The last time the words “a new film by the Hughes brothers” graced movie theaters, the country was on high terror alert, huddled in basements, and armed with radiation suits and shotguns. You see, this was way back in October 2001, a month after the single most catastrophic event to hit American soil had—surprise—made people a little leery of heading out to the multiplex, much less to see a dark, twisted Jack the Ripper yarn called From Hell. But Allen and Albert Hughes have never done anything the easy way.
After getting stomped by gangbangers during preproduction on their debut film, Menace II Society, walking a fine legal line while filming pimps for American Pimp, and turning a nearly decadelong layoff into one of the most anticipated movies of 2010, the Hughes brothers are forgiven for feeling a lot like Denzel Washington’s character in their comeback film The Book of Eli: wounded, isolated, but itching to kick a little ass once again.
INKED: How many tattoos do you guys have?
ALLEN: I have one on my right forearm that is six words, so I don’t know how many tattoos that counts as. They’re the 12 virtues of the Lakota Native Americans. I got the first six, which are humility, perseverance, respect, honor, love, and sacrifice. I’m suppose to get the next six on my left arm—truth, compassion, bravery, fortitude, generosity, and wisdom—but I don’t feel I’ve earned my way there yet.
ALBERT: I have one, on my right wrist. It’s very modest. It looks almost like a bracelet. It’s binary code for my daughter’s name. At first I thought I wanted the Armenian calendar, because we’re half Armenian, and I wanted to get each month tattooed in a bracelet form depending on how healthy I lived, if I deserved that month or not. But it turns out there are two or three different types of the Armenian language so I thought it was just too complicated. So for my first tattoo, I kind of tiptoed my way in.
It’s funny that you both feel you need to earn your tattoos. Allen, are you going to reward yourself with the other six words any time soon?
ALLEN: First off, I don’t like tattoos. I hate them. And there are certain ones that do look good on certain people, but that’s probably, like, one percent of the population. I never in my life was going to get one, but about a year and a half ago, it was, like, four in the morning, and I popped up in bed and something told me to put those virtues on my right forearm. So then I thought, Why don’t you sit on this for three months? And I did, and those words and that way of life, the indigenous cultures of America, are ways that I hold near and dear to my heart. So I was in Miami, and I’m sort of a wuss about this stuff, so I thought, Why not go to Miami Ink? Because at least they’re on TV and I can sue the shit out of them if something goes wrong. [Laughs.] I just wanted something simple, but leave it to artists to talk you into stylish fonts and shit. Before I knew it, I looked like a Latin gang member. [Laughs.]
ALBERT: I actually want more. I want sleeves. But there’s no way I can come up with that many ideas for tattoos. But Allen hasn’t earned the ones he has on him! [Laughs.] My daughter jokes to him all the time, “Have you mastered those virtues yet? How’s it coming?” It’s like an inside joke with us.
Was it as painful as you anticipated?
ALLEN: You know what was the funny? I got in the chair, and I sat down like that statue The Thinker, you know? And halfway through the artist was like, “Are you okay?” And I’m like, “I’m cool, man.” Because to me—as corny as this might sound—I felt like I needed to feel every word. So it didn’t feel painful. It was like a rite of passage.
ALBERT: It was right where I thought it would be. Not bad. It feels like a thousand cats licking you at once.