IN HIS FA­THER’S SHOES

O’Shea Jack­son gained a huge in­sight into his fa­ther’s NWA begin­nings, play­ing him in the hip-hop biopic Straight Outta Comp­ton

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - MOVIES - JAMES WIGNEY

Ac­tors of­ten en­thuse about be­ing “born to play” cer­tain parts. But for O’Shea Jack­son Jr, star of Straight Outta Comp­ton, it was true. In the hit biopic of sem­i­nal LA hip-hop band NWA, he plays his own fa­ther, O’Shea Jack­son Sr, aka rap leg­end turned movie star Ice Cube.

But while the 24-year-old, who stud­ied screen­writ­ing at the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia and raps un­der the moniker OMG, might have had the right genes for the part, he cer­tainly wasn’t an au­to­matic se­lec­tion.

When his fa­ther first raised the prospect with him af­ter the much-mooted pro­ject was fi­nally given the nod – but be­fore there was even a script – Jack­son ad­mits he was ner­vous, but game.

Di­rec­tor F. Gary Gray, who had di­rected videos for Ice Cube as well as his fea­ture film de­but, Fri­day, was keen, too, and took the first-time ac­tor un­der his wing dur­ing a gru­elling au­di­tion process that took two years.

“He knew that this movie had to be au­then­tic and no­body is go­ing to han­dle this role as pas­sion­ately as I would be­cause it’s my fam­ily’s legacy,” says Jack­son Jr. “He wanted me to make it work so he got me act­ing coaches – it was a lot of hard work.

“I had to lose weight to look 17 years old. They got me a trainer and I ate noth­ing but ba­si­cally grass, wa­ter and nuts and I lost 15 pounds in 24 days. It was a gru­elling boot camp, but at the same time, Gary was build­ing my con­fi­dence so I know that it was earned and not given.”

The gritty Straight Outta Comp­ton, which has taken a mam­moth $170 mil­lion in the US, traces the rise and fall of game-chang­ing hip-hop act NWA – from its ge­n­e­sis on the drug and vi­o­lence-rid­den mean streets of LA, through dodgy deals, race and pro­fan­ity con­tro­ver­sies, in­tra-band strife and the in­evitable breakup.

Ice Cube was a still a teenager when the band re­leased its de­but al­bum, also called Straight Outta Comp­ton, which went on to sell more than three mil­lion copies and helped pi­o­neer gangsta rap.

As one of the chief lyri­cists and rap­pers, Cube’s tales of life on the street in songs such as Gangsta Gangsta, Dope­man and F--- Tha Po­lice, re­ver­ber­ated around the world and helped shine the spotlight on race re­la­tions in the US.

By the time Jack­son Jr was born in 1991, Cube was al­ready two years into his solo ca­reer, hav­ing left the band in 1989 over roy­alty dis­putes at the height of their suc­cess.

Jack­son Jr says he knew of the band’s history and revered place in hip-hop – but only from his fa­ther’s per­spec­tive.

“Of course, I didn’t know the things that the other mem­bers were go­ing through and he didn’t even know,” Jack­son Jr says. “So while he was watch­ing the film, he was be­ing in­formed just as the au­di­ence is.

“The thing that caught me by sur­prise, though, was that I didn’t know he didn’t have a plan when he left the group.

“He didn’t say ‘all right, well I am just go­ing to go solo’. It was him go­ing back home with noth­ing and be­ing like ‘damn, what do we do now?’ It takes a lot when you are the youngest and the most re­spon­si­ble.”

Jack­son Jr says his fa­ther, who was a pro­ducer on the film along with for­mer NWA mem­ber turned su­per­pro­ducer and head­phones bil­lion­aire, Dr Dre, and the widow of band leader Eric “Eazy-E” Wright, kept a re­spect­ful dis­tance once pro­duc­tion had started, but was al­ways on call to help his son with first-hand ac­counts.

“He would call me ev­ery day to ask how I was feel­ing and let me know where his head was dur­ing that scene in real life,” says Jack­son Jr.

“That helped me to add to it and make it real. But my whole process with this film is Gary Gray tak­ing the time and the tech­nique to mould me into some­thing nice.’’ Cube has said see­ing his son, who bears an un­canny phys­i­cal and sonic re­sem­blance to him, on screen was like some­thing out of Back To the Fu­ture.

Jack­son Jr’s up­bring­ing was a mil­lion miles away from that of his fa­ther, who is es­ti­mated to be worth more than $100 mil­lion thanks to his solo work and act­ing ca­reer. But he still has fam­ily in the down­trod­den sub­urb of Comp­ton and says he was raised to never for­get where they came from. “It is the up­bring­ing and the foun­da­tion of my fam­ily,” Jack­son Jr says.

O’Shea Jack­son Jr (third from left) as Ice Cube, with other mem­bers of the band.

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