At the Lakewood Stages in Atlanta, Georgia we are inside of a house on a sunny day, or at least you would think that until you looked up and saw the entire ceiling was made up of lighting rigs, and that “sunlight” is a few very powerful lights blasting through the windows. When it is done well this is the kind of illusion that is always disorienting, no matter how many film sets you’ve been on… well, and the fact that all the furniture is covered in plastic to protect continuity.
This particular set is for Warner Bros. new urban comedy Lottery Ticket, directed by music video auteur Erik White and starring rapper-turned-actor Bow Wow (born Shad Moss) who has made himself a marquee name in pictures like Roll Bounce and the third “Fast and Furious” installment, “Tokyo Drift.” His character, Kevin, is a would-be shoe designer with the walls of his room covered in his own personal sneaker drawings, along with a closet holding at least 50 boxes of Nikes and Adidas. This is a young man with a dream who is about to be blessed (and cursed) with a stroke of luck.
“The movie is about a young man named Kevin, who I play, who wins the lottery,” says Bow Wow. “It’s the 4th of July weekend, and unfortunately on the 4th of July weekend you have to wait to cash the ticket. The whole thing is I’m trying to keep this thing a secret. For those who never lived in the hood, it’s hard to keep things quiet, and after the word gets out I’m fighting off everybody who wants a piece of me. I’ve got people who wanna kill me, chasing me, people who want stuff, so I’m going through all of these things in a 2-day period just to keep my mouth closed so when Monday comes I can claim my prize.”
The chaos that ensues involves nefarious characters such as Lorenzo, a neighborhood thug who attempts to snatch the ticket from Kevin, and benign ones such as Mr. Washington, a local eccentric former boxer who never leaves his basement, played by the film’s producer, the legendary Ice Cube. The first shots of the day involve Kevin waking up in Mr. Washington’s house only to realize that Lorenzo has stolen the winning ticket.
“He stole my ticket! I should be able to go right over to him and take it back, straight up,” Bow Wow shouts at Cube, who is rocking a kufi, jogging outfit, and gray beard for this outing. In the 15 years since Cube launched his own urban comedy franchise with Friday, he has slowly transitioned from the hot-headed youth to the sage old man dispensing advice. Mr. Washington tries to talk some sense into Kevin, about how to be a man and deal with Lorenzo, but the boy is undeterred.
“Sittin’ around here’s getting’ us nowhere, we’re wasting our time!” exclaims Kevin before bolting out the door. From his easy chair Mr. Washington yells back, “Hey, protect yourself at all times,” before returning to his newspaper and coffee.
According to Bow Wow, “The relationship between me and Mr. Washington is kinda unique because Kevin lives with his grandmother, and never had his mom or his father around. To the neighborhood Mr. Washington’s a weirdo because he never comes out from downstairs, but Kevin senses something special about him. Once I have a sit-down with him I understand he’s a real person and he becomes like a mentor, the voice a young man needs in his life. It’s the older guy schoolin’ the young cat.”
Playing Kevin’s best friend, ally, and foil in all this madness is Brandon T. Jackson, best known for parodying rappers-turned-actors as Alpa Chino in Tropic Thunder. He plays Benny, the hyperactive sidekick who inadvertently gets the word out about the ticket.
“Kevin is kinda the straight-laced guy,” says Jackson, “while Benny’s a little more heightened, little bit more loose than Kevin. The setting is the projects, any projects in America. It doesn’t say a city. If you’ve ever been to the projects you know it’s about poverty. I think it’s perfect for our story and what’s going on today in America with the recession, it just hits it right on the head. You got these kids that are 19, don’t know what you’re gonna do after school. Everybody’s kinda got that job you just go to every day. Benny’s the kind of person that sells doorknobs, earring bags, knick knacks, any way to make a quick buck. When Kevin wins that $370 million dollars it’s a whole different situation because it’s like we’re no longer trapped in this setting anymore. We can do anything we wanna do, we can go anywhere we like, and its time to live it up! Benny’s stirring everything up.”
