Music and film aren’t all there is for Tyrese Gibson, the man best known for his crooning R&B, comedic relief role in the Fast & Furious franchise, and his recent announcement to return to his on-screen romance with Taraji P. Henson in the next season of Empire. Throw in Manology (both the book and the announced talk show with Rev. Run), and it’s clear that Tyrese has been empire building.
At the Aruba International Film Festival, where Tyrese premiered his first short film Shame (which he wrote and starred in alongside a fabulous Jennifer Hudson), he recently explained how he’s losing patience for releasing his own music, and that he’s focused on bigger things beyond music, even beyond filmmaking. And while he stayed tight-lipped about the next editions of Fast & Furious and Empire, he did serenade EBONY.com as we sat with him under the tropical breezes of Aruba to ask about making his first short film.
EBONY: I would suppose at this point in your career, neither you nor Jennifer Hudson needs to make a short film. Why did you choose to do this now?
Tyrese Gibson: I felt like it was necessary to do [Shame as] a short because, although Denzel [Washington, the executive producer] strongly advised I turn it into a full feature because he loved it and supported it so much, I own the life rights to the Teddy Pendergrass story. And because [that story is set] around the same time period, doing a full feature of Shame and then doing another full feature that feels the same would have been cannibalism.
Teddy Pendergrass had songs like, [sings] “Turn off the lights, light a candle…” He had a lot of hit records as a soul singer from the late 1960s and early ’70s. At the height of his career, he had a major car accident and ended up paralyzed from the neck down. He’s from Philadelphia. I was really inspired by him, his story. I got to know him [during the last] five years of his life and spent a lot of time with him. I was one of the best men at his [second] wedding, and I was also the pallbearer at his funeral. He embraced me and endorsed me to play him in a movie before he died.
EBONY: Are you thinking of writing it as well?
TG: I’m doing rewrites. We brought a writer on board and I’m doing the rewrites to the script to beat it up and make it better. So yeah, I mean, I have a lot of very personal stories and things that Teddy shared with me that you're going to see in the movie. A lot of people don’t know know this, but Marvin Gaye and Teddy Pendergrass were enemies, and Teddy ended up sleeping with Marvin Gaye’s wife. So it was really bad. There’s some stuff that’s very dark and uncomfortable that’s going to be in this movie.
EBONY: Speaking of being uncomfortable, at the Q&A for Shame, you mentioned some very personal themes that ran throughout. Can we talk about them some more?
TG: Pretty much all of us have things that we struggle with. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, you won’t ever catch me high. But I also don’t judge people who smoke or drink. My mother was an alcoholic for 27 years, so I grew up in a house full of drugs and alcohol. I had lot of family in and out of jail. I grew up in the ghetto in South Central L.A. A lot of what you see [in Shame] are images that I was exposed to growing up.
We have sex all week and then we go to church on Sunday. It’s just a part of life. A lot of people are in church trying to sober up because they were partying all night Saturday. It’s a part of life. For me, I didn’t want this character to be so far away from dealing with things that people couldn’t relate to him. I wanted my character to be relatable. And I wanted people to say, “I may have a drinking problem or use drugs here and there, but I need to leave it alone, because I might end up looking like this guy.” It’s that good and evil that most of us struggle with. I don’t judge anybody. Good and bad goes through a lot of levels.
EBONY: So you have your music career and you have a film career, and it sounds like we’re going to see more of both with the Pendergrass story. Is that something you want to do more of in the future? Have both your music and film careers mesh?
TG: I just released my last solo album. I’m still going to do music, but I’m not doing another full album. I don’t really know if it’ll be movies, music, you know. I am down to do music in a movie. But just releasing songs and full albums by themselves, independent of the movie, I don’t really know if I have the energy or the patience for it. I’m really focused on bigger things as a businessman. That’s why I met with the [Aruban] Prime Minister and the Minster of Tourism today, and the CEO of the Port Authority because I just have this huge appetite for business.
I think after doing it for 20 years now, and I feel really blessed to say this, but I don’t wake up every day trying to figure out how can I be more famous. I believe in leveraging fame and talking to people and brokering partnerships. With my business partners, we build movie studios and design tax rebates and incentive programs. We design film slates. One of my partners, Scott Mednick, is the co-founder of Legendary Pictures and he’s now my partner at my production company, Voltron Pictures.
I come to this film festival, and as much as I’m excited about showing the film, I’m here also conducting business and trying to get some other things in motion, because fame is such a temporary fix. There’s a lot of people that are so consumed [by] fame and press and paparazzi. It’s not really my thing.
EBONY: So you’re saying you’re trying to use it for good?
TG: I’m leveraging who I am. You know, there are a lot of people that are famous that people don’t like. But there’s likability here. There’s personality. I’m a good person. I know how to vibe and create [comfort] with people.
EBONY: Let’s talk about the next season of Empire. Taraji P. Henson is on fire this season, and now you get to be in the next season as her love interest. Without spoiling anything, tell us about getting to be a part of this.
TG: I’m just coming to get my girl back, you know? I feel like I’ve seen enough of these other dudes kissing on my girl and making out with her on TV, and I’m just coming to get my girl back.
EBONY: Come on! We’ve heard that answer before! Can’t you give us anything?
TG: It’s the only thing I can say. [laughs] You’ve got too many readers. You’re gonna have people knowing everything.
EBONY: Let’s go back to Shame. Was writing a dramatic role for yourself a way to get out of the traditional comedic roles you’ve been given, like in Fast & Furious?
TG: I didn’t necessarily have that motivation. I just think, at the end of the day, when it comes to my creativity, I don’t create limits for myself. I don’t necessarily allow people to create limits for me. If I want it, if I’m inspired by it, if I’m motivated by it and I feel like I can do it, then I do it. I’ve got Desert Eagle in the works [which Gibson wrote the spec script for], and it’s a major starring vehicle [for me]. Universal is beyond excited about it and we just brought two new writers on. I love writing. I’m addicted to creativity.