ago. Now everybody calls me that.
This interview is a benchmark moment of sorts for G.W., because you are the very first celebrity I ever interviewed, some 23 years ago. We met at a restaurant in Midtown, and you walked in all swagger and braggadocio with a mantourage. The first thing I said was “I didn’t know I was coming here to interview 10 people!”
What did I say?
You gave me a look as if to say, “Who is this guy talking to me like that?” I’ll ask you the same first question I asked you then: Who discovered LL Cool J?
Rick Rubin gave me my break. I went down to his dorm at N.Y.U. and met with Russell [Simmons], let them hear my demo. And they formed Def Jam and put my first record out.
And here you are, one of the founding fathers of hip-hop—famous since 1985! Now you’re working with Robin on a hit TV show?
Robin? Do you mean Chris O’Donnell?
He was in Batman & Robin.
And he seems to be very proud of that, too. The first time we met was at a table reading, and then we went immediately to weapons training—we started to hit each other in the face with whipped-cream pies. It’s become a ritual before every table reading: we have pie fights.
You also get to work with Oscar winner Linda Hunt.
She basically grabs us by the collar every week and shows us how it’s done. She is my favorite part, the heart of the show.
Your wife can still bounce a penny off your flawless abs. What day of the week do you work out on the chest, shoulders, and triceps?
I don’t always split my workout like that. Now it’s more about maintenance. I do full-body every day.
Are you upset you’re not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
No. I was actually nominated once before. I was still surprised and amazed to get the nomination. I didn’t expect it.
I hear that famous Kangol hat of yours is in the Smithsonian.
My Kangol isn’t in the Smithsonian, but VH1 commissioned Kehinde Wiley to do a portrait of me—which is now on loan to the Smithsonian.
My favorite LL Cool J hit is “Going Back to Cali.” “I’m going back to Cali, to Cali—”
You sound great. You should do a remake. I’ll even style you for the video, put you in a nice outfit. I promise.
Maybe a cast of LL Cool J look-alikes behind me. A whole stud posse.
You wouldn’t need the look-alikes, because you would have the real thing.
Wow! While filming Any Given Sunday, you had that unscripted bout of fisticuffs with your co-star Jamie Foxx. What did he do for LL Cool J to lose his cool?
He prepared me some bad fish. He was on the set, in the locker room, frying fish. We got into an argument over whether I wanted it well done or not. And one thing led to another, and soon pots and pans were flying.
In your autobiography you write candidly about your father wounding your mother with a shotgun. You never let that hinder you.
Nobody is perfect, but life is about choices. You can’t let your past hold your future hostage.
Well said. Thank you.
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