By Aaron Hillis
Sure, he’s a nÃ¼ metal superstar with over 67 million albums sold worldwide, but what Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst always intended to do was direct. The singer of “Nookie” and “Break Stuff” (who, incidentally, filmed both those and all of his band’s videos) took the indie scene by surprise when his debut feature “The Education of Charlie Banks” premiered at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival. Not much more than a year later, Durst has already taken the canvas chair again with a bigger project, the family-friendly dramedy “The Longshots.” Based on the real life events of Jasmine Plummer, the first girl to play Pop Warner football, the film stars Keke Palmer as the young quarterback prodigy and Ice Cube as her unemployed, apathetic uncle, whose spirit returns when he becomes her coach. I rapped with Durst about his new career trajectory, the movies that make him laugh and weep, and how he became a playable character in three video games.
It’s safe to say your path into cinema was largely unexpected. What led you from rocking stadiums to directing a studio family movie?
Maybe I’m just very diverse. It’s something I responded to — you know, I have kids. I loved the heart in this movie, and I was excited to work with Ice Cube. I wanted to [make] a family movie that wasn’t only good for six-year-olds a movie that’s good for the whole family, that has a timeless feel, substance and integrity. That’s what I was thinking. It’s obvious that some [family movies] are playing off the naÃ¯vetÃ© of a child to generate revenue and profits, you know?
How do you rise above the “just for kids” label?
First of all, I wanted to make sure that the performances weren’t too broad. Ice Cube and Keke Palmer, their characters were played straight, and they’re dramatical performances at the same time. Sometimes the performances and expressions [can be] over the top, a little glamorized to make a younger child smile those are the things I wanted to eliminate. I wanted to take the heart and integrity of “Hoosiers” and “Rudy,” pull in a little bit of the original “Bad News Bears” and maybe a slice of “The Mighty Ducks.”
You’ve directed several music videos, “The Education of Charlie Banks” and now this film. Would you consider yourself an auteur, in the sense that there’s an overlapping creative or thematic style that’s distinctly yours?
I am hoping to define a particular voice in film because I’ve aspired to be a filmmaker since I was a little kid. One of the things that was confusing about Limp Bizkit to some people is that our tastes were very different. One album could have four different styles of music, but the [songs] that the majority responded to were the heavy, more aggressive, gritty ones. We always had these various colors in us, and I think that’s in me. There’s definitely an obstacle in developing a brand for yourself that people can rely on when you’re so eclectic.
But there must still be certain attributes that attract you to a project, no?
Well, I love strong, rich characters. I’m an actor’s director. I love it when talented actors can bring characters to life. Anybody who wears their feelings on their sleeve and has a harder, crusty shell — like I do — is definitely protecting an inner sensitivity. I’m a sensitive guy; I respond to things that make my eyes well up a little bit, or make me root for people. I find the human condition interesting.
With this story, I was drawn to Jasmine Plummer because I identified with the void she had in her life without having the proper role model or father figure to balance her out. That’s a lot for a child to deal with, and the fact that she was blessed with this miracle, her uncle, and finding her salvation in football, I found very inspiring. I was like, “this script makes me feel good. There’s sunshine around the corner.”
What were some of the last films to make you misty-eyed?
I haven’t seen a lot, but I thought “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” I really reacted to that film in the end. I really responded to “The Notebook” and “The Squid and the Whale.” I just try to go see every movie I can, and not a lot of them have pieces of heart in them. I can’t recall any recently that I’ve been moved by, but I’ve been very busy making the film. I’ve missed out, unfortunately. I’ve been seeing a lot of comedies lately; I love comedies.
Any you’d recommend?
“Tropic Thunder.” Dude, Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Cruise, right? Cruise surprised me, he rocked it. I just love gratuitous type comedies like that, and I thought they all played it very well. Stiller did an amazing Sylvester Stallone, not that he’s making fun of him, but I saw a lot of that in there. You know, Downey doing Russell Crowe. [laughs] I saw “Step Brothers” the other night with my lady, and we laughed. Those guys did a really good job of acting like children.
How much does music affect your filmmaking, especially working with a musician-turned-actor?
It helps you see the whole picture. There are a lot of things that touch your senses in the sound department that enhance an experience or help you feel something of a certain moment. Being still involved in music, it helped to know where I wanted to go emotionally with the chord progressions and different things. Music absolutely has helped, and is essential to being able to tell stories. I’m a new filmmaker and the journey is going to be quite a long one. As I continue to evolve, I believe these tools and skills that I’ve acquired over the years, they become an arsenal to pull from as [I’m] directing.
Do you think the success of Limp Bizkit harms your chances of being taken seriously as a filmmaker?
Absolutely, that’s why I didn’t even want to do any of this press. But I’m doing it because it comes with the territory. Hopefully, the studio markets the movie right and gets people to see it, or people get exposed to it and react candidly without anything preconceived in your head. If you enjoy the film when it’s over, and if it works for you, then “directed by Fred Durst” pops up and you’ll discover I made it. That’s a more interesting juxtaposition, at the end, than [to] be clouded with “Fred Durst, the filmmaker” before you experience the actual art itself. I’d like to let the art speak for itself, if you know what I mean.
You’ve had people spend far too much time dissecting who you’re dating, or having sex with, or the laws you’re breaking. Is that sensationalism just an accepted part of the celebrity lifestyle?
It’s a mystery to me. Maybe it’s from generations [of] reincarnation; it’s just part of my plague. [laughs] I don’t know, it’s one of the negative aspects of it all, but I’m not going to complain. I’m very grateful.
You can laugh it off?
More so today than before. I’m a sensitive guy, a Leo, and people are always talking junk. I try not to read things or look for it, but there’s always a bearer of bad news, someone willing to tell you about it. And you’re like, “Oh, great.” It’s one of those things that I can just take, I guess. I have to keep my head up, I don’t have a choice. As a filmmaker, I love the fact that I’m behind the camera. If you see a movie you like, you don’t ever have to know that I made it. I remember as a child growing up, I saw lots of movies that I liked that I never looked at who directed it. It never even registered. So, maybe that will be an experience for a lot of people out there. Who cares who made the movie if you liked it?
You turn up as a secret character in both the “Fight Club” video game and two WWE wrestling games. I didn’t know you were so well-known for your brawling abilities.
No, I just really love the evolution and revolution of technology and where it’s heading. And I love the movie “Fight Club” and being a part of that game. For the wrestling thing, I grew up in North Carolina racing and wrestling, brother, racing and wrestling. We always knew it wasn’t real, but for some reason we enjoyed it. Then after we pulled the wool up from everyone’s eyes and showed how real it isn’t, it became even more real and fascinating. That’s it. I don’t think it’s about brawling or anything like that; just wanting to be a part of something fun.
[Photos: Fred Durst on the set of “The Longshots”; Ice Cube and Keke Palmer – Dimension Films, 2008; “The Education of Charlie Banks,” Anchor Bay Entertainment, 2008]
“The Longshots” opens wide on August 22nd.