Ice Cube admits that he, like many others, raised his eyebrows when he heard that the 1987 Johnny Depp television series "21 Jump Street" was going to be adapted for the big screen. But thanks to a fresh approach by star Jonah Hill and his co-writer Michael Bacall, Cube said his fears were immediately put to rest: "21 Jump Street" the television drama was about to become a no-holds-barred action comedy.
"To be honest, when I heard there was going to be a '21 Jump Street' movie, I was like, 'Why?' But to flip the idea the way they did with the story, now I can understand why they wanted to do it," Cube told me in an interview Thursday.
Opening in theaters Friday, "21 Jump Street" follows a pair of former high school adversaries-turned-police academy buddies, Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum), as they're given their first big undercover assignment to pose as teenagers to infiltrate a high school synthetic drug ring. Cube plays the duo's hard-edged boss, Captain Dickson, who holds court in broken down, old church located on 21 Jump Street.
Dickson delivers some hilarious mother F-bombs with authority when Schmidt and Jenko first meet their new boss, and Cube said part of the reason the scene works so well is because Hill and Tatum didn't expect that he'd come at them with such ferocity.
"It was fun because that was our first day working together," Cube recalled. "They were really blown away because we didn't really have a chance to kick the dialogue around a lot before that, and here I was, coming down on them. It felt real, which is cool. That's what you want."
Cube said while Hill and Tatum were taken aback on the first day of filming, Hill had surprises waiting for him, too. The first time Cube screened the film, he was met with a blast from his musical past with a 1988 smash from his former group, N.W.A.
"Jonah just said that he wanted to have not only the feel of buddy comedies of the '80s, but some of the music from the '80s and just thought our music was perfect," said Cube. "I was surprised at the screening and thought, 'Damn, they put "Straight Outta Compton" in there!' Whenever you put 'Straight Outta Compton in a scene, it enhances it for some reason."
Another surprise in "21 Jump Street" involves a pivotal scene with Depp -- not because that he has a cameo in the film (which was well-publicized) -- but in the way he's used. And while the nature of the megastar's cameo won't be revealed here, Cube said Depp's cameo was a necessity for "21 Jump Street" to truly work.
"It adds some weight to the film. It adds the stamp of approval," Cube said. "Even though we took his original work and flipped it on his ear, we always wondered, 'What is Johnny going to think of this?' With anybody who was a part of the original series, you wonder, 'What are they going to think of us taking this thing and turning it upside down but still calling it "21 Jump Street"?' So to me, to get that stamp of approval is icing on the cake."
It shouldn't come as a huge surprise that the door is left wide open for another "21 Jump Street" film, and Cube said he'll jump at the chance to be in it.
"I think it's only right to do sequels," Cube said. "I've never understood actors who don't want to do sequels. When you do something that the audience loves, they want those characters to live on. You owe it to the people who invested themselves in the first film to do everything you can to be a part of the sequel."
And with any luck, Cube said he'll someday get to bring to the big screen another television classic with the 1970s classic sitcom "Welcome Back, Kotter." For now, he said, the once-planned project is in turnaround, but that doesn't mean he's completely given up on it.
"I don't even know if it's going to happen, but I would have love to flip that story and do something modern with it," said Cube, 41. "I think the nature of 'Welcome Back, Kotter' series is still timely."
Part of the reason Cube said he loved "Welcome Back, Kotter" was because the series, which began in 1975, was definitely unique for its time.
"We had 'The Bad News Bears' before that, but a for TV show, you never saw a classroom full of the bad kids," Cube said. "We never saw how they were treated before that. The fact was, they were intelligent and funny."