Nick Cannon was getting serious long before starring in ‘Chi-Raq’

Photo by Raymond Hagans for Steed Media Service

Nick Cannon’s typical public persona doesn’t exactly scream “hard-core gangbanger,” so when it was revealed that the actor-host-recording artist-mogul would be starring in Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq as a gang leader, a lot of critics scoffed. After all, this is the guy who became famous via Nickelodeon and has gone on to become an endearingly goofy Black Ryan Seacrest; why on earth would anyone believe he can effectively play a menacing criminal?

But Cannon says that anyone who believes that he can’t do drama hasn’t really been paying much attention.

“When you think about all of the films that I’ve been in — they’ve been serious, potent films,” Cannon told rolling out. “Whether it’s [movies like] Weapons or Bobby or even Drumline, there was always a message and a meaning. My TV stuff and my music stuff — you might see me on Wild N Out or Nickelodeon — that stuff is a little lighter.”

Cannon explains that doing movies gives him the opportunity to break away from the persona he’s most known for. It’s a format in which he’s been able to showcase a myriad of his acting skills and he looks at the art form as an avenue for deeper character exploration as an actor. “Film, I feel, is an art form where you get the opportunity to talk about serious issues and embody characters in a way that aren’t always so two-dimensional and jovial and happy for the camera. [With Chi-Raq], you get to see the inner workings of a young man’s mind. I thank Spike for being a visionary and giving me an opportunity.”

And as far as working with Lee, Cannon says it was a dream come true for him.

“I grew up wanting to be in films because of Spike,” he shares. “School Daze, Do the Right Thing — that’s the stuff I came up on. It’s a dream come true.

Chi-Raq opens Dec. 4 and the satirical look at Chicago gang violence has already rubbed a number of people the wrong way. The satirical tone has been criticized as inappropriate given the grim reality of the subject matter and the movie’s premise — a sex strike by women in the community is used as a means to quell violence — is giving many naysayers pause. But Cannon thinks that the movie is timely and important.

“Spike said he wants to stop using the word ‘controversial,’ he said we’re going to say ‘thought-provoking,’ ” Cannon explains. “That’s what we’re going to go with. Really, this film is about reconditioning mindsets. It’s about elevating our minds and uplifting our community in the best way possible.”

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