Years before she romanced William Shakespeare in Shakespeare in Love, Gwyneth Paltrow almost ignited a love affair with another wordsmith: iconic ’90s recording artist Rob Van Winkle, aka Vanilla Ice. The future Oscar winner and entrepreneur auditioned to play the rapper’s love interest in his first (and only) feature film star vehicle, Cool as Ice, which premiered in theaters 30 years ago this month.
“I didn’t even know who she was back then,” Van Winkle tells Yahoo Entertainment in his first extended interview about the film in nearly three decades. “This was before she made any big movies. I didn’t know Gwyneth Paltrow from anybody, you know? I met her, and then later I was like, ‘Oh, that’s the girl that was auditioning for the movie!’ She killed it. She’s an amazing talent; that’s why she went on to become a big superstar like she is.” (Watch our video interview above.)
Paltrow didn’t ultimately land the Cool as Ice gig, scoring her big breakthrough role four years later in David Fincher’s Seven. Instead, Home Alone supporting player Kristin Minter was cast as Kathy, the high school brainiac who grabs the eye of rapper/motorcycle enthusiast Johnny Van Owen (Van Winkle) while passing through her small town. Minter’s performance made a big impression on her co-star, to the point where he started to confuse real life with reel life.
“She acted her ass off,” he says of their romantic scenes together. “I was like, ‘Are you for real? I got a girlfriend, man!’ I was really thinking she was coming on to me and then all of a sudden we would stop. I was like, ‘Oh, it was acting, OK. I was really feeling that we were having a moment!’ Gwyneth too, man. She really had me going [in her audition]. I was like, ‘Is this girl is coming on to me?’ And then the cameras stop, and [she’s] like, ‘Hey, Rob.'”
Paltrow and Minter may not have been looking to get wit’ Vanilla Ice for real, but Van Winkle was part of a true Hollywood love story in the early ’90s. He and Madonna had an intense romance that included a marriage proposal. “She actually proposed to me,” he says. “I was like, ‘I’m too young for that. I’m just getting going here, I’m just revving up — I’m sorry.’ But she was a sweetheart, and we had such a great time. I think she loved, kinda like me now, being the oldest teenager in town.” (Van Winkle was later married to Laura Giaritta from 1997 to 2016.)
At the time, Madonna had a busy acting career to compliment her music portfolio, and Van Winkle remembers living with her on location in Indiana while she filmed the 1992 Penny Marshall favorite A League of Their Own. That same year, he appeared in her controversial coffee table book, Sex. “We had fun everywhere we went, and we would go just the two of us. It’s funny because we had disguises, so you’d never know it, but we were in public with everybody. We went shopping at the malls, we ate at Chili’s and Waffle House. I had a mustache and this crazy wig and glasses and we would go to the movies and stuff.”
Of course, there were people who saw those disguises. “If people did notice us, I remember she didn’t like to be noticed. I didn’t care and she didn’t like it that I didn’t care. If they asked her for an autograph, she would say ‘No,’ and if the same person came to me, I said, ‘Yes, no problem.’ She would get so mad at me for that, and I had to let her know: ‘Hey, that fan? You’ll never see him again, but they’re gonna tell that story nine million times over the rest of their lives. Make it a good moment for them.”
“I think that kind of helped her public relations after that,” Van Winkle explains. “With celebrities, it’s hard to deal with reality. I tell my kids, ‘Listen, everything you see out there in cyber world or on TV is just an artificial life. When I come home, it’s just dad. That’s as simple as it gets. After success, you’re so fooled by artificial life that you think that’s your real life. So with Madonna, I understood why she was that way. I don’t hold anything against her for being that way, but I had to let her know that’s artificial and this is real. Be real with people, man.”
And as Van Winkle recalls, their love affair included multiple viewings of Cool as Ice, which opened on Oct. 18, 1991. “She loved it, man,” he says of those Madonna and Ice movie nights. “She was at my concerts and would come out there and dance. She loved hip-hop and all the dancing, because she choreographed a lot of her own stuff, too. She’s just a super entertainer.”
