Getting to film Furious 7 in Abu Dhabi was an honour, says Tyrese Gibson. He's a big fan of the UAE, and visits as often as he can to hang out with his royal friends.
Tyrese is no ordinary Hollywood film star – if there is such a thing. He’s also a Grammy-nominated singer, model, inventor, writer and entrepreneur, who has more Facebook fans than Madonna.
And he's about to take his love affair with the UAE to "a whole 'nother level", as his Furious 7 character would say.
My second family in the UAE
“I’ve never travelled to any country and felt more welcomed than in the UAE. People think it makes me happy because so many folks out there got money but that’s not the case. If you had a bunch of royals with money, and everybody was mean and arrogant then it would be one of the worst places. But the UAE is one of the safest places I’ve ever been. And outside of the mega-yachts and the big royal palaces – the common men and women of Dubai are nicest people I’ve ever been exposed to.
“I don’t remember ever sitting at so many dinner tables in people’s private homes and feeling a part of the family as I did in the UAE.
“There’s still this tradition of going into the desert, there’s food, drinks and culture. It’s a beautiful thing that a lot of people have gotten away from.
“Shout-out to Sheikh Saroor, the Al Maktoum family and the Al Nahyan family, Sheikh Zayed for his vision that led to so many lives being affected in such a beautiful and prosperous way, Sheikh Mohammed, Fazza and, more importantly, my family in the UAE is the Al Habtoor family. Khalaf Al Habtoor, it’s my dad.
“I hope to meet Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Mansour – they’re my heroes. It would be a dream come true because they have so many big visions.”
Finding his smile in Dubai
“I visited Dubai for my 35th birthday [in December 2013], and that’s when I first found closure after [Fast and Furious co-star] Paul Walker died. I didn’t realise how sad I was until I went there, and it changed everything.
“I found my smile again. Every man, woman and child at a certain point needs to visit Dubai and feel the love and energy that I felt.
“It was an honour to bring Vin Diesel, Will Smith and all my loved ones to the UAE. We all hung out in Dubai the whole time we were shooting Furious 7 in Abu Dhabi.
“I keep sending people there. A bunch of 20 beautiful, powerful businesswomen I know flew to Dubai because my Facebook videos made the place look so cool. If I had it my way, I’d jump on a plane right now.”
“I’ve been doing some business in the UAE, trying to get some energy going for a vision I have. I’m in motion to build a movie studio in Abu Dhabi or Dubai, it all depends on how it works out.
“Everything exists in Dubai, the only thing that was missing was A-list Hollywood – being able to stay for 6 months at a time.
“When I say I’m going to do something, I’ll stop at nothing until it’s done. The world has no idea how much I’m about to unleash on them. What’s scary is I’ve got so many more thoughts for things I can’t even afford.”
“I’m not really the adventurous type. Sheikh Suroor drove me around in his jeep in the sand dunes and I was scared as hell! But we made it out safely.”
Staying at Emirates Palace
“Better get yourself a hotel room close to the front door because you’d be doing a mile and a half of cardio every time you want to go to your room. That hotel is big. It was the first time I got to try out a camel – I had a lot of fun there.”
“There’s no Furious 8 confirmed. We’re focused on being respectful of this being Paul’s last movie. The last 4 or 5 movies have ended on cliffhangers. But we ended Furious 7 with a tribute that’s beyond well deserved on behalf of our brother, Paul Walker. If there is a Furious 8, I’d love to shoot it in Cape Town, or New York.”
The secret of the Fast and Furious success story
“One of the biggest, unspoken reasons is that people want to see somebody on the screen they can identify with. Hollywood has made the world think that it’s just white and black, but you have this multi-ethnic ensemble cast that are a family on these missions together, with women, engines, adrenalin, and new characters keep getting introduced. It keeps you interested.”
Local culture in Furious 7
“I’m really happy about the way the beautiful Arabs, the Muslims were highlighted. We’re all very proud to have incorporated Abu Dhabi into this franchise. There’s nothing more exciting than watching a movie and being able to identify the buildings – and the car culture in the UAE is so real.”
