Lose Yourself in These Secrets About 8 Mile

It's been 20 years since Eminem, Brittany Murphy and more owned the moment in 8 Mile and we've never ever let it go.

By Natalie Finn Nov 08, 2022 5:30 PMTags
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No one knew what to expect from Eminem's acting debut, let alone in a movie that kinda sounded like the controversial rapper would be playing himself...but not? 

"I knew going into it that he had experience performing and also adopting a character, Slim Shady," 8 Mile director Curtis Hanson told Rolling Stone in 2002. "What I was looking for was actually the opposite of that. When you adopt a characterization, that's artificial. You hide behind that. What I needed in this story was the appearance of a complete lack of artifice. I needed the appearance of one more or less exposing himself emotionally."

What he got was the five-time Grammy winner (he's since won 10 more) digging deep to play aspiring rapper Jimmy "B-Rabbit" Smith Jr. in the loosely autobiographical film, which added a more hardscrabble upbringing to Marshall Mathers III's origin story but closely reflected his own hunger to be taken seriously by the gatekeepers of the Detroit hip-hop scene.

And moviegoers lined up to see B-Rabbit run, to the tune of $243 million at the box office worldwide.

Stars Playing Real People

That was 20 years ago, and 8 Mile remains a pop culture touchstone.

And since the clock's never run out on Eminem's not-quite-a-biopic, with even his random 18-years-in-the-making Oscars performance thrilling a stunned audience, snap back to reality and lose yourself in this story about 8 Mile:

Striking the Right Tone

The filmmakers—and Eminem—took pains not to make 8 Mile cheesy, nor did they want it to be a jukebox musical, even though all the main character wants to do is make music. Shooting on location in Detroit (as opposed to a cheaper locale like Canada) was key to that vision, and director Curtis Hanson insisted on six weeks of rehearsals to get his star—who was making his acting debut, intense music videos aside—in fighting shape.

"He early on expressed to me that he had no interest in being in an Eminem movie, quote-unquote," Hanson said in a behind-the-scenes featurette. "He wanted to be an actor in a really good movie."

Producer Brian Grazer, who said the rapper sat in stony silence for a few minutes at a time when they first met, told the New York Times in 2002, "Marshall's biggest fear—mine as well—was that it would look phony. I make these bigger mainstream movies, and if all of a sudden I decide to make a street movie and make it corny, I look like a clown."

Green Eminem

Eminem didn't want to look like a clown either. 

"I always thought the story was good, but I want everything to be perfect," he explained to the Times. "Every time I felt like I wasn't believable I took notes, and I brought them to Curtis."

The artist couldn't even watch other movies for awhile, he said, "because I'm looking for continuity and looking for mistakes. The guy's shirt's a little wrinkled, and you cut back and it's the same scene and his shirt's not wrinkled. You drive yourself crazy with it."

The Raw Slim Shady

Hanson, a Best Director Oscar nominee for L.A. Confidential, needed to be convinced that Eminem was the real deal before he signed on.

"Was he making this movie simply because he could? I didn't know if he would apply his attention to this or be a dilettante about it," he told the Times. "And he was assessing me, too; he asked a lot of questions about the mechanics. We had ups and downs, but he gave me everything a director could want. He gave me a commitment and a kind of respect."

When Hanson died in 2016 at the age of 71, Eminem told Billboard, "Curtis Hanson believed in me and our crazy idea to make a rap battle movie set in Detroit. He basically made me into an actor for 8 Mile. I'm lucky I got to know him."

Nailing the Title

As you probably know, the title of the film, 8 Mile, refers to 8 Mile Road, which historically served as a through line connecting urban Detroit and the suburbs. "And especially when I was growing up, the color line," Eminem explained the significance in a behind-the-scenes featurette. "It was literally a median that separated Black from white."

But of everything they could have called the movie to illustrate cultural importance to Jimmy "B-Rabbit" Smith Jr.'s background and how it influenced his hopes and dreams, 8 Mile had the most significance.

"It's such a big deal, especially when you're a rapper, to grow up on the Detroit side of 8 Mile," Eminem, who grew up in Warren, Detroit's largest suburb, and knew all about having to battle for street cred, said. "If you don't listen to hip-hop, or you're older or you're not in it, you just don't care. It's not a big deal to you. It is if you're in it, let me tell you. It very much is."

Chemistry Test

Did Eminem and Brittany Murphy really date? 

"Yup, yeah, sure," a slightly flustered-sounding Murphy replied when David Letterman asked her if sparks flew off-camera during her 2002 appearance on The Late Show. "Well, how did that go?" the host inquired.

