“I told them I wanted to do something that was 100 percent not Ne-Yo,” says the singer, reclining in his luxury trailer outside of the EBONY magazine photo shoot and referring to his headlining role as a tobacco-chewing fighter pilot, in Red Tails, the movie that everyone is buzzing about. 

Music is a piece of cake, so for 2012, Ne-Yo is challenging himself to stay on the silver screen. “My first major motion picture was Stomp the Yard, which was basically me, but in college and in a fraternity—not much of a stretch with that character.  Next was Red Tails and then Battle: Los Angeles,” he says. “They told me [my Red Tails character] would require an accent and that he had a vice, so I jumped at the chance. This was my first time doing [character study] to this extent.”

But movies aren’t the only thing on the singer’s radar. Come March, his new album, with the working title of Mr. Perfect, is slated to go on sale.

“Any artist who you speak to that will speak truthfully about the music business and will tell you that in a lot of ways you feel like a mannequin:  You can’t really have too much of an opinion, you can’t really do what you wanna do or say what you wanna say because you don’t wanna piss your fans off,” he says. “You have to be perfect.”

Impassioned, he goes on: “This album for me is my way of showing people, Yes, I am a celebrity. But at the end of the day, I’m a human being, I’m a man first. I’m not perfect. There are things about me you might not like.”

The father of two (his son is about 4 months old and his daughter is a little over a year old) hopes we all like his new hat line, Francis Alargo, currently on sale at Saks Fifth Avenue. “It’s long awaited and features one of the flyest fedoras you’ll ever find on your head.”

Follow EBONY magazine Senior Editor Adrienne Samuels Gibbs @adriennewrites.