We already know Jeffrey “Ja Rule” Atkins as a hip-hop star who made the hit records “Holla Holla,“Always on Time” with Ashanti, “Put It On Me” with L’il Mo and Vita and “I’m Real” remix with Jennifer Lopez, among others. At one time, he was one of indie hip-hop label Murder, Inc. ‘s (later, The Inc.) most bankable stars. But a feud with 50 Cent, the demise of The Inc., and a two-year jail sentence for gun possession and tax evasion derailed his career. Now Atkins is back – but this time in a different medium. He’s the star of the new Christian film “I’m In Love With a Church Girl.”
In the movie, out this Friday, Atkins plays drug dealer Miles Montego who falls in love with ‘church girl” Vanessa Leon, played by actress/singer Adrienne Bailon. He’s already appeared in several movies, but this is his first leading man role. Atkins says that he did start going to church more both before and after filming the movie.
“I have been going to church a little bit lately. It’s been a good experience doing the film, I got in a little bit of church before I went in. I was studying for the role before I went in, trying to get the mannerisms and the characteristics of a pastor.”
The movie is based on the true story of the Bay Area’s Galley Molina, who produced and wrote the film. He fell in love with a church girl and made the transition in real life from a drug dealer to a pastor. Molina wrote the script while in jail and shopped it once he was released, raising the money himself and bringing on gospel artist Israel Houghton as a co-producer. Although drugs weren’t behind Atkins’ own incarceration, he said that jail ultimately did teach him a few life lessons.
“I learned a whole lot while I was inside. You get a lot of time to yourself to think and go over the mistakes that you made in life and then you come home and try to right your wrongs. It was a kind of a learning curve for my kids that this is what can happen even if you are successful. One wrong decision, one bad night can end you up in a position you never thought you’d be in. It was a good thing for them to see and learn what can happen. Usually bad things start out as fun. I can use that to teach them how things go in life.”
Atkins’ oldest daughter, Brittany (he has three children with wife Aisha) is at Hampton University now, majoring in Psychology, so some of the life lessons he’s taught have stuck.
“To me, this is the final reward for all the work I’ve been through and everything that I’ve achieved in my life. That’s what I worked so hard to accomplish to get the little ones to college and get them on their way. So I think I’m doing a good job.