It’s been quite some time since we’ve seen Ja Rule on the big screen. The Queens rapper is set to make his cinematic return with a leading role in I’m In Love With A Church Girl, a dramatic love story that also stars former 3LW member Adrienne Bailon. Ja (real name Jeffery Atkins), who was released from prison earlier this year, plays Miles Montengo, an ex-convict who falls in love with a girl named Vanessa Leon, whose staunch religious background becomes a conflict of interest with his dark past.

In an interview with XXL, the film’s director, Steve Race, discusses the film and what it was like working with Ja Rule and Adrienne on the set.

XXL: “I’m In Love With A Church Girl” seems like an interesting story plot. Give us a synopsis of the film.
Steve Race: It’s basically about a guy from the streets (played by Ja Rule) who is living the life of a drug smuggler and doing all the wrong things. He comes to a point in life where it’s time for change, and he comes across a girl, played by Adrienne Bailon, who changes his entire outlook on life.

What drew you to this script?
I’ve known the writer, Galley Molina, for 15 years. We have a really long working relationship on multiple music documentaries, comedy DVDs, music videos and other productions. When he told he was writing the script for the film, it was a perfect fit for me to come on and direct.

What was the main challenge with directing this film?
The challenge was being able to shoot a 130-page script in 24 days.

When and where was the film shot?
The film was shot in San Jose, CA, and Los Angeles. It was filmed in 2010, before Ja Rule went into prison.

How was it working with Ja Rule?
It was awesome working with Ja Rule. He is super professional, amazingly talented and he was a pleasure to work with. The thing that’s surprising about Ja Rule is the depth at which he went to play this part. He pulled out all the stunts. He had every line memorized. He just gave it 100 percent and totally blew us away with his performance.

Were you a fan of Ja Rule’s music prior to working with him?
Absolutely. I was a fan of Ja Rule’s music back in the day, and I think he’s super talented. I loved his music, and I had a feeling he’d be the perfect fit for the film. I also discovered we had a lot in common in sports and that we’re both from New York. It’s a different way of life on the East Coast.

How was it working with Adrienne Bailon, and how was her performance on the set?
Adrienne Bailon’s performance was also amazing. She did a great job and is super-talented. She was a joy to work with. Adrienne is electric on the set. She has a energy about her.

Considering Ja Rule and Adrienne play lovers, how important is their chemistry to the film?
The chemistry is what actually makes the film work so good, because it’s a love story. You can’t fake love at first sight. In one scene where Ja Rule’s character sees Adrienne’s character for the first time, he’s actually driving his car and sees Adrienne in another car. You could see the look in his eyes. The first time that they actually meet each other in the film is very natural.

What’s something that happened while filming that really resonated with you as a director?
A cool story that happened was a scene where Adrienne sees Ja Rule’s character with another girl. I actually didn’t let her come to set the entire day. I made her stay off set, and she literally walked onto set right into the scene so that I could get that instant, organic look of disappointment, and it worked. It was awesome.

What can hip-hop fans expect from this film?
Fans should expect an amazing, dramatic performance from Ja Rule. His acting is off the charts. I’m really excited for Ja Rule’s fans to see him in a full-length feature film playing a dramatic role and delivering an amazing performance.

I’m In Love With A Church Girl will hit theaters on Oct. 18.—Gerren Keith Gaynor (@MRGERRENALIST)