“It was kinda weird having Brandon right back by my side again in this film,” says Bow Wow, who previously shared the screen with Jackson in 2005’s Roll Bounce. “It’s cool, because we already know each other so the chemistry we had on ‘Roll Bounce’ we kinda just carried it over and brought it to this film. I’m sure everybody knew once we came on screen what we were capable of doing. For me and Brandon it’s like a walk in the park, it’s easy. He’ll tell you, ‘I know what Bow Wow’s gonna do,’ and I know what Brandon’s gonna bring. We just know each other like that. It’s cake.”
“We’re a little bit older now,” admits Jackson. “It reminds me of that ‘Bad Boys’ situation, two young black dudes in this setting doing a movie that speaks to our generation. It’s really hard to do these days because you have certain rappers in a movie that can’t act, but you got an actor right now, Bow Wow, who’s a really good actor. I’ve been in scenes with Robert Downey Jr. and Uma Thurman, and Bow Wow is right up there killin’ it too!”
Once outside the soundstage we enter a huge hangar area where a giant yellow Hummer limo sits parked. In Lottery Ticket, the driver of that limo will be played by none other than Idiocracy‘s iconic President Camacho, Terry Crews. The former NFL star got his start as a prominent character actor playing Damon in Ice Cube’s Friday After Next. The amiable actor was very pleased to be working with Cube again on this new project, where he will share scenes with film veteran Keith David who is “the Godfather of the neighborhood.”
“I’m playing a guy named Jimmy the Driver,” says Crews. “The script is really funny and it’s one of those things where you can do certain spots and make a nice little impact. It’s literally a small role but we expanded on it and having fun with it. Ice Cube gave me my start, so it’s one of those things when they call it’s like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ I play a guy who after Kevin wins basically knows he’s gonna get his money. Keith David is the neighborhood loan shark, and I’m his right hand man. I’m in charge of driving these guys around on a spending spree. I drive the Hummer, I’m gonna actually tool around in that sucker for a little bit! It goes to show how money changes everybody, and what happens is I literally become one of the gang! At first I’m mad about having to babysit these little kids, but then they start spending money on me and that’s okay!”
As of today they have shot 63 out of 90 pages of the script, some of which was actually shot on-location at Herndon Homes, a former public housing project evacuated under great protest by residents as part of a current movement in Atlanta to get rid of projects. Jackson said working there gave scenes a kind of authenticity you could not get any other way.
“If you ever been in a project there’s a certain level of oppression that comes with it,” he said. “It’s not a happy situation, but what we have we make the best of it, and that’s why you see so many people coming out of the projects being famous because you have to make the best of the situation. When we were in the hood, in the projects you could feel oppressed, you feel trapped. You don’t wanna feel like you can’t do what you wanna do and something else is controlling you. That’s how I felt when I was there. It wouldn’t take too much to draw from. It just brought back memories from when I was a kid and my boys came over to my house like, ‘Damn, y’all got ketchup AND mustard?'”
Whatever may come of the characters and their $370 million-dollar lottery ticket when the comedy opens in theaters on August 20th, the film will ultimately send a positive message to audiences going through rough economic hardships. It all goes back to Kevin’s room with all the drawings of sneakers plastered onto the wall, that having a dream is the ultimate ticket out of troubled times.
“The message is to dream big and never give up, and not only that but believe in yourself,” concludes Bow Wow. “In the movie, Kevin’s dream is he’s a sneaker fanatic, and that’s his goal, to design shoes. At one point I give up. I’m like, ‘I give up, I can’t deal with the pressure, people wanting things from me.’ Then there’s hope, ‘maybe I need to do it like this, maybe I just need to focus.’ That is the message. It’s all about change, believing in yourself, setting a goal, and going for it and never give up even when it gets tough. There’s always gonna be people who disagree with you, like Lorenzo who hates my guts because I’m making something of myself and he’s not. People tend to hate that. That’s rappers in the real world.”