Ja Rule is a new man. Since being released from prison back in May, the Murder Inc. rap OG seems to have turned over a new leaf. During an exclusive interview with XXL in New York City, Ja breaks down his new role in the Steve Race-directed film, I’m In Love With A Church Girl, which he filmed shortly before being sentenced in 2010. The religious-themed film is based on a true story and also co-stars Adrienne Bailon.

Rule says the role was his most challenging one yet and even opens up about his own personal faith, revealing that he recently made an important decision in his life. But don’t go thinking he’s left music in the backseat. The Queens rapper reassures us that more bangers are on the way. However, you can expect to see him in more films to come. Find out what Ja Rule had to say about his dramatic role, his on-screen chemistry with Bailon and why this film was his most challenging yet.

XXL: Give us a synopsis of I’m In Love With A Church Girl.
Ja Rule: Miles is an ex-drug trafficker - based on a true story about a guy named Galley Molina - who meets and falls in love with this woman who’s a church girl. She brought him to the church and now he’s the pastor. For me, that story is great. I thought that was really cool and dope. It really shows you how God can come into a person’s life and work on them in such a way that they want to give it all to him.

What drew you to this particular script and character?
What drew me to the role was the character. First and foremost, the script was a good script. It’s a story of second chances and redemption. I’m all about that. Nobody knows about redemption and second chances more than Ja Rule. When I read the story, me and my character, Miles, had similar stories. I felt like it was almost written for me at a time when I was going through a lot, and I said this is a good character for me to play right now.

We’ve seen you in films like “The Cookout” and “The Fast And The Furious,” but never in a film such as this. Would you say this is your most stand-out, dramatic role thus far?
Yea, I’ve done some comedy stuff and some action stuff, but this is more of an emotional role. I had to laugh, cry, be angry...it was an emotional rollercoaster. I was all over the place in this film. It was a lot of work. It pulls a lot out of you to get into the role and those feelings. It was definitely my most dramatic role that I’ve done so far.

How did you prepare for this role?
We did preparation like a month before we started shooting. I would go to church with Galley to hear his story. He told me a lot about what he was doing. I would go to church to kind of get his mannerisms and the characteristics of a preacher and stuff like that. We definitely did our research on him.

Was there instant chemistry between you and Adrienne Bailon?
How you and your co-star interact is always the most important thing. Me and Adrienne knew each other for a long time so that helped with our chemistry on screen. It came across real natural and I think when people see the film they will say, ‘they look good together on screen.’

What would you say was the most challenging part in playing Miles?
Some of the more emotional scenes - the church scene - when I had my one-on-one talk with God...certain scenes where I had to draw from darker places and bring out the emotion like when my mom died and the funeral scene. Those scenes I had to pull from a real place to get those tears to come down.

During a recent interview with "The Breakfast Club," you mentioned you read your Bible a lot while in prison. Do you find it ironic that you filmed this movie right before going into prison, where you grew in your own personal faith?
I was always a very spiritual person. I wouldn’t say so much a religious person. My family was Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s like any other religion. They force you to go to church on Sunday, you didn’t enjoy it but you had to go [Laughs]. I kind of broke away from that when I was 11 or 12 years old. I got into the street life and was doing my own thing selling drugs. When I got locked up I had a real moment of clarity and time to reflect on everything I’ve been through in my life, things that I was doing and all the mayhem that I’ve caused, and people that I’ve hurt. I picked up the Bible in the midst of all that. I attempted to read it from front to back. It simmered me down in a lot of ways. I’m more reserved and laid back. I’m a different person after coming from prison. I learned a lot about myself and did some soul-searching.

It’s definitely crazy how things happened. I just recently got saved. When I say that people go, "What the fuck is going on?" You know what I mean? But it doesn’t mean I’m going to be making gospel records, it’s just that I accept God. I believe in a higher power. I always believed. To let people know that’s where my heart is at was a big step for me.

How was Steve Race as a director?
Steve was great. I love Steve, he’s a great guy. He believed in me from the gate when there were probably a lot of question marks on me, like is he going to come in and be on time, is he going to be able to pull it off, is he going to be serious about the character? I thank him for believing in me and I hope I delivered the performance that he knew I could.

What do you want fans and viewers to get from this film?
Just to be inspired and to know that when you’re in your darkest hour there’s light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve got a lot of suicides and stuff like that in society and people are going through stuff and feel like it’s the end of the world. These type of films and stories give people hope.

Any more films in the near future?
I got some other stuff that I’ve been offered to do and really fun stuff, too, so you will see me in some more films.

When can we hear more music? The people are anxious!
I released two tracks - “Everything” and “Fresh Out The Pin” - ya’ll can get that on iTunes. We working. An album will be coming. I’m not in a rush. I just want to get all the music together and get it right, make sure it’s dope and that people gravitate towards it. For me, I’m just having fun again in the studio. I’m not putting a time stamp on it but it will be coming soon. --Gerren Keith Gaynor