Cool as Ice is still played on repeat in the Vanilla Ice household to this day. “It’s funny, I haven’t talked about the movie much in years, but for some reason, in the past year I’ve gotten a lot of people going back to it and I love that,” says Van Winkle, who will turn 54 on Oct. 31. “I get a lot of people going back and doing the classic dances, and I love it. The funniest part is that my oldest daughter’s generation thinks I’m cool again! She’s like, ‘Dad, where can I get those clothes today?’ The ’90s are back, and I hope I can live in them forever. I’ll take keg parties over Fortnite any day.”
Drop that zero and get with the hero as we take a 30th anniversary deep dive into Cool as Ice with its smooth as ice star.
Yahoo Entertainment: Let’s talk about how Cool as Ice happened — how was the film originally presented to you?
Well, my debut was the Ninja Turtles movie [The Secret of the Ooze], and that’s still the highlight of my life. It sounds hilarious, but I’m a huge Ninja Turtles fanatic. I’ve got tattoos everywhere, and I have a collection of Ninja Turtles stuff in the house. After that, I got a call from the producers at Universal and they said, “Hey, we’re going to do a movie for you.” I said, “Let me read the script,” and I saw it had awesome motorcycles and girls and was like, “Let’s go.” That was all I needed to see.
Keep in mind, I became an Elvis Presley fan through his movies. My mom was a fan of his music and I am too now, but it started with me through the movies. I just thought he was so pimp. Nobody else made movies like that where the [hero] could really be a singer and get all the girls, beat up guys, drive off in a hot rod in the sunset and sit on the beach with all these girls in bikinis dancing around. So when I saw the Cool as Ice script and saw that I’d get to get the girl, get in fights and that whole thing, I felt: “This is almost like one of those Elvis movies!”
The movie has a lot of different elements in it: there’s a little Footloose, a little The Wild One and a little Rebel Without a Cause
Yeah, absolutely — there are different ingredients from everywhere that kind of spice this film up. If you’re ready for a nice cheesy movie, you throw this on one night. It’s good for great laughs and a great ride down memory lane. The ’90s were a great time. I still miss getting my movies at Blockbuster — it was a good reason to get out of the house on Friday night, you know? I think we’re the last generation that will ever remember what it was like to live without computers or smartphones. My kids were born into it and they’ll never know. And Cool as Ice is one of the most representative movies of the ’90s. I was even thinking about incorporating it into my live show. I do the “I Love the ’90s” tour, but I don’t play any Cool as Ice music. I need to figure out a way to incorporate that with my live band!
I did get to add a lot of stuff [to the script]. I’m a rapper so I come up with these spontaneous cheesy lines, like “Drop that zero, and get with the hero.” I still have people that say that to me every day. I got a bunch of lines in there that are just like the ones in “Ice Ice Baby,” — you know, like “stop, collaborate and listen.” I need to have like a little dictionary of Vanilla Iceisms with all these cheesy lines that I say. It’s giving me ideas!
“Drop that zero and get with the hero” really is the immortal line from the movie. How did it come to you?
Well, that was really funny because it was never in the script. I threw it out as we were filming and I didn’t know if they were going to use it or not. We got to do the scenes two or three times each to make sure we’d get the best one or the best parts of different ones. Every single time I would ad lib and throw different things in there, and they used every single one of them! I can’t remember anything that I threw out they didn’t use. I didn’t know what they were going to use until I watched the movie and I’m like, “Oh my God, they used all my lines!” Same with the Adam Sandler movie I did, That’s My Boy. All those lines I threw out and he used them. I just have fun being myself around people, and when I’m around good people that are in good spirits, the creative juices flow, you know?
Was it fun to have Michael Gross in the movie as the mean dad after he was the nice dad on Family Ties?
Absolutely. Michael Gross was amazing. He actually scared the crap out of me. Here’s a funny story about him: we were at Kathy’s house and he was practicing his lines, while I was walking around the back because there were nice trees and stuff. I said, “Hey, Michael, how are you doing?” And he goes: “Get away from me!” He was legit mad at me! He was like, “I can’t talk to you right now. I’ll talk to you after we do these lines, but don’t come around me right now.” He was in that actor serious mode. There were no cameras rolling and it was an hour before we were going to film, but he was really living it.
