Q & A With Chris “Ludacris” Bridges
If you can talk financial experts off the ledge long enough to ask them the key to a successful future, they’ll almost all say the same thing: “You’ve got to diversify.” It’s a philosophy that few have embraced as earnestly as the rap community, and few have done it so thoroughly and successfully as Christopher “Ludacris” Bridges. Multiplatinum records? Sure. Critically acclaimed hit movies? Okay, great. Restaurants, charitable organizations, and his very own brand of cognac? You’ve officially hit “above and beyond.”
“It’s smarter to branch out. You have a whole new generation of people who are basically entrepreneurs instead of just being rappers,” he says. “It’s important because we are a brand, and we are a business.” This month, he stars alongside Gerard Butler in the video game-based thriller Gamer. With business savvy and mic skills in his arsenal, and God on his side (as well as on his arm), there’s no doubt Ludacris will be blowing up cineplexes, radios, and high-end drinking establishments for a long time. No matter what Bill O’Reilly has to say about it.
INKED: How many tattoos do you have?
CHRISTOPHER BRIDGES: I don’t really have that many tattoos. I only have three. And it’s crazy because I’ve been meaning to get more, but my life has sped up so rapidly that I’m finding it hard. I know it sounds crazy, but I hardly ever find the time. My tattoos are pretty self-explanatory. One is the Disturbing Tha Peace symbol, which is my record company. It’s the original symbol that I trademarked when I was, like, 19 years old. So that goes around my left arm. And above that are some praying hands, which is just about praying before you go to sleep and when you wake up every day, and thanking God for everything that I have and how fortunate I am because prayer saves, and prayer is very important. And on my right arm there’s a cross with a face that’s my perception of what Jesus looks like. So it’s a black Jesus in the middle of a cross. And those are my three tattoos, man.
Which one did you get first?
The very first tattoo I ever got? Damn. [Laughs.] I think the praying hands was the very first one I got, if I’m not mistaken.
Do you remember what inspired you to get it?
I was probably, like, 18 years old. And it was just the symbolism of where I felt like I was going and how I knew I got an early start on life and just being thankful. The first step in trying to achieve is having gratitude for where you’re at in the present point in time. So I think it had a lot to do with that—knowing that prayer is important.
How were you in the chair?
Everybody kind of overexaggerates how painful it is. So when I got in the chair I found it to be a little painful but nowhere near as painful as people will try to make it out to be. So I was a man about it. And I think when it’s on your arm it’s a little easier as opposed to when it’s up against a bone, from what I hear. I haven’t had any tattoos where it’s up against a bone—I’m sure that hurts more. So where there’s a little bit of flesh and some meat, it didn’t hurt as much. It just felt like a little needle and somebody trying to stick it in you a whole bunch of times. It hurt a little bit, but it didn’t hurt that bad.
Did you get them all done at the same place, by the same person?
The tattoos that I have were done about eight years ago. In Decatur, Georgia. Two of them were in Decatur, and it’s been so long I don’t even remember the name of the place. But if I were to get some more, I would love to go to that legendary dude, Mister Cartoon. I’ve seen a lot of his work and I’m a fan.
Have you seen anybody with a really shitty Ludacris tattoo?
Man, if somebody has a Ludacris tattoo, nothing is shitty about it. [Laughs.]
Are there any kinds of tattoos you think, as a rule of thumb, are almost always a bad idea?
Yeah, I always say putting someone’s name on your body that you’ve started a relationship with. A lot of people do that when they’re in love and they kind of fall out of love with that person—I just see a lot of people, women and men, regretting that they got somebody’s name and trying to change it. I would definitely say that would be the number one thing. You really need to wait a little while before you get somebody’s name on your body unless you really know you want to stay with them for the rest of your life. And the point at which you usually make the decision to get the tattoo, you don’t know if you want to stay with that person for the rest of your life.
It’s been said that you used to hit up house parties when you were 3. Is that true?
Yeah—my parents had me when they went to the University of Illinois, at Champaign, and there were, like, house parties and stuff, and they would bring me. I have pictures and stuff from it. I remember it was just me trying to be like I fit in, you know? Like I was the life of the party. Everybody would be paying attention to me.
A born entertainer.
Exactly. That’s exactly what I was trying to get at.
Do you see acting as a natural bridge from rapping, or did it happen more randomly than that?
I see it as a natural bridge, because when we’re doing videos, it’s a form of acting. We’re acting out the words that we’ve already written. So the next logical step would be to go ahead and start acting.
Your music and your videos are always done with a sense of humor. Did that make it easier to do comedies like Fred Claus?
I’ve always been a fan of comedy, ever since I was growing up. Before I was even able to curse, I always watched Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy Raw and all these different kinds of comedies. I guess you could say a part of me is always a very humorous side, and I love to laugh. Apart from my music being comedic, I also felt like I wanted to do a comedy. But Fred Claus was more for my daughter to get a kick out of—which she does. I wanted to do a kid-friendly movie for her.
