On film, rapper-actor DMX (born Earl Simmons) has established himself as a gun-toting tough guy who slaughters adversaries while filling theater seats (2003's ''Cradle 2 the Grave'' and 2001's ''Exit Wounds'' both debuted at No. 1). But fans looking for a heroic gun battle and a happy ending in his new movie, ''Never Die Alone'' (in theaters), are in for a surprise. The rapper's character, King David, narrates the story of his evil deeds as a drug dealer from beyond the grave. Here are a few other surprises from the rapper otherwise known as Earl.
1. HE'S A BOOKWORM When he was approached with the script for ''Never Die Alone,'' DMX jumped at the opportunity to star and produce despite the tiny budget (less than $3 million) and dearth of perks. Why? He loves the novel by '70s pulp writer David Goines on which the film is based: ''I've read every one of his books. I was locked up when I read the first book of his. Here was a set of novels that didn't always have a happy ending. There were a lot of things I could relate to, a lot of the characters I knew.'' Not that DMX related to King David, who poisons lovers and steals drugs. ''This is a ruthless bastard. I don't like him as a character, but I'm glad I was able to play him well enough to be believable. ''
2. HE WANTS TO BE A SERIOUS ACTOR While playing characters who shoot more than they talk has worked well for him, DMX wants a bigger challenge. ''My last three movies I was kind of the same person: black guy, doing karate, lot of money. It's alright for one or two movies, but there's not much realism in that character. In this movie, I don't walk off into the sunset with the girl and everything is right. Reality hits.'' He also tried to keep it real on the set. ''I actually become the character for the duration of the movie. Not where I expect people to call me King, but I might take the walk or the way the character talks home. And I had to learn how to walk comfortably in a suit, because I don't wear suits at all, so that was one of the hardest things.''
3. HE'S RETIRING FROM THE MUSIC INDUSTRY Due to conflict with his current label, Def Jam, DMX has sworn off recording. ''It's like straight robbery. After I pay the record label back the advance money, I should own the music. But they still own it. I can't be a part of it anymore. I'm being disrespected.'' While he estimates that he has two more years on his contract, he won't be recording music for Def Jam or anyone else until it expires. ''Because I'm signed to Def Jam they're not gonna allow me to sing. But how the f--- do you tell me I can't sing a song for someone else?'' Still, he has a solution. ''I actually want to start a union. Protect the rights of the artist. We have no one to look out for our rights.'' DMX says he already has interest from other artists, but won't be able to name them until his plan is more advanced.
4. HE DIGS THE KING OF POP Michael Jackson may still be mired in legal drama, but he has one unlikely supporter. ''I've gotta say this. Michael Jackson will always be the king of pop, always. I admire anyone who stands up to their record label, and I personally don't think he really committed any crimes as far as touching kids. You don't wake up one day and just start touching kids. And if it was happening for a while, why is it just coming to light? He's what, 50 years old? That doesn't make any f---ing sense.'' Well, Jackson is 45 -- but it's the thought that counts.
5. HE'S A FAMILY MAN As the father to three kids (ages 11, 4, and 14 months), DMX holds his family time sacred. ''At home, I don't discuss business, I don't answer the phone. It's just me, my wife, my children, my dogs. That's my world. I'm a totally different person than when I'm working.'' Gushing over his youngest, he adds, ''You gotta see the baby when he looks at the TV and sees me there. He goes, 'Daddy? Daddy?''' Let's hope the kids aren't watching ''Exit Wounds.''