Q&A With O’Shea Jackson Jr., who plays his own father in the biopic ‘Straight Outta Compton’

Arturo Hilario / El Observador

When I first start my conversation with legendary rapper Ice Cube’s eldest son, O’Shea Jackson Jr, he tells me, “hope you are enjoying the DVD release as much as I am. I’ve seen this movie over 15 times.” But before I can begin asking about the reason why I’m interviewing the 24 year old musician, and now actor, on his feature film he adds, “I’m just waiting for basketball to come on. I got fantasy sports so that gets out of hand”, with a laugh, but assuring me he’s a Lakers fan.

Below you’ll find the interaction which touches on the NWA biopic ‘Straight Outta Compton’ (SOC) and how it came to be, and what it means to Jackson Jr.

It’s been a great ride, can you tell me about how you feel regarding the reaction from friends, family to SOC?

The “Straight Outta Compton” ride has been bigger than I thought it was going to be. You can only hope that people appreciate your movie but this has been above and beyond what any of us had imagined. And it’s all because of the hard work that went into this. The rest of the guys on the film knew how important this film was to me because of the connection through my family and I’m so thankful for Jason, Corey and Aldis (the 3 other leads in the film), it’s been a dream come true.

It took you around 2 years to get this role, (as your dad, Ice Cube), can you tell me about that process?

Well he’s the one that wanted me to get it! I had always envisioned myself being on the other side of the camera, I went to USC for screenwriting, I always thought I was going to be a writer. But this was the perfect opportunity and we knew he couldn’t risk looking any other way but what the family knows. It’s just something that, as a son, you should drool over that opportunity, you get to immortalize your father. And so it was something that my entire family got behind me on. Two years of being stressed out, two years of going to every call back, flying to New York to be with an acting coach. It was a real grind, I’ve never had to sacrifice as much as I did for SOC. I lost 15 pounds in like 24 days. Everything you had to go through for your family, it pushed me to the limit and it built a confidence in me that I needed for a role like this.

Since this is dealing a lot with you and your family’s past, how much of the content and story was common knowledge within your life growing up? Was there anything surprising that you found out about your father, or NWA itself?

Well he (Ice Cube) had always kept me informed about his past, he wouldn’t want any of us to find out anything about him that he didn’t tell us. You know, that’s worse. He’s always been very open, he’s my father, if he can’t be real with me, who can? But something that I learned from the movie that I didn’t know was that he displayed that same type of ‘thing’ that makes him my dad. At a teenage age, 16/17, he had displayed integrity and real courage and I don’t know people my age, 24/25 that do that yet. For a 16/17 year old to write “Fuck the Police”, that just lets you into the mind of O’Shea Jackson and shows the visionary my old man really is. At that age it’s just unreal.

From its initial beginnings, what was the goal with this film? For you especially ithad the potential to be very personal.  Because what it became was this really kinetic biopic that covers a lot.

In the beginning something that Gary (F. Gary Gray, Director) said was that we were ‘making history about guys who made history.’ I think when current events started to reflect what we were filming everyday that’s when it took on a different animal. We started to [say], ‘this move is not about music anymore.’ It became a movie for the people to let them know that those in the mainstream see you. So we made something for them, something to give hope within the hopeless. To show people that have a different way of looking at things and to hopefully promote change the way that Straight Outta Compton the album did, to its core. We wanted to relate to the album as much as we can, and to be able to give it that same journey as the album. And NWA was an all-star group and hopefully years from now you’ll look at the cast of SOC and say wow they had an all-star group of actors.

What was your history and connection with F. Gary Gray? Your father worked with him from the 90’s on so how was it working with someone that actually lived within the same sphere as NWA in their prime?

I know Gary. ‘Friday’ (Ice Cube’s breakout comedy film in which he was writer and producer) was ‘95? So you know I’m 4 years old [at the time] but I’ve always seen Gary around. We definitely had our bonding times on set and it’s just really poetic. In a way it’s very cinematic to look at how my father gave him his first movie with ‘Friday’, and for him to direct me in my first movie. For us to take back the ‘bye Felicia’ line and to have so many little things in there it’s really poetic.

You’re a rapper as well, (as OhMyGoodness), how much did that help and did you have to go back and study up on your father’s techniques, word flow etc.?

The rapping aspect was when I was in my heaven. ‘You guys want me to rap my dad’s songs?’ For sure, I’ve been doing that for years you know, that was when I was really in my element. My father had been taking me on tour since I was 18, like performing on stage with him. That gave him the confidence that I could take on the role. He saw my energy on stage himself. From there, those scenes are when I’m in my element and the guys know that. They let me ‘quarterback’ a lot of those performance scenes. They know that this is what I do. When you see me getting down, that’s when I’m free. Being on stage, the evil smile, that’s when I’m really in it. Those are the scenes I’m most proud of, that and the office scene.

What are your plans after this ride with SOC is over? Music, film, or both? 

Or other?

When you have talent in anything, you just need to have time to sharpen it up. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to screenwrite and act. My older brother produces so he and I are going to team up to make a producing team. That way, I can make the music behind the lyrics and they won’t be able to typecast me because of some song I made. You’ve gotta look at different angles to everything that you’re interested in. So you know I’m prepared to take over the world.

And finally, the most important question. What’s your favorite NWA song?

“Gangsta, Gangsta”. When I first went into a NWA record, “Gangsta, Gangsta” was the first song where I was like ‘okay, this bump.’ That was the one that really grabbed me. The energy from the song is rockin’.

“Straight Outta Compton” is available now on Blu Ray, DVD and digital formats.