"Well, it went," she said with a laugh. "It cаme аnd went."

But though the actress and the rapper always spoke very highly of each other, they never confirmed one way or another whether their relationship was romantic.

"It's fascinating to know that the on-screen chemistry also was going off the screen," Taryn Manning, who played Jimmy's less-remembered love interest Janeane, recalled in the 2021 HBO Max documentary What Happened, Brittany Murphy?. "Look, I might have been a little jealous of at that one. Like, 'Is it true? Damn it! Marshall's awesome, but...'" She quickly added, "No, I'm joking, but it was speculated."

After Murphy's sudden death in December 2009, Eminem told Vibe, "It's crazy because at one point we were very close and she was a really good person. It's crazy when you see things not just with her but just all these things that are happening in Hollywood with people in music, with people in acting."

Read the Fine Print

In this movie, there almost was no Mekhi Phifer.

"It was interesting because when it first came up I was like 'It sounded cheesy,'" the Truth Be Told star, who played Jimmy's best friend and rap battle host Future, said in 2014 on Power 105.1's The Breakfast Club. "I was like, 'Nah.' And I was due to start ER actually, right before the movie started. And I was like. 'Nah, I'm just gonna start the show, man.'"

But then he read Scott Silver's script and realized the movie had some teeth.

"And then they flew me to Detroit," Phifer recalled. "And then me and Em just got together and just started building. You know what I mean? And I was like, 'Yo, I like this cat.' You know? And then Curtis Hanson, dope-ass director. It just all came together."

Lasting Tribute

Phifer's character, David "Future" Porter, was inspired by Eminem's real-life good friend and D12 member Proof (born DeShaun Dupree Holton), who was shot to death when a gunfight broke out during a billiards game at the CCC Club on 8 Mile Road in 2006.

"I felt honored—especially R.I.P to Proof," Phifer noted on The Breakfast Club. "Being able to show him in that light. 'Cause I thought the movie was real slick, and I had fun portraying him."

At the same time, Proof—who grew up with Eminem and was best man at his wedding—was in 8 Mile, playing Lil' Tic, the first emcee Jimmy battles in the film.

Parental Advisory

Kim Basinger was admittedly out of her comfort zone playing a blue collar, hard-living, not all that sympathetic single mom who has trouble prioritizing her kids—but she trusted the process in Hanson's hands, the director having helmed her Best Supporting Actress Oscar-winning performance in 1997's L.A. Confidential

"I knew he would get me where he wanted me to go," she reflected to the BBC in 2002. 'It was a wild ride. It was a scary ride. It was really, really scary at times. Stephanie's quite a complex person, and it was a great opportunity for me."

Eminem was "very cool," Basinger noted. "This is a very intense ride and we had to go to some raw places, some very hard places with this script." And the film didn't just demand a lot of the first-time actor on the set. "I think we were all nervous," she shared. "It was kind of like a common bond we all had, whether we could make this real and raw."

Pillow Talk

That's pre-ubiquity Michael Shannon as Greg, Stephanie's boyfriend—and his love scene with Basinger was his first-ever.

"I was terrified," the actor said on W's "Screen Tests" in 2017. "It was very strange because there was a woman there whose job was to be Kim's body double while they were lighting—and she had to take off her clothes. So they brought me to set first and that woman, whose name I can't remember, sat on top of me while they made sure the lighting was right. And at the very last second, when everything was prepared, Kim came in."

Basinger had a robe on, "and she's like, 'You ready to do this?'" Shannon recalled. "I'm like, 'Uh, sure.'"

After their first take, they were sitting on a couch afterward "and I'm trying to not make eye contact," the actor, now a two-time Oscar nominee, continued. "I'm, like, sweating. The whole thing's just wrong." And for whatever reason, Shannon added, he acknowledged a "hideously ugly" green throw pillow and said, "Oh, that's a nice pillow," which baffled his scene partner.

A few months later, Basinger sent him a package, with a note saying how much she enjoyed working with him, that he'd been "'such a gentleman'" and "'I thought you might like this as a memento of our time together.'" In the box was the pillow. "I have since lost it," he noted, "probably the most significant item I've ever received."

Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity

Like so many precocious youngsters who hit it out of the park when they're 7, Chloe Greenfield—who made her acting debut in 8 Mile playing Jimmy's little sister, Lily, basically the one person who doesn't piss him off at some point—eventually put the profession on the back burner.

"I never really set out to be an actor," the Twitter-described herbalist and activist said on the Dec. 13, 2020, episode of the podcast Setting the Tone. "I was born and raised in Southfield, a suburb outside of Detroit, and by chance one of my family members heard about an open casting call on the radio and we just happened to take our whole family down there. Detroit, in 2000, having any kind of filming was uncommon at that time, so it was like an event."