You know me, I can turn it on and off, man. I’m an entertainer: I can rap, I can dance, I can do whatever. But these people were so serious about it! I learned a lot from them, but man, Michael was so mad at me. I said, “Sorry to bother you, man,” and he said, “Yeah, just go,” — like, real rude. And when we filmed the scene, he opened that door mad as hell at me! After it was over, he shook my hand and said, “Great job.” I can’t believe I remember that from 30 years ago! [Laughs] The walks of life, man. I’ve met a lot of people and I’ve learned from everyone.
Let’s dive into some of the music from the movie: the opening “Cool as Ice” song has Naomi Campbell in it. How did you get her at a very early point in her career?
Well, she’s a legend and obviously a gigantic supermodel. You remember how Grace Jones was in all those movies? [Naomi] kinda came in there like that whole James Bond figure. She’s really tall and I’m really tall, so she was looking at me and I was like, “This is great.” We’d hired a lady who could sing with Gail “Sky” King in the studio, so we had already finished the song. [For the movie] we were like, “Why don’t we get Naomi Campbell to re-sing this?” So we put her in the studio and kinda re-orchestrated it into the beginning of the show where you have Bobbie Brown and her blonde hair walking through the hallway and all these lights are swinging back and forth, and I’m busting a move. Then Naomi Campbell just busts into the scene. And Naomi Campbell can sing! I think that was her singing debut, and she pulled it off.
“The People’s Choice” is another crazy number.
So that scene was incredible because I had the craziest hairdo, and I was trying to keep it consistent. The movie took four or five months to do and my hair kept growing, so I had to try to consistently keep those lines in. Nobody did that for me — it’s not like hair and makeup did my lines! They didn’t even know anything about that back then. So I did that all myself and I was like, “Oh god, I hope I don’t mess these up.” I had just won the People’s Choice Award that year, and that’s what kind of inspired the song.
And I was crazy-looking in that scene with all my neon and graffiti-painted pants. I think I had two different color shoes: one orange and one green, and different colored shoe-laces and all that stuff. That fashion was crazy, and I still don’t even know what inspired it. I think it was movies like Breakin’ and Beat Street and the influence of the breakdancing movement that inspired the whole thing, you know? It took on a life of its own, that’s for sure.
You get a love ballad in the movie, “Never Wanna Be Without You.” Were you happy to show off a different side of yourself?
You know, I’m not big fan of them slow songs and stuff. That’s more of the corporate side and them suit and ties people. You know me, I’m okay with it, but it’s a little softer side. I’m more of a sexual kind of guy. I mean, if you listen to my first record, To the Extreme, “Stop That Train” is about a sexual thing, and then I have “Life Is a Fantasy,” which is another sexual thing.
So when it comes to the slow songs, they’re more about the owner of my record label going: “Hey we need this song — help us do this for the movie. We need to make a love scene, and we need a song from you. Elvis did it, so we need you to do it.” And I said, “Elvis did it? OK, I’m doing it.” [Laughs] They would always use references, like, “MC Hammer has a slow song, man, and he’s OK with it!” Or, “LL Cool J has ‘I Need Love,’ so it’s OK!” But when they said, “Elvis did it,” that’s when I said, ‘OK, I”ll do it.'”
You ride your own motorcycle in the movie — tell me about showing off your bike.
I’ve raced motorcross my whole life, man, since I was eight years old. I’m still racing — I can’t give it up. When they said the aspect of the motorcycle being in the movie, I was like, “Oh, this is great.” And then when I was reading through the script, I asked them, “Where are you going to do this love scene?” And they said, we’re going to do it on the Salt Flats. I go, “The Salt Flats! Are we bringing the bike?” And they said, “Oh yeah.”
