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An old name for himself

Ludacris is the Grammy-winning rapper. Chris Bridges? He's the guy who acts.

September 07, 2008|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

Maybe IT goes without saying, but it's hard to get taken seriously if your name is Ludacris. That's why the rap star, following the path of the Rock, Andre 3000 and 50 Cent, is checking his stage name at the door as he pursues a second career as a Hollywood actor.

"This is a different business and I do want to be taken seriously, so it's back to being Chris Bridges," said the 30-year-old whose name appears in the credits of two films in October, the video-game adaptation “Max Payne” and Guy Ritchie's latest London crime spree, “RocknRolla.”

The Atlanta-based rapper also has his sixth album, "Theater of the Mind," due Oct. 21, and a dizzying array of business ventures underway (a television show on TLC, a trendy new Thai restaurant in his hometown, his own record label, a hosting gig for XM satellite radio, a new urban culture website called MyGhetto.com, etc.), but the three-time Grammy winner said his priority is learning the rhyme and reason of Hollywood.

"I can see a point where acting is my full-time job, really," Bridges said. "I will always be involved in music, but it may be more behind the scenes, as a producer, I will always do that. But when I look at 10 years from now, I don't think rapping is necessarily what I want to do when I'm in my 40s. My focus is film."

Rap is like professional boxing -- it's defined by rivalries, dominated by youth and cruel to champions who get too comfortable and forget their street roots. That's one reason there's been such a pipeline between the recording studio and Hollywood soundstages; Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur and Ice-T are just some of the savvy stars who used their hip-hop fame as a platform.

Bridges was one of the stars of John Singleton's "2 Fast 2 Furious," a 2003 film that was hardly embraced by critics ("It doesn't," Roger Ebert wrote, "have a brain in its head"), but the acting newcomer got noticed for his easy grace in front of the camera. Bridges captured more attention for a memorable turn as a car thief in "Crash" (which went on to win the Oscar for best picture) and as the aloof rapper Skinny Black in the acclaimed "Hustle & Flow." Next came a role in "Fred Claus" and a two-episode appearance on "Law & Order."

"I learned something with each role I've done; that's the way I'm building on my acting and trying to watch the people around me and listen to the directors," Bridges said. "It's a lot different than rapping, but the key to both is to really be in the moment."

Rap stars often end up portraying criminals on screen, Bridges said, which can be a narrow and numbing path to follow for an actor. That's why he jumped at the chance to play Jim Bravura, a cryptic and calculating internal affairs agent, in "Max Payne." The film is an adaptation of the stylish shooter game of the same name that became a gamer favorite in 2001 with its mix of John Woo bullet-ballet and Dashiell Hammett shadows.

The film "has the game as a loose blueprint," Bridges said, but it goes well beyond it in telling the nihilistic tale of DEA agent Payne (Mark Wahlberg), who is on a blood quest after his family is murdered. Beau Bridges, Chris O'Donnell and Nelly Furtado, another music-star-turned-actor, are also in the cast. In the video game, Bravura was an aging white lawman, but "Max Payne" director John Moore said he wanted to take the role to a different place. Why? Partly because it let him work with Bridges, whom the filmmaker had tried to cast in the 2004 film "Flight of the Phoenix."

"I wanted to get him then, but Chris is a pretty busy guy," Moore said. "If you look at the films he's done so far, he really catches your eye in all of them. There's nothing contrived about his performances. There's an authenticity to the way he says things. You can give him two pages of dialogue, and when he delivers it, it seems as natural as a person speaking, which is not easy to achieve."

A preview and cast panel for "Max Payne" was one of the surprise crowd-favorites at Comic-Con International this summer, which bodes well for the film's opening Oct. 17. Bridges will also have Ritchie's "RocknRolla," which stars Gerard Butler of "300" fame, Thandie Newton, Jeremy Piven and Tom Wilkinson, in theaters. It opens Oct. 8 in L.A.

"Chris is part of this wonderful cast I have," Ritchie said, "and he brought a memorable voice into the film."

Bridges also has a sci-fi film called "The Game" due next year, which also stars Butler. "It's great to work with the same people, you can pick right up and go, and you don't waste time trying to figure each other out. It's been great working with these actors and directors so far, I feel like I'm moving forward in a strong way. I'm really ready to prove myself and move to the next level."

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geoff.boucher@latimes.com

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