Straight Outta Compton covers the real life story of NWA, the music group that helped bring gangster rap into the mainstream as well as put a spotlight on the injustice of law enforcement. Though the film chronicles over five years of DJ Yella, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and MC Ren’s activities as NWA from their start to their eventual disbanding in a little over two hours, it does so much more than dramatize a real-life story.
Geeks of Doom were invited to the film’s press day where we got to talk to the young cast, O’Shea Jackson Jr. – Ice Cube’s own son – who plays Ice Cube, breakout star Corey Hawkins who plays Dr. Dre, and scene stealing Jason Mitchell who plays Eazy-E. During the press conference the three talked about portraying their real-life counter parts, some of the emotional scenes, and the bonds that were created during the production of the film. Check out the full interview below, and be sure to check out our interview with Ice Cube, DJ Yella, and director F. Gary Gray if you missed it.
Geeks of Doom: So how excited were you to be about being in Straight Outta Compton?
Jason Mitchell: Oh man, super excited. I felt like I hit the life lottery. Here I am listening to Cube and Gary talk basically say that this is their best film, a dream come true, and all of that. I am literally living all of that right now, so the way I feel I can’t really explain it in words it’s too emotional.
Corey Hawkins: It’s crazy, like Gary used to say on set, “Just keep in mind the power of what we were doing, we are making history about a group who made history.” But for us, it was coming to work everyday, we didn’t take it lightly. They placed a story in our hands that we had to do justice to, so thank you to Gary and Cube and Dre and Tamika [Newhouse], and Yella, and Ren. It was a team effort.
O’Shea Jackson Jr.: It is a huge honor because we’re speaking about NWA but at the same time that was my family’s legacy, and I’m just so thankful the ball was in my hands. I was able to cement this in history. It was hard work. Two years of auditioning with Gary and things like that to put it into motion. With the final project I couldn’t be happier.
Geeks of Doom: So O’Shea, you are a spitting image of your dad, so being your dad’s son, I’m sure you know all about his mannerisms, but did you have to learn some new nuances to become your dad?
O’Shea Jackson Jr: If you really want to be technical, I have been doing my research for 20 plus years. It was certain things to put me into that time period. I know solo Ice Cube. I know that guy. I kinda gotta dip into that guy, know his friends, how he acted. I would look at old interviews, see how they were joking around, get some of his lingo, the “you know what I am sayings” stuff like that, just to put myself in that era. In fact when my dad told me about it, it was intimidating, it was Universal, it’s a big time studio, and Gary don’t play. It’s a lot to take on, especially if you have never acted before, but he got me the coaches I needed, teaching me these techniques to mold me into an actor. It was all in the preparation, those two years, I’d do it again, auditioning, getting call backs, getting more information, and more homework from Gary. And the boot camp and the prep was what really brought out my performance, but not as much.
Geeks of Doom: Given some of the emotional impact of some of the scenes in the film, were there any scenes difficult to shoot?
Jason Mitchell: I remember that week they called it the Eazy week. It was the week before last of shooting, and by that time we built up a brotherhood. When they saw me in the bed, they didn’t see Eazy-E, they were seeing Jason in the bed like “What are you doin’ in the bed son? You can’t die.” I remember you could just cut it with a knife, it was so thick, and it was so quiet. Even when I tried to talk to people were like “We get it, you need a break, we understand.” It feels good to know that I can have that creative module, and really show what I really have. This will change my life forever.
It’s crazy because as men we don’t really do that for each other. Gary was asking me if I needed anything, and he had me in the trailer and was like “Bro, I really can’t take your word for this part, you’re going to have to show me something, you’re goin’ have to crack a tear, let me know where you are going to go with it.” And I’m like “As long as I feel emotionally safe to let go, I am gonna let go. I got so much to cry about. I lost friends shooting the movie.” People getting killed, people goin’ to jail, and I’m being supportive through all of this, and I’m thinking ‘Man, I suppose to be living the dream,’ and I get this amazing opportunity to let go, and I tell him “Trust me G I got some stuff to cry about.” By the end of the day he had to come and get me because look I can stop it. I’m glad I hit the mark.
Geeks of Doom: We’ve heard how much of a perfectionist Dre is in the studio, so I can only imagine what it is like to have someone portray him. And for all of you, you had someone to look at except Jason, so what did you do, was his son an influence at all?