They really didn’t know how skilled I was on a motorcycle coming into the movie. As the talent, you probably have 400 pages of insurance policy on your lead star of the movie so there’s millions and millions of dollars at stake here. If this guy gets hurt, we’re screwed! But I looked at the stunt guy … [and] he just didn’t have the skills. I was like, “I’m sorry bro — I know you know how to pull and do all that, but let me show you how to ride that real quick.”
So all those tricks and jumps over the fences and everything, that was me! I put my helmet on and my boots and I jumped it probably six, seven times further than [the stuntman] did. I could’ve done a Superman fender grab if I wanted to, but I just jumped the fence and they were like, “Oh, that was way better. Can you jump the car now?” I was like, “Yeah, I’ll jump the car!” So I jumped the car, I jumped the fence over to the horse and I got up to 200 miles an hour on the Salt Flats during that love scene. I never thought I’d remember that! That was awesome.
When the movie came out, it was critically reviled and got several Razzie nominations. Are you happy that it’s found an audience now?
Listen, it’s all comedy and entertainment to me. It was a great movie for the sign of the times and it totally represents the ’90s in every cheesy way that you can. There was a lot of good energy there, and a lot of fun behind the scenes stuff. We were legitimately having a great time. And god, the fashions! [For awhile] I was embarrassed of that stuff: it’s like your grandma pulling out old pictures of you around your friends, but for me it’s all out there in a movie! But now it’s back full force and my kids think I’m cool, so I’m like, “This is awesome!”
Back then, I had a weekend that lasted three years. I had a little bit of self-destruction going on. I look at [artists] like Justin Bieber: he went through his little moment there where he was driving a Lamborghini on drugs or something. You have a hard time and almost self-destruct, and that takes on more of a life than your new record. People want to see you self-destruct and see all the drama that comes along with the ups and downs. They want to see the down more than they ant to see anything positive.
So I went through that stage of my life, and now I look at it like I was surfing on a big wave and I crashed into the shore, you know? My whole philosophy is that I picked myself back up, got the dirt off my shoulders, swam back out and caught another wave, man. You can hang out on the shore and get your suntan on, but I’m getting back out on something.
I love being an entertainer — even now on the “I Love the 90’s” tour, we have such a broad demographic. A lot of people may not have been into my music when it come out, and also young kids and college kids come out because they’re entertained by the whole thing. Everybody wants to be a teenager, no matter how old you are, and just go back to the ’90s. It’s a moment for me to get away on the weekends, too, and be a teenager. Then on Monday at 5:00 AM, it’s back to paying bills and being a lousy adult.
When you were on The Surreal Life, you had this connection to Tammy Faye Messner that was fascinating to watch. Do you miss her since she passed away?
Dude, you just gave me goosebumps. Not only do I miss her, I love her. She was one of the most amazing influences in my whole life. I went and saw the new movie about her life as soon as it came out, and it was really amazing because she told me all those stories. I didn’t know who she was before the show, and she approached me because she saw all of my tattoos. She said, “I got a tattoo, too: my eyeliner. I used to cry on TV so much, that it ran all the way down my face all the time so I just went ahead and permanently put it on.”
She saw I was struggling with my old self: I wasn’t happy with the old Vanilla Ice, and i couldn’t figure out my purpose or my drive after this huge success. She helped me find out who I was. When I went into that karaoke bar on The Surreal Life, I told the producers, “I feel like you guys are going to sucker me into this ‘Ice Ice Baby’ moment, and I don’t perform that song anymore.’ I was ready to walk off the set, and in fact I did walk off the set. They chased me down, and hugged me and said, “We love you.”
Then Traci Bingham and Tammy Faye performed it, and Tammy Faye didn’t know the song too well, but she tried to get the rhythm. It was hilarious watching her sing “Ice Ice Baby,” so I just grabbed the mic. I hadn’t performed it in years, but I stoop up and performed it and the crowd went bananas, man. That’s what got me over my hurdle, and I owe that to Tammy Faye. Thanks for reminding me of what a great influence she was on my life. I don’t get a questions like this very often, so it’s awesome. Now we all got to go watch Cool as Ice! I’m gonna watch it tonight.
— Video produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by John Santo
Cool as Ice is currently streaming on Tubi