Straight Outta Compton will more likely feature in my list of the top 10 films of 2015. While he was recently in Australia, I spoke to one of its stars, O’Shea Jackson Jr, about the movie…
Matt: It’s been a long time since N.W.A. made it big. How long has a film version of their life story been planned?
O’Shea: Definitely. Straight Outta Compton only got serious 4 years but my father has been working on this film for more than a decade.
Matt: How did you get approached for the role? Did you dad always want you to do it or was their thought to giving it to another actor?
O’Shea: As a producer, my father’s job is not make sure the film is as good as it can be. He can’t sabotage it for his own personal needs. Other actors were always considered but he’ll tell you that the dream situation was for me to get the role. They put me in the hands of some great minds like Aaron Speiser who is Will Smith’s acting coach and Susan Batson who has worked with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. They gave me great support and helped me perfect the craft as quick as I could.
It all led to a chemistry test where Universal chose me over a set of Ice Cubes and they chose Corey Hawkins over a set of Dr Dres. Jason Mitchell already had the role of Easy-E by then. It was hard work but I’d do it all again because I couldn’t be happier with Straight Outta Compton.
Matt: Was there any trepidation on your part? Did you always want to be an actor? Was it always something you wanted to try?
O’Shea: Not really. I actually went to USC and studied screenwriting. I’m into writing movies. I like all the things that films represent and what they do to people emotionally. I didn’t think about going on the other side of the camera until my dad told me about Straight Outta Compton. I knew this was something I needed to do for him and now I think I’ve been bitten by the acting bug and am keen to do more.
Matt: Did you know your dad’s complete life story before making the film or was there a lot of stuff you learned about him throughout the process?
O’Shea: Nah, I’ve heard these stories my whole life and I used that to my advantage during my process as I knew they wanted to make this an authentic movie.
Matt: I’m guessing your dad provided a lot of advice but was there a lot of places you could draw on for research? Could you ask people about your father or perhaps watch old interviews?
O’Shea: I did watch old interviews of my father to see how he interacted with his friends and what his role was in the group. It helped with getting some of the lingo from the 1980s. If you start using the slang of today then it will take the audience out of it completely. Fortunately, I had the real N.W.A. on the sidelines telling me that I was killing it. Dr Dre started freaking out one day because of the way I was walking and how it was just like my dad.
Matt: I’m not much of a music person and before I saw this film, I knew absolutely nothing about N.W.A. and their story… and yet I came out of the theatre absolutely riveted and wanting to know more. Have you had a lot of similar reactions as part of your promotion of the film so far?
O’Shea: Yes, definitely. That’s something that I knew was going to happen and I love the fact that I’m educating people about my father’s legacy. I knew that the younger generation of today were going to take this movie as law so I had to make sure my portrayal of my father was the man that I know and not something that someone made up in their head.
Matt: I realise there are plenty of great cops out there but I keep reading news reports through social media about police brutality in America against African Americans. As much as this film is a historical drama, do you think it’s a film that will make people wake up and give some thought to what’s still going on today in America?
O’Shea: Definitely. We know that they’re not all bad cops… as long as the cops know that we’re not all bad black people. When you make more people aware of a problem, it generally needs to a solution but there are people in positions of power that are abusing that power all over the world. France has their own version of F*** the Police. There are so many examples where you could replace the word “police” in that song and people could relate to it. At a certain point, just like N.W.A. did, you have to stand up and say enough is enough.
Back in America, the police are supposed to provide a service. There’s a reason why N.W.A. didn’t do F*** the Paramedics or F*** the Fire Fighters. They’re doing their job. The sight of a police car shouldn’t strike fear in people the way that it does. The side of police cars in Los Angeles says “to protect and serve” but there are times when you ask “who are you protecting and who are you serving?” Something needs to change within the Department because it’s not the citizens’ fault that F*** the Police is still relevant and unarmed people being beat up and murdered.
Matt: The film is making a ridiculous amount of money in the United States. It’s already the highest grossing music biopic ever. What do you think makes this film stand out and has gotten so many more bums on seats compared to say Ray, Walk The Line or Jersey Boys?
O’Shea: It speaks a little more to a closer time period and it’s more relatable. Individuals like my father and Dr Dre and still widely known today and in the media. When you have that perfect storm along with the social climate, it’s something that everyone feels like they need to see. It’s so much bigger than a rap movie. I get annoyed reading columns about our film saying that it’s a two and a half hour music video. It speaks to so many things about the human character that we all need a refresher on. Audiences are showing that and many people have been seeing it multiple times.
Matt: The film clocks in at two and a half hours which makes it a long movie by today’s standards. Was there a lot of stuff left on the cutting room? Stuff that still couldn’t fit into the film?
O’Shea: Ten years in two a half hours is impossible. Gary Gray is working on a director’s cut with hours of footage and special features so hopefully people get to see that down the track with the DVD release.
Matt: All big biopics tend to stir up controversy with how the characters are portrayed. A lot has already been written about how the film overlooks Dr Dre’s 1991 attack on Dee Barnes. What are your thoughts on those sort of comments?
O’Shea: Straight Outta Compton is about N.W.A. There were so many times where we had to cut a scene to make sure we weren’t going into individual storylines. You could make an Easy-E movie or an Ice Cube movie or a Dr Dre movie. In each one of those movies, N.W.A. would be a ten minute segment. Everything in this film was about portraying N.W.A. only. For example, we barely went into Tupac. We just wanted to make sure everything circled back to the group.
Matt: Given the huge box-office, do you think there are plans for a sequel or perhaps other films with similar subject matters?
O’Shea: Of course it will. When you’re the first one, you act as a domino and everyone else tries to follow. There are plenty of other music biopics that I want to see. I’d love to see a Bob Marley film for example. Just to be a little biased, I think Straight Outta Compton is going to reign for a while in this genre.
Matt: What are the plans going forward? Is acting something you wish to pursue?
O’Shea: It’s really about making sure my next project is of the same calibre. Not a lot of actors get to have their first movie as explosive as Straight Outta Compton. I really need to take that as a blessing and make sure that the next script I want to put my name on is something special. With my experience in screenwriting, it might come from me. It’s great to now know both sides of the camera and I’ll make sure I use that to my advantage in my career.