Whether he’s dragging a broken-down plane through the Mongolian desert in “Flight of the Phoenix,” toughening up recruits as a Navy officer in “Annapolis,” or battling it out in uniform against the evil Decepticons in “Transformers,” actor Tyrese Gibson does it all with effortless intensity.
Although known mostly for his work as a Hollywood actor, Gibson started his professional career as a model for Tommy Hilfiger and Guess at the age of 17. From there, he switched gears into the music industry and released his self-titled R&B album, Tyrese, in 1998.
Gibson became a triple threat when he made his film debut in John Singleton’s “Baby Boy” in 2001. Since then, he’s made a name for himself in Los Angeles with another eight movies under his belt and has worked alongside actors including Mark Wahlberg, James Franco, Eva Mendes and Dennis Quaid.
In his most recent film, “Death Race,” Gibson, 29, plays the character Machine Gun Joe Mason, a convict who can win his freedom if he survives a brutal car race, which is being broadcast for blood-lusting customers on pay-per-view.
You always give off this intensity, which is probably why you’re cast in all these manly roles. But I was wondering, is there a softer side to Tyrese Gibson?
Yeah, man. I’m a gentle giant. I’m a nice guy. But for me, I love playing those types of roles – roles with real high octane and those that are real intense. I never went as dark as I went with “Death Race” in any other film I’ve done.
You’ve been in quite a few movies featuring cars, whether they’re turning into robots or racing down the highways. So, would you consider yourself a “car guy?”
Yes, absolutely. I got a slew of fast cars. I’m always jumping on the freeway with one of them and taking care of business.
Which of your cars is your favorite?
Well, I love my Bentley and I love my new Maserati I just got. I just love modern, sleek really fast sexy cars that you can drive every day.
So, do you just like driving them or can you actually pop the hood and fix one if something is wrong with it?
I don’t like working on cars, but I know a few things. But right now, these engines are so difficult compared to older-model cars. It’s a totally different world.
In “Death Race” you are taking on the same role as Sylvester Stallone did in the 1975 original film. Had you seen the film or did you want to go into the remake with a clean slate?
I didn’t see the first film out of respect of just wanting to bring whatever new dimension and elements I could bring to it. From what I hear, Sylvester Stallone appreciated what I was able to do with Machine Gun Joe.
I read Jason Statham trained with an ex-Navy Seal for his role in “Death Race.” Did that put any added pressure on you to look as good as him on the first day of shooting?
Jason really went all out to make sure he showed up doing that super sexy thing on me with all those muscles. I had to step it up another level, too.
“Death Race” gives a new meaning to reality TV. When it comes to that genre, do you watch any of those shows?
I’m not big on reality shows anymore. I used to be, but come on. Every other week they’ve got some new cheesy contest like “Win Your Husband,” “Win Your Wife.” It’s pretty lame.
Do you think something like death racing could ever happen in real life?
Hey, listen, anything is possible. When you’ve got these guys in prison and they have nothing to do but sit in their cages all day, you’ve got to give them something to do. What they need to do is bring down the level of crime happening in prisons by doing some extreme boot camp military training and send some of these guys overseas and let them fight these wars.
You’re reprising your role in the sequel to “Transformers” next year. Is there more pressure this time around since expectations are higher now?
Listen, the world is not going to be disappointed in this sequel, I promise you. We did some really special things in this movie and I think they’re going to be really happy with this film.
Another film coming up for you is “Legion,” which has an apocalyptic-type story. Do you think we’re going to start seeing more of these end of the world movies because everyone is interested about what’s going to happen in 2012?
Yeah, man. I think right now it’s written in the Bible and people are telling so many different versions of scriptures. I think it’s pretty spooky at times to be on the set working on these types of films. You hope you’re not crossing the line in religion.
How has your life changed since having a baby in 2007?
It’s taken my work and my focus to a whole other level. Now, it’s time to focus and get shit done for real and not play any games.
How do you balance all the industries you work in – modeling, acting, music?
You know, it’s a no-brainer for me. I just love being busy and love doing what I am excited and passionate about. It’s just one of those things I really enjoy.
What have you learned about yourself as an actor since your debut in “Baby Boy” until now?
I’ve learned a lot, man. To not know what you’re doing in a film and then discover what to do and what the best way to go about do it is definitely a learning experience. I’m really happy and honored to be able to do these films, man. It’s really flattering that I’m even a part of these things.
I saw some pictures of you at the film premieres of “Seven Pounds” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Do you go to a lot of these premieres or is it more about supporting friends and actors you’ve worked with in the past?
Yeah, my girl Taraji [P. Henson], who I did “Baby Boy” with, is in “Benjamin Button.” I know Brad [Pitt] and Angelina [Jolie]. I’ve met them numerous times. I felt like I was there to support all three of them. As far as Will Smith, he’s my good friend and mentor, so it was a no-brainer for me to show up to that. You want to go where you’re welcome and where you are celebrated. We always have to show up and support each other.