With production grinding to a halt in the face of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the entertainment industry has found itself navigating uncharted territory. To offer a better sense of how, The Hollywood Reporter is running a regular series that focuses on how Hollywood’s writers, actors, directors, executives and others are living and working in these challenging times.
At home in Los Angeles with his wife and two daughters, where he jokes he’s “surrounded by a lot of angry women who want to get their hair and nails done,” LL Cool J is making the most of quarantine. With NCIS: Los Angeles shut down, he’s spending the time hosting a weekly Instagram Live conversation series, “The Cool Down,” and programming his SiriusXM channel, Rock the Bells. The actor and rapper spoke to THR about his new music, his Zoom workouts and his shelter-in-place philosophy: “The apple tree ain’t blooming, go find an orange tree.”
So, what does your day look like now?
Wake up early, do a Zoom workout with my trainer. After the workout, I do 10,000 Zooms for a lot of different things because I’m working every day on Rock the Bells. And then trying my best to fight the good fight against the ice cream I’m trying to keep it out of here. Somebody buy a flavor I don’t like, please!
What’s been the easiest adjustment during this time?
The easiest adjustment for me is staying in the house. Most people probably wouldn’t think it at first glance, but I’m actually an introvert. So, for me, staying in the house is not a problem at all. I’ve never been a party animal anyway, so that’s probably the easiest part.
And the toughest?
The toughest part is probably being around people who are extroverts and can’t wait to get out of here. But it is what it is.
What have you learned about yourself during this period?
Every day I try to be better than I was the day before. I didn’t need this to be a catalyst to pursue my dreams or make me want to develop myself spiritually and mentally or even emotionally. What I will say is the more work you’re putting into your life and the more things you set up, when times are tough and when things like this happen, you find out that you benefit from the hard work that you put in. One other thing I discovered is just a desire to reconnect with the people. I’m a lot more cognizant of what’s going on with everyday people in the world — having these “Cool Down” conversations on IG live has been very informative for me. You’ve got a lot of people who were struggling before corona — corona is just another plate on the table. That’s the thing, too, I realized that I just want to connect with people and connecting with people is really, really important, and making sure that you’re supportive and you actually share those good vibes and love. I think it’s important that you realize that with opportunity comes an obligation — you get these opportunities, but you’re obligated to actually deliver and actually be there in a special way for people, so that’s what I’ve been trying to do.
With NCIS: Los Angeles, what kind of conversations are you having with the producers, network and studio about the path back for the show?
We haven’t really talked to anybody about that. I just know that when we ended the season, it was about making sure that we follow those social distancing guidelines and that we do everything we can to protect each other — that was pretty much the extent of the conversation. We didn’t go any further than that.
Any chance for a virtual or shot-from-home show?
That would be a little tough. This ain’t a talk show.
Hey, everybody’s got to be creative in this time!
All right we can get creative. Bring some shotguns over to the house and let’s get busy. (Laughs.)
Last year, you signed a record deal to release new music. Are you working on anything right now?
Yeah, I am definitely experimenting and working on trying to figure out the best approach to that. It’s very challenging, but I’m working on it.
How does the current climate influence your content?
I don’t know. I think the pandemic is going to influence a lot of music out there but [how] it that remains to be seen. There’s gonna be a lot of that so I just have to let my inspiration come naturally, not try to be contrived in that regard.
WME partner Richard Weitz has been hosting Zoom parties that you’ve been part of since the beginning — any performance that’s really wowed you?
There’s been so many great ones. Andra Day was unbelievable; the guy, I think his name is Jac Ross, he’s a new artist, was unbelievable. I just think it’s great what they’re doing, raising money, doing the right thing — it’s beautiful. Richard and [daughter] Demi are great for doing that. I’ve just been watching as a guest and happy to be there.
What do you find you’re watching, reading or listening to as a reprieve?
Peaky Blinders was great, that was an unbelievable show. Ozark was also good — I’d say Peaky Blinders was my one and Ozark was two. In terms of reading, my man Kyle Harimoto, he’s a writer, gave me a book, Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink; It’s a great book, just enlightening.
You dusting off any old hobbies or finding any new ones?
My hobbies are reading and exercising, so I’m not dusting off nothing, I’m good. I’m not trying to sound like Mr. Perfect and all that, I’m just saying I’ve always been working on myself, I’ve always taken time for myself to try to build my spirit, build my mind, build my body; get better, be better, be stronger, and I don’t need the pandemic to force me to do the things that I knew I should have done anyway. I was already doing it.
What have become your quarantine comfort foods?
The only thing that I probably shouldn’t be eating that would definitely be [consider] a go-to comfort food would be peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I like them apricots preserves or them peach preserves; apricots with the peanut butter, insanity man. Oh, yeah. It does it for me every time. And don’t get too thin with it, really lather that joint up, let’s go. (Laughs.)
How would you describe your Corona-era wardrobe?
Gym shorts and T-shirts, all day, every day. When I go on IG Live, I may throw a shirt on here and there, but I’m real casual. It’s not like I walk around this joint in a tuxedo with a top hat and tails and all that. I haven’t had a pair of jeans on since this started.
What cause is most important to you right now?
I love supporting people on the front line — the nurses, doctors, ER people, EMS people. They’re doing a phenomenal job and they need the support. Between them and then some of the people who are just out there working every day, like the people working in grocery stores, that’s an amazing thing. You have nurses who have literally quarantined themselves at home, just so they can keep working to help the public. That’s an amazing thing.
How about a news source? Any must-watch outlets or people?
I don’t watch the news that much, to be honest with you. When I do, I go to CNN first, then I go over to Fox News and watch it because I like to hear the arguments back and forth — I think it’s hilarious. I can’t allow myself to just emotionally and mentally focus on negativity all day long, I just can’t do that, I’m just not built for that. If somebody can have a conversation that’s solution-oriented and really about something, that is really is going to help, I’m all for it, but to just sit around and listen to people complaining about each other, I’m not as interested in that. There’s a lot of journalists out there doing a great job, I’m just saying that I can’t do that all day long because I think leadership is not about finding a common enemy to point to — leadership is really about having a vision and taking somebody to another level; taking the team, taking the world, taking the country to the next level, which is very different from pointing to a common enemy in order to maintain a position. I just don’t feed into that.
So, what’s atop your to-do list when this all over?
I don’t operate like that. I don’t have a once-it’s-over thing to do. I’m on it, I’m doing my thing now. You make the adjustments and keep moving; the apple tree ain’t blooming, go find an orange tree — gotta figure it out. No sitting around and waiting.