Coping with fame
“I got people walking up to me that don’t speak a lick of English going, ‘One picture.’ I feel like, ‘Wow, my mama gave birth to me in South Central LA and now I’m on the other side of the planet, and people know my name.’ It’s mind-blowing.
“I try to keep private stuff to myself as much as I can. I don’t really like leaving home. Every time I go to a public restaurant, people interrupt my dinner. So I built it all in my backyard. I have a restaurant, office, firepit, outdoor theatre and rooftop sundeck. I have meetings here every day with A-list executives, producers and celebrities. There are no paparazzi in my house and we’re able to get a lot done.”
"I'm in a 23-minute musical film, Shame, with Jennifer Hudson, set in 1968. I play a struggling soul singer. I'm abusive, I'm on cocaine and my hair is all screwed-up looking.
"Other movies coming out this year are Ride Along 2, and Southpaw, which is directed by Antoine Fuqua and also stars Rachel McAdams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Forest Whitaker. I'm excited about that. "
Performing in Dubai?
“I’d love to play in Dubai. We’ll see what happens – touring is very expensive. We’ve got potential sponsors to come on board and help with the expenses. “
The new album
"Black Rose [out July 7] is a double album of 20 songs. One side is hip-hop, the other R&B. The Game and Snoop feature on the hip-hop side and on the R&B side, I have songs with Chrisette Michele, Jennifer Hudson, and Tank.
“I’ve never struggled this much to record an album. I’ve been through some heavy stuff with child-custody battles–my relationship came to an end because I got caught cheating. I broke the heart of an angel.
“But when you’re going through something, you get in the studio and create. I’m telling my truth, even if it embarrasses me.”
Last time singing solo
“My current [thinking is] this is it for me as far as solo albums go. The music industry is different now. Some of the most successful artists out there with existing fan bases aren’t selling records. I’ve just landed 50-50 custody of my beautiful daughter, so when I leave my house, it needs to be worth it. I’m just going to gracefully bow out of solo music.”
“We have the Stevie Wonder situation but that’s gonna be a big reveal. I’m going to shock a lot of people with who I’ve got on my new remix coming up, so get ready for that. I’m also hoping to release another album with Ginuwine and Tank, we’ve just to get on the same page about what we’re doing.”
“I’m launching my third book, also called Black Rose. It’s my most uncomfortable and honest book.
“ I’m addicted to creativity. There are no limits to what I can do. I’ve designed my first two sprinters [vans], and they’re selling off the charts. The first is a Mercedes Benz I’ve converted into a Rolls-Royce, because I wanted to show y’all what a Rolls-Royce would look like if they were making them as sprinters. The second is the Votron Ghost Sprinter because my company is called Voltron Entertainment.”
"I was supposed to be on Empire [the new critically acclaimed US TV musical drama series that debuted on Fox in January] this season. I was dealing with personal matters – we never talked about it publicly –so it just didn't work out.
"I love Taraji P Henson [who plays Cookie in the show]. Me and Turaji's love affair through Baby Boy is like Ryan Gosling and Rachel Macadams from The Notebook. People want to see us together. If they come up with some good stuff for me to do on Empire next season, we'll talk about it."
As an African-American man, I was not raised with a father in my house. I have gone above and beyond through any means necessary to make sure I have a presence in my 7-year-old daughter’s life. I can’t be home every day because I’m working. But I love my daughter and my daughter loves me.
“I’ve dubbed my social media community ‘the love circle’. It means nothing to have 23 million Facebook followers if you’re not using it to inspire people.
“A guy walked up to me the other day and said, ‘I was about to commit suicide and your Facebook videos stopped me.’ I’m not a pastor, prophet or psychic. I’m just a very honest man that’s flawed.
“I have a new charitable organisation, ‘The Love Circle Foundation’, with missions I’m going public with soon. For now, my love circle is my fans. Every time I get a new ‘like’, I feel like love is spreading.”