Greenfield estimated there were a couple hundred other kids there, taking Polaroids while grown-ups filled out the paperwork. "Right when we were about to leave," she recalled, "a production assistant came up to us and asked my mom if she could do a screen test on me...And pretty soon after that we were filming 8 Mile. So that was my first audition ever, which wasn't really an audition."

For the next few years her family went back and forth to L.A. for pilot season and auditioned for but didn't get parts in films such as Cheaper by the Dozen. But when she was 11 she did score a guest-starring appearance on ER, which turned into a three-season run playing Sarah, the adoptive daughter of John Stamos' Dr. Tony Gates, from 2006 to 2009, after which she moved on to other pursuits, starting with high school and then college.

"I got the chance to be a stupid kid and make my mistakes, and grow up and not be in the public eye," she reflected on Setting the Tone, noting that she was open to future acting opportunities and still went on auditions here and there. "For my overall life, that was fantastic."

Upward Mobility

Eminem has that he lived in trailer parks, yet noted cryptically in 2012, "But that doesn't mean I'm from a trailer park." Regardless, the one where Rabbit calls home with mom Stephanie has become a must-stop spot for 8 Mile-motivated tourists. 

"It's really amusing," Patricia McDermott, manager at the time of Continental Mobile Village (which is near 8 Mile Road), told MLive in 2013. The pilgrims also find out that Rabbit's trailer itself was just a set piece trucked in for the film. 

"They ask about the trailer," McDermott said. "And I tell them I have no idea where it is. Where do they put something like that? In the Smithsonian?" She also noted that the 215-unit park was made to look more rundown in the film.

Motown Memories

8 Mile has had more mileage than anyone who was a part of it at the time could have ever imagined.

"Ever since I made this film here, Michigan has become my second or third hometown," L.A. native Omar Benson Miller, who played Jimmy's friend Sol, told the Detroit Free Press at a 15th anniversary benefit screening of the movie in 2017. "People come up to me every day to let me know they're from Michigan, and how much the film meant to them to represent what was happening here."

Work in Progress

Eminem was busy writing music for the movie, including the inevitably massive smash theme song "Lose Yourself," on set while they were filming.

"If I wasn't rehearsing or trying to memorize my lines for the movie, I was writing," he said in the BTS featurette. "I had a pen in hand. Literally they would say, 'Action,' and I'd have to give my pen and paper to somebody and go into the scene. I had to write the music during that time, I had to write the song I was gonna write for the movie during that time, because I felt like I was literally in it."

But he wouldn't have had it any other way.

"It's a lot of work, going back and forth...but it all starts to blend together as one," he said. "It's just constantly moving, but I'm used to constantly moving."

So, Eminem explained, hearing bits of "Lose Yourself" as a work in progress throughout the movie authentically reflected the song's actual development.

Sometimes You Get More Than One Shot

"Lose Yourself" won almost every possible award, including the Oscar for Best Original Song, though Eminem skipped the 2003 ceremony. But, better late than never, he showed up at the 2020 Oscars to perform his monster hit, which still proved to be quite the crowd pleaser.

Someone else suggested the idea (he didn't name names) and he thought it was "kinda dope," the artist told Variety of how his surprise appearance came together.

Basically, he explained, he didn't attend the Academy Awards when he was nominated because, one, he'd already performed "Lose Yourself" at the Grammys (where he won Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance) and, two, he figured he wouldn't win this particular prize (probably in no small part due to the Golden Globes going with U2's "The Hands That Built America" from Gangs of New York).

And, Eminem noted, broadcaster ABC was going to censor the song for language, so f--k that.

Keeping It Real

Hanson predicted longevity as an actor for Eminem, telling Rolling Stone in 2002, "He's an extraordinarily gifted artist. If Internet piracy kills the music business, Marshall Mathers need not worry. He'll have another career."

Instead, Eminem stuck to playing extra versions of himself in his own videos and the likes of EntourageFunny People and The Interview. He didn't play another character until 2021, when he turned up as real-life criminal-turned informant White Boy Rick on 50 Cent's Starz series BMF.

"It was not that difficult for me to get him," Curtis "50 Cent" Hanson explained to Newsweek, "because I have a great relationship with him, right? And if ever he finds there's a point that he could do something that helps support me or catapult me to the next level, he's the first guy in line to do it."

Of course, getting to shoot his scenes for the mob drama in Detroit helped sweeten the deal for Eminem, who still calls the city home to this day.

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