The gruff attitude of rapper-actor-producer Ice Cube might not seem a natural fit with children’s movies, but as he explained in a recent Dallas interview, he made his new film “Are We There Yet?” especially for them. “It’s really for the kids,” he said. “The kids like the ‘Friday’ movies, and they like the ‘Barbershops’ and ‘All About the Benjamins,’ but those movies weren’t necessarily made for kids. So I wanted to do one that was strictly concentrating on their enjoyment, which was this movie–as well as, hopefully, keep the parents’ attention. How the B-boys who have been following my career are going to take it, who cares? It’s all for the kids. I think when you cater to kids, you’re really catering to your longevity in the business. I think any artist that just dismisses kids as ‘not my fan base’ [is] tampering with their future in the business. I’m not trying to take Eddie Murphy’s spot or nothing like that–nobody needs to worry about that–but I am trying to broaden my audience.”

The new picture is a comedy of frustration in which Ice Cube plays Nick, a kid-allergic Lothario romancing a divorcee (Nia Long), who agrees to transport her two children from Portland to Vancouver–where she’s stuck in a business meeting–when their father is unable to take care of them. The problem is that the kids–an eleven-year old girl and an eight-year old boy–are dead set against their mother taking up with anybody except their dad, and they sabotage poor Nick at every stage of the 300-mile drive until something happens to bring them all together. The story entailed the star taking a lot of slapstick punishment at the hands of the children.

“It was cool, that’s what I was prepared for,” Ice Cube said. “That was the object of the movie–the kids sending a guy like me through the wringer. I think that’s the fun of it. I think that’s also the fun that older kids will get out of it–kids who are 12, 13. This is not really geared for them, but they enjoy it too, because they know my public persona, and seeing me get the business from these kids, they get a kick out of it, too. That registers with kids the most–the physical comedy. I’m not trying to be a comedian. I think I work better with situations that are funny than me trying to actually be a comedian. Jokes and punchlines to me really weren’t the best way to entertain kids. To me, it was doing physical stuff–them throwing everything but the kitchen sink at me, in a way.” As far as the stunts were concerned, Cube and his usual stuntman performed them all. “I did more than I had expected to do,” he explained. “But working with Brian [Levant, the director], he was always [saying,] ‘We would love to see your face in there.’ When they tell that to you, you kind of have to jump in there.”

And Ice Cube emphasized that he enjoyed working with the young actors, Aleisha Allen and Philip Daniel Bolden, despite their characters’ treatment of Nick. “I know that in the movie they look like monsters,” he said. “But in real life they were a pleasure to work with. I’d really rather work with them than some of the adults that I’ve worked with in the past, because they were always on time, always professional and always eager to go. They taught me how to have a lot more fun with the process. They kept me in good spirits.”

The picture also required the actor to play against a computer-generated supporting actor–a bubble-head figure of Satchel Paige Nick keeps on the dashboard of his SUV and converses with regularly. About thirty dolls of various sizes were actually used during filming, with the CGI work added later. “It was a trip,” he said. “It was my first time having to do that. In ‘Anaconda’ there was a little bit of acting to nothing, or nobody, but this was a little different.” To help out the doll’s lines were read to him from off screen by director Levant. But, Cube said, “I went, ‘Satchel Page probably sounded nothing like you.’” (In the end Tracy Morgan provided the voice.)

Mention of the SUV in which the doll resided brought up the fact that fourteen of them were needed for the shoot, too. “When I got to Vancouver and I saw those Navigators all lined up, I was trying to pick out the one I was going to take…I was going to get one of these after the movie! But in shooting the movie they would cut them up, cut them in half, pull out the windshield, put the windshield back in, trashing them. Fourteen Navigators, one by one–they were junk, burnt up. It’s a trip, because Lincoln wanted their Navigators back. Maybe they resold them.”

The script for “Are We There Yet?” was actually written for Adam Sandler before Ice Cube took it over, both as actor and producer. “Adam Sandler had this movie, and he couldn’t do it,” Cube said. “And they said we’d acquire it and kind of tailor-make it for me. So in reading the script I knew I could take the script and make it a little cooler and make it for myself. That’s what we did.” He added that in certain respects he preferred acting to producing, but that in a way they were interdependent. “In front of the camera fuels the ego more,” he said. “But I wouldn’t enjoy it as much if I wasn’t involved in the creative process from start to finish.” And when he was asked whether he left matters to the director during the actual shoot, he joked, “Pretty much–until he does something I don’t like.” Then, more seriously, he added: “I try to do all my talking before the cameras roll, before we start filming. I’m fully involved and very opinionated before the cameras roll. But by the time the cameras roll I think we should have our game pretty much together, and nobody should deviate from what we talked about in the beginning. So while we’re shooting I only have a few things to say.”

Ice Cube closed the interview by returning to the original decision to make this movie. “It was kind of the right movie at the right time at the right place in my career,” he said. “After the success of ‘Barbershop’ I think it was only right to gauge my appeal to a mainstream audience all the way down to a family flick. That was the reason we said this is the right one, go for it.” He added: “I’m not going in any direction.” Then he pulled up: “I don’t know if that sounds good. I’m not going in any one direction, put it that way. I’m just looking to be a part of good projects. They don’t come around often enough for people to pass up. There’s projects that I want to do, there’s dream projects that I have in my head, but I won’t pass up an opportunity like this or a movie like this to go out there and do it. It’ll all come.”