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Concocting 'Trespass'

Concocting ”Trespass” — Rappers Ice Cube and Ice-T bring street savvy to the controversial action film

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Ice-T puts his hand in his denim overalls and pulls out a pearl-handled .380 Colt semiautomatic.

”Is that real?” I ask.

”Yeah,” he sneers.

”Can I see?”

”Hold up,” he says. ”It’s loaded.”

Ice-T calmly pulls the clip out of the gun, empties six bullets onto the small table in front of him, and hands it over.

”I’ve been carrying a gun since I was 12,” he says, watching me turn it over in my hands. ”This is how I live. I don’t got no bodyguards. I talk the talk, I got to walk the walk. Know what I’m saying? Give me my gun.”

Here in his cramped trailer on the Atlanta set of Trespass in January — four months or so before the furor over his song ”Cop Killer” — Ice-T makes it clear he loves to shock. And bragging about his loaded weapon is a tactic he has used on reporters before. But Trespass, the movie Ice-T and fellow rapper Ice Cube are now making, is likely to generate almost as much controversy as their own tough-talking personas. Its plot hinges on a clash of alien cultures: Two white fire fighters (Bill Paxton and William Sadler) are searching for a cache of stolen gold hidden in an abandoned factory in East St. Louis, Ill.; there, they stumble on a gang murder. The resulting standoff between the white treasure hunters and the heavily armed black gang members escalates into a bloody all-out war.

Trespass itself became a hot issue when the L.A. riots persuaded Universal to delay the film’s planned midsummer opening and change its title from The Looters. Even now, with a release scheduled for Christmas Day, Trespass is the kind of film that raises fears of opening-night violence. Directed with brutal panache by Walter Hill (48 HRS.) — from a script by co-executive producers Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale (Back to the Future) — Trespass is no more violent than most movies of its genre. But its scenes of gang members lovingly handling and recklessly firing their automatic weapons are certain to be seen as inflammatory by some.

That suits the two Ices, both of whom are starring in a film for the first time, just fine. Ice-T made his movie debut as an undercover cop in New Jack City; Ice Cube delivered a poignant performance as Doughboy, a troubled young ex-con in Boyz N the Hood. Letting such inexperienced actors carry a $15 million movie might be deemed risky, but the studio is banking on the rappers’ large followings to pay off at the box office. And director Hill was counting on their street credibility.

”They had such a powerful understanding of the characters, they were instinctive from the word go,” says Hill, warming his hands over an open fire in a metal garbage can. He’s wearing a face mask to protect him from the smoke and fumes on the set, a burned-out section of a 19th-century cotton mill where most of the movie was filmed. ”I tried to create an atmosphere where they were very free with their dialogue. I wanted them to get it street-right. It’s very hard writing that kind of stuff, so I encouraged them to put it in their own words.”

Ice Cube, whose recent album, The Predator, has hit No. 1 on the R&B and pop charts, plays Savon, the hotheaded lieutenant who flouts the authority of the gang’s leader, King James (Ice-T). Ice Cube’s exaggerated scowls and bitterly ironic dialogue provide some unexpected comic relief in this otherwise grim movie. ”Savon’s kind of like me,” he says, although he himself grew up in a middle-class L.A. neighborhood. ”I don’t like authority when it’s not being run right.”

When Trespass went into production last January, the 23-year-old rapper had recently released his second solo album, Death Certificate. Critics charged that some lyrics were virulently anti-Semitic and anti-Korean; several Jewish and Korean groups called for a boycott. ”I’m trying to be true to myself,” says Ice Cube in a slow, quiet voice. Sitting in his trailer wearing a peaked black wool hat, a black-and-white wool sweater, and corduroy pants, he now seems worlds away from his angry ”gangsta” rapper image. ”I’ve got to live in this country too. And it’s a racist country. They can call me anything in the book, but they can’t call me a liar.”

Ice Cube’s political views are far more explosive than anything in the movie. He predicts a holocaust of blacks at ”a level five to six to seven times the level of the Jews in Germany (during World War II). The government has already started their genocide tactics,” he says evenly. ”America is | setting up the stage: ‘Blacks are filling up the prisons.’ They’re trying (to show) the world that blacks in America are a problem. So when they deal with us, it will be justified.”

Ice-T, who in his 30s is one of rap’s elder statesmen, says of his costar, ”The boy got courage; I respect him for that.”

Leaving the film location for the day, Ice-T walks across the warehouse grounds littered with loose bricks, old tires, bombed-out cars. The place has an eerie, apocalyptic feel; it’s not clear how much of the debris is real and how much is set dressing. ”I’ve seen my boys die right by me,” says Ice-T, who has publicly discussed his own criminal past many times. ”Once you put yourself in ‘the life,’ you’re like a soldier. It’s like getting in a war. You don’t look back.”

Four shots ring out from inside the set.

”Sounds like L.A.,” Ice-T says with a smile.