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Straight Outta Compton's O'Shea Jackson Jr on Stepping Into His Father's Shoes

"This is my family's legacy. It is bigger than NWA to me."
By Sarah Ward
September 14, 2015
By Sarah Ward
September 14, 2015

When it comes to making your first movie, there are easier ways to go about it than not just following in but recreating your father's footsteps. That's what O'Shea Jackson Jr experienced in taking on the role he was perhaps born to play — that of Ice Cube, who he normally just calls Dad, in the NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton.

Alongside Corey Hawkins as Dr Dre, Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E, Aldis Hodge as MC Ren and Neil Brown Jr as DJ Yella, Jackson tackles the formation, fame and split of the influential hip hop group across the '80s and '90s. Starting on the streets of Compton in South Central LA, NWA created anthems that reflected their reality of difficult race relations and altercations with law enforcement, and went on to change the course of music history.

The film that results is a slick, stirring, entertaining and engrossing music biopic that captures the spirit and circumstances of the songs and figures it focuses on. We chat to Jackson about making his acting debut by playing his father and doing justice to his family's legacy.


Straight Outta Compton

You play your dad in this movie. I imagine this role is more important to you than any ordinary film role could be?

Yeah, this is my family's legacy. It is bigger than NWA to me. I know that a lot of the people who may not even like the genre, a lot of the people who may not have grown up with NWA, there's a few people who know Ice Cube as only a movie star — I know that those people are going to take this movie as law, as exactly what happened. I couldn't risk somebody's portrayal of my father not being in the same light as I see him in. I knew the importance of this, so it had to be in my hands.

Was taking on your family's legacy daunting?

Of course. It takes a lot, but the sacrifices that had to be made were for my family. I'd run through a wall for them. Extreme bootcamps at times — I was twenty-two at the time, trying to look seventeen, so I had to go through a bit of a bootcamp, and I lost fifteen pounds in twenty-four days eating nothing but grass, dirt and diet water. It was a lot, but pressure makes diamonds, and if you run away from it you'll never know what you can do.

Going into the film, how much of Ice Cube and NWA's complete story did you know?

My father has been telling me these stories my whole life, and that was something I used to my advantage. I knew how things really went, and I knew that the authenticity of this film was what was going to make it stand out. I'm not going to say I knew about the guns in the hotel, but there were things I was comfortable with, stories that I knew, stories that knew I could talk to the source about to make sure we get it correct on film. It was just about re-enacting things I've heard since I was a child.

You’ve been rapping for a few years now, touring with your father. Was that the easier part of the film for you?

That's what made him believe that I could do it. Him taking me on stage, him seeing how I am on stage, is what led to him feeling like I could play him. That's such an important aspect. And my father was the young one of the group — he has the most energy on stage, he's the one rocking the crowd, waving his hands, bouncing up and down — so you know you have to bring that.

When it came to those scenes, my guys — Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Aldis Hodge and Neil Brown Jr — they knew that I had that experience under my belt, so they let me quarterback those scenes a little. They know that that's me in my element, and I'm forever thankful to those guys for making me feel comfortable. Those scenes that you see are really what NWA did. The Detroit scene, them looking at each other, making sure "are we all down to do this, to drop 'Fuck Tha Police'", that's something that really happened.

Straight Outta Compton image

The film’s director, F. Gary Gray, has ties to both Ice Cube and Dr. Dre going back to making music videos in the '90s. Do you think that helped the film’s feeling of authenticity?

Oh my god yes. That was one of the aspects of him getting the job, that my father saw that Gary got it. He got what it meant. My father knew he wouldn't have to explain the power or just the aspects of NWA to Gary.

He also really let me really spread my creative wings. I know I won't deal with a lot of directors who are willing to let an artist be an artist the way that Gary Gray does. If you do it by the book, get it by the script the couple of times, he lets you do what's called an 'eat take' and go ahead and just be you. And if it works, it works, you know. And I thank Gary, because I know how meticulous he is, and if it is not right he won't do it. And as a young actor, as a rookie actor, you want someone in your corner that's going to make sure you don't look stupid.

Straight Outta Compton is in cinemas now. Read our review.

Published on September 14, 2015 by Sarah Ward
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