|Being on NBC's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" has expanded Ice T's fan base to some unlikely places.|
"A lot of people's mothers and stuff run up, 'I like you,'" says the rapper/actor. "I'm like, 'Do not listen to my music, you won't like me.'"
While he could have remained only known for his often controversial albums and as a touchstone in the fight of artists for free speech, set off by his 1992 album which included the single "Cop Killer," branching out into movies and television has made Ice T a name in even more households. Viewers might not like him, but they definitely know who he is.
"If you don't buy [my] album, you'll never get to song seven that's in there. You'll never know about it because you didn't buy the album. A movie starts and ends up on pay-per-view. It comes through the door, it hits you at Showtime, it cuts around the corner and it gets you at the Blockbuster."
"And I could pop up in your living room and you'd never really wanted to meet me at all because television keeps coming after you."
From the time he had his first large role in the Mario Van Peebles' movie "New Jack City," Ice T has been in demand as an actor. His 1997 TV series "Players" was based on a concept of his own, and led to a lasting relationship with "Law & Order" producer Dick Wolf.
"New Jack City" was Ice T's star vehicle, although it also featured lesser knowns Wesley Snipes and Chris Rock. In addition to his name, the rapper saiys he brought some serious memorization skills to the acting game.
"When musicians are on a stage, we do a two-hour concert from memory. We don't have a script, we just know all these songs ever night. And sometimes you've got to do them drunk and it's not that easy."
Excellent recall might be one of the things that helps musicians make the jump to performing on camera, but Ice T says there are some other things that help, making the David Bowies more successful as actors than the Eddie Murphys, Don Johnsons and Bruce Willis-es as singers, beyond an occasional novelty hit.
"Actors are very fragile," he says. "[They] live in a claustrophobic world where they don't touch the people. Making records and standing onstage is crazy. You don't have lights; you don't have special effects. You just got you and a mike and the crowd can just eat your ass alive."
Not that this has stopped some fellow thespians from passing him their demo tapes.
/>"Yeah, I had to sit in the trailer next to Keanu Reeves doing a movie called 'Johnny Mnemonic,' and he had a group called Dogstar," he says, rolling his eyes. "So I told him I'd try to see him if I'm ever in the same town when they're playing."
Nor does Ice T worry about that most scathing of criticism aimed at artists that are suspected of not keeping real, the accusation of having sold out.
"I'm an independent kind of cat. It's just like, no matter how much money you gonna do it. I'm going to do it my way and you can kiss my ass, and that's just independent spirit."
"The sellout is just when you do whatever 'they' say. And selling out is cool if you need the money; you might have a kid. But know you sold out and don't lie about it -- 'Hey, I just sold out for this and I'll be back indie when this check clears.'"
Not that being a working actor means the end of music. Ice T is currently finishing up on three albums: one with his thrash metal group Body Count, another of dark stripper music with a group called PSK (Perverted Sex Cult) and a third with a rap group called SMG (Sex, Money and Guns).
"I'm doing my gangster s--- while I'm playing the police on TV," says Ice T. "This is a very lucky thing. I have action. I'm making movies. I'm on television. I'm on NBC. Nothing but Caucasians. How the f--- I get on there?"
Ice T will be featured along with other musicians-turned-actors like Duran Duran's John Taylor, X's John Doe and Hole's Courtney Love, Jewel, Meatloaf, Bette Midler and *N Sync's Lance Bass in the Independent Film Channel's special "Crossover," premiering Monday, Sept. 24.