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Ice-T, TV star? Hey, you never know! He's already hit the lottery twice in his life. Not surprisingly, he talks a good game, charming a crowd of TV critics with raps on his name, acting, the TV ratings system, Pamela Lee Anderson, Shaun Cassidy and country music.

Of all the above, country music is his favorite. Asked if his character, Isaac "Ice" Gregory, will rap in his new NBC series, "Players," Ice-T said: "Naw, he can't rap. Matter of fact, he does country music, which is really close to rap. But there's one episode where I turn into the black country singer Cool McCall.

"Look at Johnny Cash, he's been rapping for years. 'He shot a man in Reno just to watch him die'? That sounds like Geto Boys to me."

After a week at the press tour, Ice-T was a refreshing voice.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, his real name is Tracy, which he said was shortened to Trey and then to T. Since girls thought he was cool, he became known as Iceberg-T and it was eventually shortened.

"They used to tell me I was so cool that if a bullet came to a party, it wouldn't do nothing but part my hair," he cracked.

He realizes that "Players" is a lifetime opportunity and he's known for cashing in opportunities. A native of Newark, N.J., he explained that one of his turning points was going into the Army after becoming a teen parent.

"I got my girlfriend pregnant in high school and it was an attempt for me to try to become responsible," he said. "I did four years in there. . . . It was like, wow. This is some place, having all those rules imposed on me. I got involved in street stuff. And rapping was something I just picked it off the street."

"I think the first turning point in my career, my life really, was when I made my first rap record. At the time I was out in the streets. I was hustling, everybody knows that. My friends that were already locked up in jail were telling me, 'Ice, man, stay with this, man. This is action for you. This is a chance."'

His life changed again when a movie scout walked in a bar and told him they'd give him $500 to rap in a movie, "Breakin.' "

He said he was reluctant to do it but a friend advised him: " 'You need to do this, man. White people like you, man.' And you can laugh at that, but from the ghetto perspective, a lot of black kids don't feel they've got a chance to make it in the white world. And that's why they take themselves into these other occupations. . . . So like I say, I just try to take advantage of action, when I get action."

Initially, Ice-T had to be convinced that he could be an actor. When Mario Van Peebles asked him to be in "New Jack City," Ice-T said, "I'm not an actor."

"He said, 'Nobody is,' " recalled Ice-T, who was talked out of taking acting lessons by Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham when they worked together on "Surviving the Game."

"He said actors are lenses that you shine characters through," explained Ice-T. "If you took a Jack Nicholson lens and held it up and if you sent a doctor through him it would be a 'Jack Nicholson-ish doctor.' "

"He said, 'You're an Ice-T lens and people shine characters through you and you get an Ice-T-ish cop or an Ice-T-ish kangaroo and if you go into an acting class, you might change the color of the lens. Leave it like it is, people dig it."'

He certainly is the one thing that distinguishes "Players," a drama in which he, Costas Mandylor and Frank John Hughes play ex-cons who are paroled and sentenced to helping the FBI.

Ice-T took the idea to producer Dick Wolf after appearing in three episodes of Wolf's "New York Undercover."

"Being a good guy and not being corny is kind of hard, so on this I'm a bad guy turned good, who can get bad toward the bad guys, but is good for the good guys," explained Ice-T.

In real life, he really is a good guy and a good role model, he adds.

"If any of you really checked my record and my past, I've never been to jail, arrested or anything. I don't get in trouble. Worry about Pamela Anderson or somebody."

The idea for "Players" was developed with Shaun Cassidy, the former actor-singer who has since created "American Gothic" and "Roar."

When Shaun Cassidy showed up at his door to rewrite the script writer, Ice-T was somewhat speechless. If that's possible.

"I expected, Shaun Cassidy Somebody, not the Shaun Cassidy," said Ice-T. "So I open my door and I'm like, 'Oh, man. Hardy Boys.' So I'm buggin,' right.

"So he comes and he sits down in my house, I'm like, 'You're Shaun Cassidy.' I told my girl and she calls her sister up. He starts reading my script and changing things. And then he left. It was like, I met Shaun Cassidy. It was really deep."

Not as deep as Wolf's chastising of critics for failing to criticize Congress enough about its new TV ratings system, which he believes is another stop on the slippery road toward censorship.

Ice-T took some of the chill out of the room by comparing it to what happened when the industry started rating his rap records because of government pressure. Of course, comparing the ratings of records that are purchased to television shows that are free on the air is a stretch.

"I was the first record ever stickered," he said. He initially thought it was a good idea because he didn't want people to buy records without knowing about the content.

"But see, that sticker is just the beginning. After they made us put the stickers on, now we have to turn in the entire lyric sheet. Then they take the sticker records to a special part of the store. Then you've got stores that won't carry records with stickers. See, it goes to another zone and it puts you into this zone where they can just start moving on you."

Like Wolf, Ice-T thinks that Congress is working on the wrong villain.

"When people get into fights and arguments, it has to do with money and hardship and mental stress. It's not like, 'Wow, that "New York Undercover" was good. I'm ready to shoot somebody.'

"When a man comes home and he has a verbal dispute with his wife and they're getting ready to fight, they don't turn a record on. This is a social problem that's going on. The TV is off. The TV is the first thing that gets broke."

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