Interview: Nick Cannon

Photo by Robert Chamorro for YRB Magazine

He arrives at Universal Motown’s artists lounge rocking dark denim, a gray hoodie and a N.Y. Yankee’s hat and jacket – never mind that he’s from the Left Coast. Ever the dignified baller, he doesn’t seem to be a man of excess. Today, at least, he wears only two pieces of bling – an iced out watch and a relatively modest gold chain – and it’s all he needs. He is, after all, Nick Cannon, and at just 25-years-old, he has already conquered the worlds of stand-up comedy, television, film, music and even fashion, after he “kinda’ just purchased” the PNB clothing line. It’s enough to make even the most ambitious among us feel like slackers. It seems that anything you can do, Nick Cannon can do better, and he probably already has.

Born in San Diego, Nick moved to North Carolina at the age of 11, where he began using his father’s public access program as a venue to perform his own skits and comedy routines. He soon returned to the West Coast, and before long managed to work his way onto the stages of such famous Los Angeles clubs as The Comedy Store and The Laugh Factory. Still in his teens, Cannon was cast in the popular Nickelodeon series All That, before catching his first big-screen break in 2002, when he landed the lead in Drumline, exposing him to a much larger (and older) audience. “Kids knew who I was before Drumline – I was like ‘Mr. Nickelodeon’ before then – which I didn’t have a problem with…hey, their money spends just like everybody else’s.”

Even if you missed his stint on All That, it would be harder to miss Nick Cannon Presents Wild ‘N Out (it seems to be on television as often as Law & Order re-runs), the MTV sketch comedy series he created, directs and hosts. “I’ll give you two secrets about Wild ‘N Out. One is that we rehearse the actual games. We never rehearse any of the subject matters, or what the audience throws out there – you can’t rehearse that stuff. But we know the games back and forth, so we know the logistics of the games,” he says. “The other thing is, when they give us all the topics and stuff and you see us huddle – on the show you see us huddle for like 10 seconds. But realistically, in real-time, it’s more like 45 seconds. So we get a little bit of time to kinda’ come up with stuff.”

And then there’s his music career. Nick’s Can I Ball/Universal Motown imprint will release Stages (the follow-up album to his 2003 self-titled debut) on June 15th, by which time the single, “Dime Piece,” will have been getting heavy radio burn for months. In addition to Kanye West, who produced the track “My Wife,” guest appearances on Stages include Anthony Hamilton, Talib Kweli and E-40 — what he describes as “an eclectic group of folks.” Cannon has also been busy searching for the perfect female co-star for his next video, hitting up virtually every major city in the U.S.

It’s difficult to classify Nick. Is he an actor with a hit record, or a singer with a hit show? When asked whether there is one talent that he identifies himself with more closely, Cannon cleverly responds that choosing one “is like choosing between your kids. You don’t really have a favorite, you love them all the same – and if you do love one more, you don’t tell the other ones!”

While he has tended toward lighter, coming-of age-type flicks in the past, Cannon’s latest silver screen roles will test his abilities as a dramatic actor. This summer, he’ll be appearing in a horror flick called Monster House, and, perhaps more surprisingly, in Bobby, a drama that tells the story of the 1968 assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Written and directed by Emilio Estevez, Bobby also stars Hollywood veterans Anthony Hopkins, Demi Moore and William H. Macy.

“I need to do a movie so I can go to Sundance… something small, something quick, just to get a ticket,” says Cannon, smiling. “Before I was in Drumline, Love Don’t Cost a Thing, it was kinda’ like one is good money, and two is like, just to get my face out there. But I feel like I’ve established a brand and a name thus far that I really now wanna’ take a step back and focus on the craft element of it, and not always be worrying about the biggest movie [or] box office and stuff, because I have stuff like my music career, the television show — the things that kinda’ keep me out there, so when it comes to film…it’s just a little more challenging and exciting for me to keep it on the independent route,” says Cannon, adding, “Like I’ll do a movie with a $500,000 budget
if I believe enough in the script.”

If you watch HBO’s Entourage like the rest of the cool kids, then you know what he means. “Entourage is my life! When I tell you that’s my favorite show in the world, it’s because I could write that whole show in my sleep, because it’s just like they take elements of my life. Everyday, you know, I go to my agent, and it’s like, ‘Look, I don’t wanna’ do Aquaman, I wanna’ do Queens Boulevard!’” Nick says, referring to the Entourage storyline.

If Queens Boulevard is fictional movie star Vincent Chase’s opus, then Weapons is Nick Cannon’s. He says he was approached with various other scripts when this “phenomenal” one came along, and although some people were ambivalent (“A lot of people at my agency were like, ‘Why would you wanna’ do that? What about your youth audience?’”), he was determined to do the film. Weapons is scheduled to premiere at this year’s Toronto Film Festival. It may not be Sundance, but it counts.

With mentors like Will Smith and Jamie Foxx looking out for him (“Jamie Foxx, hands down, is the most talented person I’ve ever met,” he says), it’s not exactly shocking that Cannon was able to catch a break in Hollywood. In fact, he has often been compared to the Fresh Prince himself. “I joke around about that, because I love the fact that people compare me to the highest-paid movie star ever. If they were comparing me to Gary Coleman, then I would have some problems with that…[Will Smith] has been like a brother to me, always giving me advice and helping me in my career. He put me in my first movie, Men In Black II – if you blink, you miss me, but it was a wonderful experience at the time.”

Though the guy who titled his first hit single “Gigolo” is no longer the Nickelodeon poster child he once was, to a great extent Cannon has managed to retain his crispy clean public image. “I’m a good guy with bad tendencies. I think everybody has that in them,” he admits. “Ultimately, I feel like I am really a nice catch that you could probably take home to your mom, but I still have all those same thoughts as all the bad guys, I’m just maybe not acting on them as much as they do.”

With taping for the third season of Wild ‘N Out underway, and with three movies and a solo album about to drop, what other choice did Nick have but to buy the PNB clothing label? “I’m having a lot of fun with just designing denim. It’s the coolest thing you could ever do if you meet a girl and be like, ‘I could custom-make your jeans.’ They love that; ‘Oh, you’ll make me some jeans?’” he says, assuming a girlish voice.

At this rate, 10 years from now Nick Cannon will be running for President – and if the Constitution didn’t require that candidates be at least 35-years old, he’d probably be on the ticket in 2008. In the meantime, he hopes that in the future he’ll be able to get involved with “philanthropy” and “humanitarian work.” He’d also like to start a family eventually (though he remains single after a rather public break-up with former girlfriend, singer/actress Christina Milian).

So what’s the one thing the man who truly has everything simply couldn’t live without? “Magnum condoms,” he says, laughing (much to the dismay of his publicist). “Hey, that’s safe sex – I can’t live without ‘em! You don’t have ‘em, you won’t be livin’ too long!”

(A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN YRB MAGAZINE COPYRIGHT © 2007)

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