O'Shea Jackson Jr talks about becoming his dad Ice Cube for NWA biopic

Cape Town - O'Shea Jackson Jr makes his big film debut playing his father Ice Cube in the NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton.

O'Shea sat down for a quick Q&A to talk about what it took to play his dad in the flick:

When did you first realise who your father actually was?

O'Shea: I was born in 1991 and that's when his career in films had started, so my dad was always on TV, but I didn't realize who 'Ice Cube' was until I was 18. I went on a world tour with him, and we were in Japan and Australia and people were telling me all the way out there how his rapping in L.A had affected them. That's when I started to really get an idea that he touches people all over the world and that it's a big deal.

Did the music resonate with you at all? Your life as a kid must have been very different to his.

O'Shea: It's about how you come, not where you're from. If you know the realities of the world, it's easy for you to relate to this. Police aren't just abusing black people from the ‘hood’. If you're a black male, you've got different problems when you walk outside the door… that's just the way it is. My parents have always made us aware of the harsh realities out there, because if you don't know the rules of the game, you're going to lose.

Do you feel there have been any attitude changes in the intervening years?

O'Shea: No, it's just that we are surrounded by cameras now, so more people can see it and are aware of it. NWA was really like social media back then, letting other people know what was going on in Compton. Then others realized, 'That's what's happening in our city, too.' It became a global thing because there are always people in positions of power abusing the power.

The timing of this movie is really quite prescient, with what's been going on in Ferguson and Baltimore and Cincinnati.

O'Shea: It's art reflecting life, and something that I feel everyone needs to see. NWA was all non-violent protest; they took that anger and those feelings, and used that energy towards creating something. If my father was here, he'd be saying, ‘Be constructive, not destructive.’ This movie will encourage and enlighten others. It speaks to the human character on what we all need to be reminded about every now and then.

It’s probably fair to say that for this role, you had the longest period of character research in the history of cinema. Were you able to dig deep and use your childhood memories?

O'Shea: I knew I had to use that to my advantage. I had to audition for this movie for over two years and I knew I had to keep pumping it into their heads at every audition that I know his memories, these stories, and these people. I knew they wanted to make this movie as authentic as possible. Gary Gray got acting coaches for me and they molded me into an actor so we could make this as authentic as possible. It needed to happen that way.

Were you confident you could do this from the get-go?

O'Shea: No, not from the get-go. Those first two days on set I just thought they should get a known actor in here that could do it right, but I couldn't really sit in the theater and watch somebody be him and do something that I felt he wouldn't have done or said. Movies are forever. This is going to submit him forever, and people of a new generation who don't know NWA are going to look at this film and think this is law. You have to get the ball in your hands. My siblings were behind me the whole time saying, ‘You gotta do this.’ It took a while, but we got it done.

How was dad through the process – was he involved?

O'Shea: (Laughs). He would ask me what I learned every day when I came back from classes. When it came to auditioning, just to make sure my mindset was right, he'd say, 'You go in there and make sure you let them know you're the perfect man for it, keep stressing that.' Then once we got it he was on the phone with me every day letting me know what he was thinking, even if it didn't have anything to do with the subject or the scene. He was with us when we were filming the beginning portion, then he was all the way in Florida and would skype in and people would carry a computer with his head on it so he could watch what was going on. He was there the whole way with me. A lot of people think that's nerve-racking, but that's a gift right there.

What was the biggest surprise you learned about your dad while making this movie?

O'Shea: My father has always told me everything, but what I really took from this movie was that when he went solo, when he left the group, he really had no plan. He had nothing. He was on top of the world, but it wasn't right, so he left. That took a lot. I learned that he had confidence even if he didn't know what he was doing, and that's great.

Speaking of which, this isn’t just an acting role, but you had to get your head around your father’s rapping style too and perform live.

O'Shea: Well, my father's been doing music with me for about six years now, so when it came to the performance scenes, that was my comfort zone and when I definitely felt the most in control. Acting is my new thing, but I've been rapping with him on stage for a while. We had Dub-C (WC), a music artist and a family friend, help us get the mechanics down- how the people moved and what they would do on stage. My father is the youngest one of the group; he's got the most energy. He’s the one jumping on top of the trashcans, he's going hard, so that was probably the funnest thing about filming – the performances. It was all thanks to Dub-C. Gary Gray made us record the whole album.

Would you guys ever consider going out on the road and doing some kind of NWA tribute show?

O'Shea: I'm ready to go! I don't know about the other dudes, I'm sure they are, but I'm ready to go. I don't know who I have to talk to – I just need my curlers and my suitcase.

Watch Ellen interview O'Shea and his dad here: