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By Alice Fuller & Stephanie Frederic, Sentinel Entertainment Editor
Have you laid eyes on Tyrese lately? No really. The brotha has lost 46 pounds and is in phenomenal “take-your-shirt-off-and-make-the-ladies scream” shape. Why? It’s simple. He ain’t playin.’ At 29-years old, he’s revving up to take his Hollywood game to the highest level and leading the charge for him: the biggest movie star in the world - box office king Will Smith.
With Smith on his team, Tyrese, the Locke High School grad, is making some major changes. Music fans, I’m not so sure you’re gonna be pleased.
“I’m done with music,” Tyrese announces to the L.A. Sentinel. “I’ve taken a break from music for a long while. I’ve put out five albums and I never really gave this movie thing a real shot,” says Gibson. “I got Will Smith in my corner and he’s taken me under his wing. At the end of the day when you’ve got such a huge movie star in your corner you can’t take that lightly. So I don’t want to blink and even look toward music at this point.”
“I’m done with music. I’ve put out five albums and I never really gave this movie thing a real shot. I’ve got Will Smith in my corner… when you have such a huge movie star in your corner, you don’t take it lightly” — Tyrese
With model good looks, a 2000 watt smile, and a voice perfect for chart topping R&B songs, singer turned model turned actor, Tyrese Darnell Gibson, was destined for success in entertainment at an early age. Now as a young actor with superstar Will Smith in his corner, and a new action movie, “Death Race,” speeding to big screens this month, Tyrese is ready to really do the damn thang.
Similar to his last high-stakes car action movie, “2 Fast and 2 Furious”, “Death Race”, places Tyrese behind the wheel again, but this time as prison inmate, Machine Gun Joe. As an audience favorite in the warden’s internet streamed race-to-your death competition, Machine Gun Joe and the other inmate racers must kill or be killed to win the ultimate prize of freedom.
“This film is crazy, a lot of action, a lot of drama. It’s full throttle. It’s nuts!” he says. “In my car all I was looking to do was get rid of as many people as possible. Anything in my way I’m trying to blow its head off and make sure I’m the only survivor. It’s a game of survival.”
To up the ante in the brutal, metal-clashing race, the warden requires five races to be won by an inmate in order to receive freedom. The only thing standing between Joe and the finish line is the masked and mysterious inmate, Frankenstein, a.k.a Jason, portrayed by veteran high speed driver and “The Transporter” actor, Jason Strathem.
Machine Gun Joe is not only Tyrese’s name in the film, it also aptly describes his weapon of choice. Equipped with an armor plated truck strapped with a huge machine gun, Joe will stop at nothing to get the coveted prize, even if it means taking out driving partners and driving alone.
“I had to have the biggest car because I’m a bully,” says Tyrese. “It’s a big piece of metal, and that makes sense. My car was a reflection of my character in the movie.”
Portraying such a dark character as Machine Gun Joe is a definitely departure from his often heroic roles. To change his look and add another level of depth to his role, each of Machine Gun Joe’s murder-race victims are marked personally in his face with a razor.
“Machine Gun Joe is evil,” adds Tyrese. “He’s an inmate, a leader and a killer. This role was so dark. It was really hard for me to come on set and be dark and then, between takes, get back to being my normal self: fun, laughing, cracking jokes.
But despite the negativity surrounding the role, there was an aspect of portraying Machine Gun Joe that Tyrese really liked. “I love being in a role that represents power. And Machine Gun Joe has power.”
Embodying and gaining power, specifically star power, has been Tyrese’s steady role since his introduction to audiences in 1998 as the smiling, singing kid on the bus in commercials for Coca-Cola. Shortly after, his signature smile, smooth voice, and good looks opened doors to modeling and then to platinum-selling albums with hit singles, “Nobody Else,” “Sweet Lady,” and “How You Gonna Act Like That.”
But it was his pivotal role in John Singleton’s “Baby Boy” (2001) followed by strong appearances in box office smashes, “2 Fast 2 Furious” (2003), “Four Brothers” (2005) and “Transformers” just last year that have now propelled his star power to universal proportions.
And with such major success in mainstream films the Watts, CA, native now says acting, not singing, is his main focus and that he’s learning from the best in the game, superstar Will Smith, in how to best make the transition.
And Smith’s tutelage is already paying off, says Tyrese, because on his newest project he and those around him can see a major change in his performance.
“Even while I’m working Transformers 2, I just see the difference in the way (director) Michael Bay looks at me and the producers ‘cause I’m showing up and so much more focused than I’ve ever been. And I just thank Will and his whole team for embracing me because it’s definitely taught me a lot.
It was also Smith’s team that encouraged Tyrese to rev up his game all around helping him secure a good trainer who has whipped him into shape and is now getting him ready mentally for his new approach to the Hollywood game.
“I love it!,” he says with the excitement of a 5-year old at Christmas. “I am truly blessed to have him on my team.”
Expect “Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen to hit theaters June 2009. And expect him to also to star next year in John Singleton’s comic book adapation, “Luke Cage”, the story about a wrongly convicted man who gains superhero powers in prison then becomes a hero for hire.
In the meantime, if you see Tyrese I guarantee you’ll do a double take perhaps even a triple take. He’s looking like and clearly soon to be a bonafide major movie star.
To read more from writer Alice Fuller, visit her blog - Hollywood: As I Live & Work at www.hollywoodliveandwork.com