Eminem, 8 Mile
Credit: 8 Mile: Eli Reed

His Eminence may play a rhyme-tossing, streetwise Detroit youth who tussles with his mom, but the producers of this urban drama insist ”8 Mile” is not the Slim Shady story. ”I never wanted to do a biopic,” says producer Brian Grazer (”A Beautiful Mind”). ”I wanted to make a movie that covered our understanding of hip-hop, and [to do that], you need a point of view. I thought Eminem could bring that.”

After meeting with the rapper — whom he first spotted on an MTV awards show — and listening to Em’s hour-and-a-half-long, free-form recital of his life story, Grazer drafted screenwriter Silver (”The Mod Squad”) to come up with a story line that would parallel Eminem’s rough-and-tumble background.

Director Hanson sparked to the script, which follows one week in the life of Jimmy, a talented freestyler whose dreams of escaping his damaged hometown are stymied by his commitment to the streets and to his mom (Basinger). Support comes from Alex (Murphy), a fellow dreamer who serves as Jimmy’s muse. ”They’re not exactly boyfriend and girlfriend, but they have a thing going on,” says Murphy. ”Alex has all of the ambition and Jimmy has all of the talent. She is a stepping stone [that helps him] discover his talent.”

In order to develop Eminem’s own on-screen talent, though, Hanson (”L.A. Confidential,” ”Wonder Boys”) put him through a six-week rehearsal period during which he slowly rotated in other cast members. ”I’ve worked with novices before, but not in a starring role,” says Hanson. ”He knew literally nothing about the process. But he’s the definition of the term ‘quick study.”’ For Murphy (who, like Basinger, was linked romantically to the single star in tabloid reports), there was little doubt that Eminem, 28, could emote on screen: ”If you put on one of his CDs, he plays [numerous] characters, depending on how closely you listen,” she says. ”Obviously, if a man can do all that, if the camera’s there, he can do it tenfold better than most people.”

THE LOWDOWN The last time Universal teamed up with a chart-blazing white rapper, the result was the disastrous 1991 Vanilla Ice vehicle ”Cool As Ice.” But ”8 Mile”’s Oscar-bait pedigree has a built-in credibility that could tempt both art-housers and hip-hoppers.

8 Mile
  • Movie
  • 111 minutes