Dennis Rodman, star of basketball, movies, books and pro wrestling, is still a little stunned by the spotlight. Before the premiere of "Double Team," the new Jean-Claude Van Damme action thriller where he gets second billing, he mused about his function as a publicity-generating machine: "I never ever expected that my career would turn into such a media hype: In San Antonia, I was doing the same thing, but I guess the media are stronger in Chicago, and being linked with Michael Jordan and a championship team didn't hurt."
He is, he told me, really a private person. No, really: "I have my own little collection of toys--people--that I hang out with, and that's it. But once the cameras and the mikes are in front of me, I turn into this big diva."
He enjoyed acting in the movie, especially once he got comfortable with it, he said, "but being an action hero is not being an actor. It's more like a sport. Being a serious drama actor, that's different." He still feels wounded, he said, by criticisms that his trip to Los Angeles for the Academy Awards on march 24 may have been connected to his injury in a game on the 25th: "I came back, I had a great game [21 rebounds], but the big drawback was, I got hurt. It could have happened in any game."
What people need to understand about him, he said, is "growing up in the projects, I never had a youth. Today I'm having the teenage years I never had. I have the freedom to go out and have a good time. I decided to revert 10 years, and then grow up. I'm what? Inside, I'm 17, 18 years old right now."
Our conversation continued:
Ebert: How would you grade your own performance in the movie? Rodman: I'd go a 6 or 7. I mean, as far as my action character. I think it's all right for the first time. It was good for me to be a movie like this instead of a serious drama flick. Because if I was in a serious drama flick, I think I would have failed.
RE: By the end of the movie, what did you know that you didn't know on the first day?
DR: Well, I knew that I could act. I felt real comfortable. At first I was leery and nervous because I didn't know how to project myself in front of the camera, but as days went by, all of a sudden I started feeling really comfortable, really more big, you know, to be in there. RE: So this is something you think you can do.
DR: I can do action movies.
RE: You see this as a career after basketball?
DR: I think it's a career now. I've been doing it for so many years, acting and performing and entertaining people, and now I have to put it in a different form without a uniform.
RE: Michael Jordan waited a long time before finally picking a project to star in. What kind of process did you go through? Were you a Jean Claude Van Damme fan; did you read a lot of screenplays? How did you choose this one?
DR: To be honest, I wasn't a Jean Claude fan but I really didn't know the guy personally. Once I got to know him, I started to respect him; he worked hard to get where he's at today. I respect that. They just came to me with a project and "Hey, why don't you play this character, his name is Yaz..." and they basically brought the character to life as Dennis Rodman.
RE: What about the physical demands of an action picture. Obviously you're in superb shape, but it's not so much endurance as weird agility, right?
DR: They put you in so many different position, angles, and you have to hold them. That's the hardest thing. When you're doing movies you're gonna have to hold the position like 30 seconds and they say, "action!" Your body is all screwed and it's in a bad position and you've got cramps on this side. In basketball it's different because you're always moving but in movies it is so hard to hold the position for so long. And most of the time you don't even say anything. They say, "Hold it!" and it's difficult, especially when you're 6'8"--it's hard on your body.
RE: They're fixing the camera, fixing the lights, adjusting focus or something?
DR: They're doing everything. I mean, we got a good camera angle; now let's see that move again. Now, put your shoulder back...it's like....you're in this position for so long that it gets monotonous after a while.
RE: What about the stunts and special effects? Did they put in the explosions and effects afterwards?
DR: Yeah, and stunt men. Two stunt guys one day did the jump. All the explosions were real except the one at the end of the movie. Of course, no one's going to blow up the Coliseum, but everything else.....all the explosions inside of the Coliseum, in the hallway--those were real. In some cases I had to do my own stunts.
RE: Were you in any shots with the tiger?
DR: Three shots I was in with the tiger.
RE: The tiger wasn't on any kind of a restraint, was it?
DR: Not at all. I mean, he had trainers in there but when you've got a wild animal like that, trapped in an environment that he's not accustomed to, it's hard to keep it really restrained. A couple of times the tiger got loose in the Coliseum and you saw people scattering, climbing light poles. One time the tiger was trying to get a cat. He caught the cat and ate the cat. I mean, ate the cat literally, and they were trying to find him in the stadium; they couldn't find him. He was in one of these catacombs or whatever and all of a sudden you could hear the tiger all over the stadium.
RE: How does it feel to be in a situation with a tiger that could attack you?
DR: Well, you kinda toss all of your fears out because they have you with safety lines, but even that won't help you because if that tiger really wants you bad enough, it'll go get you. And for me it was like, I hope this tiger don't jump me because I'm screwed. I mean, I can't go anywhere. I'm on this 50-foot cliff inside the Coliseum.
