It’s probably not often that someone preaches at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. But that’s what happened when rap artist LL Cool J met with religion writers recently to discuss his new movie.
“I am Christian,” said the 37-year-old rapper, who stars with Queen Latifah in the romantic comedy “Last Holiday,” which opens nationwide Friday. “For me, faith is a huge part of everything I do, on every level. And I mean from salvation to tithes and offerings.” He didn’t have a pulpit, but he had the words.
LL Cool J, born James Todd Smith in Long Island, N.Y, talked for 20 minutes mostly about his faith in God and walk with Jesus. He quoted Jesus talking about abundant life, Paul writing about the Lord coming like a thief in the night, Joshua leading the Israelites, and the Pharisees and Sadducees.
He was loud and soft, animated and calm. Most of all, he seemed comfortable.
“I believe in God, completely, and it’s always refreshing for me to be able to talk about it freely with people who are on the same page and on the same wavelength,” he told the room full of religious press. “I don’t often get that opportunity.”
“I love God,” said the father of four, who currently resides in New York City with his wife. “I’ve never had a problem going out front and saying that.”
LL Cool J (which stands for Ladies Love Cool James) hit the rap scene in 1984 as a major artist for Def Jam Records. He has since won two Grammy awards and released ten platinum albums. He has also appeared in roughly a dozen films.
He penned an autobiography, I Make My Own Rules, in 1997, which released in two versions: all audiences and adults-only. The latter included information about his battles with sex and drugs, and his eventual victory over them.
In “Last Holiday,” he plays Sean Matthews, a retail clerk who falls for Queen Latifah’s character and is willing to cross the world to express his true feelings for her.
LL Cool J said his character is willing to sacrifice and commit—both of which are Christian principles.
“If you’re not willing to sacrifice in the hot sun and sow those seeds and go out there in the field and really, really sacrifice your body and your time and your energy to plant those seeds, you’re not going to reap the kind of harvest you’d like to reap,” he said.
“I was raised in church,” he said just before opening the verbal floodgates. “I read the Bible constantly. I stay in the Word constantly on every level, because I think ultimately we need that strength. You need that power in your life. You need that wisdom in your life. You need that discernment in your life. You need to be able to rain on all the seeds that are inside of you, and constantly nurture your potential that God placed inside of you by watering it with that Word, and constantly getting that in you so that you can deal with the industry, so that you can deal with the trials and tribulations and temptations that come your way because of film, because of television, music and the various other areas of this world.”
Like LL Cool J, Queen Latifah was raised in Christian surroundings.
Born Dana Elaine Owens in East Orange, N.J., the 35-year-old Queen Latifah moves between music and movies like LL Cool J. She has starred in a handful of films, even earning an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Mama Morton in “Chicago.”
Latifah attended Catholic school in New Jersey and also spent time with Baptist members of her family in Maryland and Virginia. Her aunt directed and still directs a choir at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Virginia, where Latifah said she was “ministered to through the music.”
She said she grew up thinking of Jesus almost like a big brother.
“I’ve always had that sort of relationship, where we converse as friends in a way, even though I know this is my savior,” Latifah told religion writers.
Latifah’s character, Georgia, is a Christian who lives and works in New Orleans. Latifah said she understood Georgia and “had to make sure certain things were done right along the way” in terms of her religious life.
This was echoed by the director, Wayne Wang, who was raised in Hong Kong by a Buddhist mother and devout Baptist father. He attended a Jesuit high school in Hong Kong before coming to the States to study film. Now a Buddhist, Wang remains interested in religious expression.
Earlier this year, Wang released “Because of Winn-Dixie,” which was shot in Louisiana and features a minister (played by Jeff Daniels). The region and its culture appealed to Wang.
“I saw how religious that community was,” he said. As for Georgia, “Her Sunday is pretty much all about church. Her community is all about church. That’s the reality of it, and I wanted to portray that reality.”
“A lot of people in America are like that,” said Wang, who said his bi-coastal living arrangements sometimes keep him shielded from that. “Once I saw that part of the country, I realized that that’s a lifestyle that’s very common and that’s how people live.”
Of course, some people live less like Georgia and more like, say, LL Cool J.
When a writer asked him if he could really identify with a normal person—like his character in the movie—he responded: “It rains on the rich and poor, right? The foolish and the wise both die, right?”
“I am a normal human being, and I do have normal feelings,” he said. “I have normal people in my family to think about.”
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
The movie’s official Web site is here.