John Singleton's decision to cast an acting novice as the lead in his highly anticipated follow-up to his 1991 Oscar-nominated urban drama Boyz N the Hood had many in Hollywood scratching their heads. But the 33-year-old filmmaker makes no apologies for entrusting the role of streetwise deadbeat Jody in Baby Boy with R&B stud Tyrese Gibson.
"The freshest moments in my films have always been with unknown actors," Singleton tells TV Guide Online of the 22-year-old model-cum-singer-cum-actor. "Tyrese has so much charm and charisma; he was basically a movie star who hadn't done a movie yet."
The role of Jody was originally written for slain rapper Tupac Shakur, and as Singleton explains, his passing was almost the death of Baby Boy. "I didn't think I was going to find someone with as much heart and soul as Tupac had," he says, "until Tyrese came along."
Dipping into the musical pool is nothing new for the USC film grad: Singleton cast rapper Ice Cube in the pivotal role of Doughboy in Boyz, and teamed Shakur with pop icon Janet Jackson in 1993's Poetic Justice. And in addition to Gibson, laconic rhyme master Snoop Dogg also faces harsh rites of passage in Baby Boy, which opens Wednesday.
"This is probably what I'd call the purest John Singleton movie you've ever seen, because there's nothing filtered here," the auteur says of the film, which depicts "baby boys" like Jody as "the kind of cat that will get your daughter pregnant and kill your son [as a way of] defending their manhood... I think that the movie is going to probably be more controversial in the black community than it is anywhere else."