RE: What would your dying thoughts be as you were being eaten by a tiger?
DR: .I would just tell him, eat the arm, just eat this! I will not let him go anywhere else but just eat the arm and bite the damn thing off. Just keep on chawing right here and just eat this part right here, okay? I'll put my hand in there like this; I don't give a damn, just eat it! Meanwhile, you all got the gun? Knock, knock, shoot it! At least put it to sleep or something.
RE: I heard that Jackie Chan gave you some pointers on action scenes.
DR: He did. He told me, when you kick, you kick sharp and you kick believable and then people believe that you actually are kicking and hitting the guy. And when you punch, you go through the punch, you go through it and you snap it back. I didn't do all the karate moves like Bruce Lee, that kind of crap, but he taught me the action scenes where I have to deliver the punches.
RE: This character, Yaz. Do you see a series of Yaz pictures? Will you ever play Yaz again?
DR: Well, if it does well, I mean, like they usually say a movie has to open at $9 or $10 million to really survive--if it does well, I see the action hero will be revived again through Dennis Rodman. Yaz will have his own cartoon show, have his own comic books. But the next movie, I think, we should give him more of a solid role instead of just an appearance here and there, so people can actually see what Yaz can do.
RE: You said on TV the other night that if the Bulls win the championship, you'll be back and if they don't you won't be. Is that right?
DR: I'm just being realistic here. I got so many people in my corner but a lot of people actually wanna see Dennis Rodman fail. They say the hell with him, he's caused too many problems for this team. But then they say, we can't win without you, we need you, we can't win without you. So they walking on both sides of the fence. If we don't win, I'm pretty sure they won't have me back.
RE: Would you go to someplace like the Lakers where your flamboyance might be more welcome?
DR: I think I'll go the Lakers but my first choice would be the Chicago Bulls. They wanna offer me less money, I'll still play here. I owe the people of Chicago a lot because they gave me opportunities so I'm not gonna let them down.
RE: You were playing for a long time before you came to Chicago, but it was here that really you captured everybody's imagination. DR: Right. It's amazing. I've been in the league for 11 years and all of a sudden I'm everywhere. "Dennis Rodman--I remember that guy when he was nobody." I never expected none of this stuff to happen. I'm just Dennis Rodman being a real human being like anyone else in the world is trying to be, but I'm just doing it more flamboyantly, that's all.
RE: You relationship with Jordan, is it kind of like a rivalry with a brother or....
DR: People are saying Dennis Rodman and Michael Jordan are feuding over who can get the most spotlight, the most publicity. It's nothing like that! We respect each other because he has his life, I have my life. So once we come together it's on the basketball floor. That's the most important time we need to have. We're like playing a game of checkers. You move here, I gotta move here. Move here, I gotta move here. So that's the way it is. Off the basketball floor, we're on our own, you know.
RE: You generate a lot of publicity but then there's publicity that you don't necessarily want, like when your father came to see you, or the story about Madonna or now this book by your ex-wife> How do you feel about that kind of publicity?
DR: "As the Worm Turns." It seems like I should have a soap opera. People just wanna jump in the bathtub with me. It's like let me jump in too, let me tell my story. My father--I don't know who this man is, who wants to come back and he's in the stands signing autographs like he's the superstar. "That's my son." Really? Where were you 30 years ago? And my ex-wife, she jumped off the boat, and all of a sudden now she wants to live vicariously through me. And the sad thing about this is, now my child's involved. So that's the worst thing about that. And as for Madonna, I opened my mouth when I shouldn't have did and it cost me a friendship with Madonna. But it happened. RE: You have a book coming out in April. What's called?
DR: It's called "Walk on the Wild Side." And it's definitely a walk on the wild side.
RE: Howard Stern had a best-seller that he made into a movie. Now you've got two books now that could be made into movies. But they would be a little more R rated or even NC-17, wouldn't they? DR: I think it would be more PG-13.
DR: I think if people look in my books they will really get a concept of Dennis Rodman. They'll get a feel of what their lives can bring them and what they can do. With the "Walk on the Wild Side" book coming out, people are gonna say--damn, this guy, I mean he really lived the life. He really lived to the fullest. If you hang around me a while, you say, he wants it all, he does it all, and he enjoys it.
RE: You were having a good time at the Oscars.
DR: I had a great time at the Oscars. I mean, it was a little long but the parties was great; the festivities was awesome. Do you wanna to be in the spotlight? You can be a camera whore all you want to at the Oscars. At 6'8" you know, I was the biggest thing in there. But I don't think I could be going to the Oscars a lot because that's a long time to sit there. If they just broke it down to two and a half hours, I think the Oscars could be a great thing.
RE: You know, you're not the first person to say that.