What did you learn from Hustle & Flow?
I didn’t want to play a rapper at first, but John Singleton kind of begged me up and down—wanted me to read the script and really consider it. I learned not to think in stereotypes about certain roles because if it’s about playing a person I may not want to play, I should still try and understand it and get into it. I learned not to be pessimistic about certain roles until I’d really read the role and [figured out] the personality.
Is going one-on-one with an experienced actor like Terrence Howard intimidating, or does it make things easier?
Makes it easier for me. Because when you have someone giving you the energy you need in order to reciprocate it, it’s always a good thing. Any time there’s a great actor it’s easier in my opinion, because if you have a terrible actor and you’re trying to feed off of them you can’t get any reciprocation.
Care to name names?
I’ve been lucky enough to be in scenes with a lot of great actors. I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t. In RocknRolla I was with Jeremy Piven in most of my scenes, in Crash I was with Terrence Howard and Larenz Tate, in Hustle & Flow I was with Terrence Howard, in Fred Claus I was with Vince Vaughn… So to be honest with you, if I could tell you about a terrible actor, I would. [Laughs.]
In Hustle & Flow you had to play drunk, which is hard to do well.
Just to give you an inside tip, all you got to do is spin yourself around a couple of times right before they call action. It’ll give you the same effect.
What was the set of RocknRolla like?
It seems like Guy Ritchie keeps things light. It was a light set, and he’ll tell you himself that writing a script is fairly hard, then from that point it gets easier. So he already has in his mind exactly how he wants things to play out. So as a director he is extremely on point and focused and very opinionated, and I think that makes it easier sometimes. When he knows exactly what he wants. And it just flows a lot quicker.
So how did you get involved in a British gangster film?
Guy Ritchie specifically wanted me for the part. He called and I was like, Hell yeah, because I’m a Guy Ritchie fan—from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch.
You seemed to have an easy rapport with Jeremy Piven. Did you guys know each other before or did that just happen on the set?
No, we had just met, man. But whenever I start shooting a movie and I know I’m going to have scenes with somebody, I try to hang out with them and get to know them so that the chemistry is already there once we do scenes together. But Jeremy is a real down-to-earth person, and I still talk to him today. I remember telling his ass to stop eating so much damn fish all the time. [Laughs.] When that thing happened with the mercury [poisoning], he hit me and said, “You were the one to tell me to stop eating all that damn fish.” And I was like, “I told you, man!” [Laughs.] He’d be eating fish for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
So that was true?
A lot of people thought he was making up the mercury poisoning thing. I’m telling you, as his friend trying to look out for him, when he was around me, he definitely OD’d on fish.
You also did the video game-based movie Max Payne. And now there’s Gamer. How much of a gamer are you?
I don’t really have time to be a gamer, but I used to be a hell of a gamer back in the day. But it was about getting a lot of versatility on my résumé. Did the action flicks, did comedy, did drama—so I’m just trying to make sure that, before I get that starring role, that I feel like I got my feet wet.
Now, the guys who directed Gamer also did the Crank movies. Is this going to be as bat shit as those were?
Oh, hell yeah. They’re cutting-edge. They have an unorthodox way of directing and I love it. It’s just a whole new, young, fresh energy to directing, so absolutely. It’s Crank on steroids.
Do you have your sights on the ideal starring role?
I wouldn’t know until it came, man. But generally speaking, it would be something that is completely outside of the character people know me as. So I’ll be able to surprise everybody by doing something totally unexpected.
In addition to music and acting, you also have your own brand of cognac coming out, right?
Yeah, it’s called Conjure. I actually went to Cognac, France, and blended it myself along with a master blender from my business partners, Birkedal Hartmann. They’ve been in business since, like, the 1800s. I just wanted it to be an experience, because I know that there are other entertainers coming out with liquors. But in my opinion there hasn’t been a new cognac in a very, very long time. And I’m not saying this just because I blended it, but it is phenomenal.
A while back, you had a war of words with Bill O’Reilly. Do you ever regret engaging in those kinds of fights?
They seem to be a no-win. I never regret anything that I do. It always makes you a stronger person. But with Bill O’Reilly, a lot of people don’t know, I saw him at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner and I walked up on him and we had a brief conversation. And it actually led to some good. Exactly what happened and what was spoken about I can’t necessarily disclose, but I can say we talked about my foundation—the Ludacris Foundation. And after all this time of him saying all these things, I just went up to him and I said, “I wanted to meet the man who has so much to say about me but knows absolutely nothing about me.” That’s how the conversation started. And I think he gained a new appreciation for who I am, and now we’re trying to work toward doing some positive things.
Finally, does it suck that your birthday is September 11?
Not at all, man. I celebrate my birthday the whole month of September, so just that one day doesn’t ruin anything for me.