Jason Mitchell: As far as him not being here, it’s a great responsibility, but it is a great blessing. I needed this. I really really needed this. There was so much I was going through, I really really needed this. I had so many guys who wanted me to hit the mark, made sure I had everything I needed. It was easier than it seemed to get comfortable, because I saw that there were so many people who wanted it to be right that you know somebody is going to speak up. They don’t give you much room to fail, it’s either a hole in one or that’s it, you know what I mean? They did as much as they could to make sure I stayed on that path. It’s a great privilege because they have so many people who never met him, and I get to humanize him. People would forever envision me as “Man, you Eazy-E.” I’m not Jason Mitchell to some people. They had a did get under the bill of my hat and go “Bro, you like seeing a ghost bro.” That’s incredible to have that impact forever. Like you said, Dre is a perfectionist, who we see work; Cube is larger than life. It’s a great privilege in disguise, it comes with a lot but it is definitely a great privilege.
Corey Hawkins: I just feel humbled. I look down this table, and they are my idols, including Jason and O’Shea. We really, from day one, wanted to do justice to this story. For me, personally, I’m the guy coming from Juilliard, I just did Shakespeare on Broadway, so I had a moment where everybody is like “I don’t know if he is goin’ be able to do this.” Cause I grew up in D.C., and back then we called it the District of Crimes, it’s a little better now. But it is crazy, because my mother is a cop, and she is one of the good ones, and I look at what she does in the neighborhood, and the volunteering she does to get into the streets with the kids, and what I do to get to the streets with the kids, because I could have gone down that route too, because my father is from the other side of the tracks. It was an interesting dynamic in this movie for me. With Dre, I remember for the very first time, Gary was like, “So listen, you’re about to go to dinner with Dre, you good?” He was really conscious of how nervous I was to meet Dre. I remember by the end of the dinner, he pulled out his iPhone, and he started passing it around the table and everyone is like, “Aww man!” And I’m sitting there like, “Can you let me in on the joke?” And it was my audition tape on the iPhone. And at the end of that day he pulled me to the side and was like, “You the man for the job. You got this role. Don’t worry mimicking me or impersonating me. You know we could have easily found somebody who look just like me, sound just like me.” My stand-in damn near looked more like him than me. But it was all about capturing the essence of what we all represented individually, our humanity, the good, the bad, the ugly, everything in between. From that day on, if it was four o’clock in the morning I could call him, and talk about a moment. That moment when he lost his brother, because I never knew he lost a brother, I remember coming to set and being so nervous. He came to set, he brought his whole family, they drove an hour away, and all the guys were there. I remember we did the first two times, I kept lookin’ over, to check in video village, and he was gone. I was like, “Damn, I guess I missed the mark on this one.” I found out later that it was still that heavy for him, he could not sit there and relive that moment.
Geeks of Doom: Did you guys have a chance to hang out outside of shooting or was it always work work work?
O’Shea Jackson Jr.: The first time we met was at the chemistry test. I’ve never done movies, I never know how chemistry tests go. I think it’s just going to be me, a Dre, an Eazy, and we’ll knock this out. I get there, I see a Jerry Curl, “You must be going for Eazy-E, how you doin’? My name is O’Shea.” He looks up at me and goes “No, I’m going for Cube.” Now I know the game plan. I meet another Cube. So now there is three Cubes here, there’s three Dres, and one Eazy. I didn’t even know I had the job, Gary had already made his decision. They got us mixing and matching, trying to find the perfect combination, when it was Corey and Mitchell, when the three of us were working together, Gary could throw something at us to improv, we were bouncing off each other, you felt it. There was even a moment where like day three was like “This is it right here.” When I met Jason for the first time, you could kinda feel when there is a good person around. It was his first time in LA, he’s there ordering pizza, and I tell him “You gotta go to In-N-Out.” So I took him to In-N-Out, and the next day, me, him, and Corey, are kicking it, and we’ve been bonding ever since. Gary really helped work on us building our chemistry, because it has to translate on screen, “You guys have to be life-long friends, right now. It has to happen.” He would do things like call for rehearsals, and during that time you’re waiting, you’re talking and having conversations, getting to know each other, re-recording the album, really critiquing each other, getting each other to sound like the artist we’re portraying. And just things like that where we really built a brotherhood, we really are friends to this day, we are in the group chat all five of us.
Straight Outta Compton opens in theaters August 14, 2015.