By Zorianna Kit
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Rapper Pitbull has taken his blend of American pop music fused with Latin beats from the clubs of Miami to international pop charts, but he now is crossing into film with his first acting role as an animated character in the upcoming movie, "Epic."
Pitbull, whose real name is Armando Perez, has become a staple in the pop music field with lively dance-floor tracks including recent chart hits "Feel This Moment" with Christina Aguilera and "Live it Up" with Jennifer Lopez.
The rapper, 32, plays street-smart frog Bufo in "Epic," due to be released on Friday and which explores a secret universe where the natural world is battling evil forces.
Pitbull talked to Reuters about his film debut, working with Lopez and the origins of his numerous nicknames.
Q: What do you make of this whole animation world you got a chance to work in?
A: Before I didn't understand what it meant to put a voice to animation and see it come to life. But I'm always game for trying new things. I love how those artists could see my voice on the character before it was even drawn up.
Q: How did the animators bring your influence to the character of Bufo the frog? Did they capture your essence?
A: They captured a piece of my essence, absolutely. The suits, the business/hustler, knowing how to navigate his way through the good and bad. Bufo knows how to play the middle. It's business, not personal for him. I think they captured about 75 percent of my essence. The gestures, the hand movements, the way he walks - I think they watched me a lot in the studio when I was there.
Q: Many musical artists have made their way to film. Why haven't you transitioned sooner?
A: It's all about timing. I've had projects on the table but I didn't have the time to do them. This caught me at the right time ... I hope there's a sequel because I would love to see more of Bufo in number two. I have a lot of good ideas for them, ideas that would capture the rest of that 25 percent of the essence they may have missed.
Q: Your stage moniker 'Pitbull' is named after a dog that tends to get a lot of bad press unfortunately.
A: Pitbulls are misunderstood and that's the same thing with me when I first came into the music business. Being Cuban-American made me politically incorrect. My whole life was trying to make people understand that we all come from the same place. It's the same with the dog. The pitbull is a very loyal, very loving dog that doesn't understand the concept of losing. I believe in fighting hard for what you believe in and never giving up.
Q: How important is your Cuban heritage?
A: It's very important. I'm Cuban-American, first generation. The Latin culture is everything. But I'm very careful to not let that box me in. I want to represent (my heritage) and I'm proud of who I am, but it's about letting others know that we are just like everybody else. We don't want people to judge us, we want people to understand us, to see that we've gone through the same things everybody else has gone through and suffered the same struggles.
Q: What were some of the pivotal moments in your career that really changed things for you?
A: The record that took it global was "I Know You Want Me" (in 2009). Before that, I lived in the clubs and in the streets as far as my music. But that song took it to the next level. "Give Me Everything" (in 2011) was a turning point. This record coming out (on May 28) called "Outta Nowhere" will be another turning point I think.
Q: How so?
A: It's a different side of me. It's going to show everything that we've been speaking about here - motivation, believing in yourself, not giving up. With this record, I wanted to come out of nowhere, which is why the name is perfect.
Q: "Live It Up" is your third collaboration with Jennifer Lopez, following "On The Floor" and "Dance Again." What's your partnership like?
A: Jennifer is a hard worker, very professional, gorgeous and she's a walking empire. Anytime I'm around her, I'm watching, learning, studying. It's a natural combination, like a student and teacher. I'm a student all day. I think it would be an honor for Jennifer to watch me grow and say, ‘That kid did learn.'
Q: With all your recent success, do you feel like you've gotten the respect you deserve? Do you feel more relaxed now and less needing to prove yourself?
A: No, I'm never relaxed. I think complacency is a cousin of death. As far as respect, whether they do or don't, to each his own. But I do tell you this much, this is just the beginning. I promise you, it's just the beginning.
(Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Paul Simao)