Following in your father’s footsteps has to be one of the joyous occasions a father can experience. So when O’Shea Jackson Jr signed on to play his father’s character in Straight Out Of Compton, the NWA biopic detailing the super group’s rise to hip-hop dominance back in the 80’s, he couldn’t be any prouder.
Snatching a monstrous role such as this, one would think O’Shea would have a couple acting stints under his belt. Nope. Nothing. O’Shea, did however attend USC for Screenwriting which placed him in the school of Cinematic Arts, so there is some type of film experience flowing through his veins. It’s a gamble to put an inexperienced actor in such a pivotal role, but with the support of not only his father, but Gary F. Gray, whom he said was EXTREMELY helpful and Dr. Dre, O’Shea felt comfortable portraying his father in front of millions.
Now of course, Cube’s son didn’t waltz into the part blindly, the 24 year old dedicated the last two years of his life to acting lessons in L.A. and NYC. His father didn’t apply any pressure for him to accept the role but informed that if he did? There was no turning back. O’Shea gladly accepted.
Back in October of 2014, I ventured out to L.A. for an exclusive set visit of Straight Out Of Compton. I got the chance to sit on set for several days to observe O’Shea and company shoot some really dope scenes from the August 14th release. In addition, I sat down with a handful of the cast and several members from the group. Judging by my lead off, you can tell who’s up first. O’Shea and I talk about his father prepping him for the role, being the rookie actor out the bunch, making sure the authenticity of NWA was conveyed on the silver screen, his relationship with Dr. Dre, whether or not he sees any comparisons between NWA and hip-hop’s favorite new super group, TDE, and much more! Enjoy!
LowKey: Was it a tough or easy decision for you to take this roll being that your father is the main component?
O’Shea Jackson Jr.: It was tough. It’s not like this is some TV movie, this is Universal Pictures and for someone who’s never acted before or anything of the sort to just jump into the deep end I had to think hard about it. But at a certain point I had to ask myself, “Could you really go into a movie theater and see someone else playing this part?” And when I realized that no one else could play this roll and bring what I can bring to it, the decision became a lot easier.
LowKey: Was your father influential in your decision making to take this roll?
O’Shea Jackson Jr.: He approached me about it even before there was a script. He told me he wanted me to play him but that the decision was all mine and once I make it, I have to stick with it. I took my time with the entire process. He got me my acting coaches and made sure I was well prepared. I was with my coaches for almost two years and felt confident and relieved throughout.
LowKey: So you have zero acting experience walking into this roll?
O’Shea Jackson Jr.: Nah. I mean I did Drama in high school and middle school, but that’s about it haha. I went to SC for screenwriting; I was in the school of Cinematic Arts. I would like to think I know what it takes to make a good movie, but it was pretty much about getting my mechanics down.
LowKey: Were you intimated by the actual actors on set and by Gary F. Gray’s experience as a director while playing this roll?
O’Shea Jackson Jr.: I know the battles that the actors have on screen so there were certain so there were certain scenes that I was preparing for and on those days it felt like a championship fight. The preparation that it took, you know? From the start of this whole thing I got my cast members phone numbers and we would always kick it so we built an organic camaraderie. We wanted to convey that relationship on camera. They were ALL helpful during this process with giving me tips and things like that. My man Paul Giamatti is the most experienced out of all of them and he’s been there for me through and through. Our trailers are actually connected. That’s my man.
LowKey: How does your father react seeing you in these scenes? Is he shocked? Or is it normal to him?
O’Shea Jackson Jr.: He was at one of the scenes and the next day he told me “Watching you on that stage is like watching you in the Super Bowl.” He’s really feeling it. He’s been away for a few weeks filming “Ride Along 2” so now he’s back on set with us and all of them; Dre, Yella, Ren, my pops….they all bug out when they see us onstage. It’s dope.
LowKey: How important is it to you to convey to this generation how important NWA was back during their prime?
O’Shea Jackson Jr.: NWA had such huge hand in people’s lives because it gave the thought that they too have a voice that needs to be heard. You have a right to stand up for yourself. You have the right to call people out on their wrongs, you know? When you give people a little bit of hope? A little bit of encouragement? It can be monumental. If I felt the movie was lacking in anything? I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. I’ve heard these NWA stories my entire life, you know? I know what my father was thinking when he wrote the things that he wrote. I needed to be a part of this because I wanted this movie to affect people the way that the music did.
LowKey: The group’s DNA is well long lived through the culture of hip-hop, do you see any comparisons with NWA and TDE?
O’Shea Jackson Jr.: I see TDE coming together for the same common goal. That right there is more powerful than anything. A lot of situations end up with guys hanging around the wrong crowd or hanging out with people who have no focus or destination and when I look at groups like TDE or G-Unit back in the day, I see people who have a common goal and who have drive. Once you put those two together, the power is yours..it’s what you do with it. NWA was a super group within itself, so when I see stuff like that, it’s positive and it’s the direction that people need to go.
LowKey: How is your interaction with Dr. Dre regarding the making of this film?
O’Shea Jackson Jr.: Dre knows that my father calls me and talks to me about the scenes, but he himself has been very supportive and all smiles. He’s been enjoying the movie as if he’s in the theater. Seeing Dre and his approval is helpful and encourages each of us every day. It helps fuel us to see his happiness.
LowKey: Are there certain scenes that make your father a bit uneasy to the point where he may have to step away due to some painful memories?
O’Shea Jackson Jr.: There’s nothing in this movie that my father hasn’t told me about. There’s nothing in this movie that he hasn’t thoroughly discussed with me. It’s just eerie to him to see me as him. It’s the craziest shit. Like one day he went out on stage and performed “Good Day” for some of the extras on set and I decided to join him. I went out onstage dressed as him and rocking with him and I know that shit had to be surreal to everybody. I wouldn’t say there’s anything he walks away from because he wants to make sure it’s right!
LowKey: This role is huge introduction to your acting career, what are your plans after this? Or even do you event want to continue to pursue an acting career?
O’Shea Jackson Jr.: Hell yeah! Holla at your boy! Anyone who needs it, I want to keep this going; I want to snowball this thing. I’m jumping into the deep end with this. I’m here and ready to be an actor for a long time. I want to put my foot in any and everything…I can’t narrow myself.
LowKey: Gary F. Gray and your father’s relationship is a long and healthy one, what has he given to you in regards to advice for the movie
O’Shea Jackson Jr.: Gary Gray. My man Gary Gray! He is the right man for this. He wants it to be right, but he wants it to be soooooo right. He has a connection because he remembers like it was yesterday where he was when all this was going down. He wants it to be as authentic as the members of NWA want it to be. He’s helped me with certain scenes by talking to me and coaching me. He’s done things that I know other directors wouldn’t do for a rookie actor, especially if one of their father’s is the producer. I’m glad Gary was there to help me on my first movie him and my Dad’s relationship with the Friday movies all the down to this? It’s a crazy circle!
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