When people work together for the first time, they have an arrangement. When they work together many times, though, they have a relationship. While those striving through an arrangement might get lucky, those in a relationship have no need for getting lucky—their history, level of understanding, and ease of communication combine to form an advantage far greater than luck.
When director Tim Story reteamed with Ice Cube and his production company to make the cop comedy, Ride Along, which opens on January 17th, they had just such an advantage working toward ensuring that opening day would be a good day.
One day over a decade ago, Story was a fledgling director looking to make his first big film. His agents sent him over a script called Barbershop, which he read and loved. Story then proceeded to develop the movie with his team for about half a year before discussions centered on who would be the perfect actor to portray the lead role. Luckily, their number one draft pick accepted.
"Even as we wrote it, we kind of wrote it towards Cube, so that when he read it he didn’t feel as if there was stuff in there that wasn’t suited for him," Story says. "We definitely skewed toward him in the hope that he would say yes."
Story grew up on Ice Cube’s albums, and his roles in films like Boyz N the Hood. He was excited at the opportunity to be the first one to present the former member of original gangsta rappers NWA in a less rugged context. (At the time, the idea that Cube would eventually dad out in the Are We There Yet? franchise was unthinkable.) The pair’s pre-production talks went smoothly, because the star and the director were on the same page about establishing Ice Cube as a respectable business owner. Ultimately, the two ended up being on the same page about a lot of things, which is partly why their partnership has been successful thus far.
"What’s cool is he knows what he wants from actors," says Ice Cube. "On Barbershop, I think the challenge for him was just knowing how long things take to set up. We were always a little bit behind schedule, but he always knew what he wanted from actors. He’s so laid back, but he gets what he wants." (Story confirms how green he was during that production: "A lot of things went right on that movie, but I can’t say I felt like I knew everything I was doing was correct").
When you get Ice Cube to star in your movie, you don’t just get the actor—you also get the creative force behind the production company Cube Vision, and the man who directed the 1998 film, The Players Club. (He claims he wants to direct again, but the script has to be just right.) As soon as he was attached, the star and Story began talks to hash out the strengths and weaknesses of the lead character, and figure out exactly how Cube would play him.
"It was a true collaborative effort," Story says. "We sat down and figured out everything—even his wardrobe. I didn’t want to put him in any primary colors because I thought that was too close to the characters he played before, so we put him in a lot of earth tones and jewel tones and chose materials like corduroy he hadn’t worn before, even down to the shoes."
The collaboration worked like gangbusters. On a low budget, Barbershop went on to earn over $75 million at the box office and spawn a sequel, as well as a spinoff for Queen Latifah’s character. All three films were Cube Vision productions, although Story only directed the original, as the sequel conflicted with his filming the superhero movie, Fantastic Four. Cube and Story worked together again as producers, though, on the modest hit First Sunday, which Cube co-starred in with Tracy Morgan. Now, the two are back to their original dynamic on Ride Along, which Cube stars in with white-hot comedian Kevin Hart.
The new project belonged to Cube Vision, where Cube saw the opportunity to work with Story again, and seized it. It was the story of a tough cop (Cube) who brings the security guard who proposed to his sister on a ride along, in order to see what he's made of. This would be a chance to build on the bond the director and star had established 10 years before, and bring Hart along for the ride, since he’d starred in Story’s last film, Think Like a Man. This time around, things were even more comfortable than before.
"The shorthand, as we might say, got shorter," Story says. "We could already trust one another. We already knew what one another was looking for so it made it easier to walk into the situation because I know his mannerisms and I know where he probably may want to move or doesn’t wanna sit down in a scene. I thought it’s easier to set up a platform for him to win. And then when he comes in, he kind of knows certain things I’m gonna take care of and is able to come in and think about other stuff, as opposed to, ‘Are we on schedule?’"
By now, Ice Cube is used to wearing the dual hats of producer and director. He has a co-producer, Matt Alvarez, who shares in the responsibilities of the position, to free the star up to keep his head in the acting of the scene.
"One thing you don’t want is too many cooks in the kitchen," Cube says. "I kind of look at the overall part of what’s going on, or the fine details of a scene or location, and I only jump in when I’m needed. You want the director to feel he can direct you and get what he wants."
In the instance of Ride Along, though, apparently, the director already happened to have what he wanted most.
"There’s just a comfort when you find actors that represent the best characters of the movies you wanna make," Story says. "That’s what I have with Cube, and that’s what I have with Kevin, and when you have it, you kinda want that experience over and over again."