Give him a snapback Raiders hat, add a snarl and some menacingly arched eyebrows, and the actor O’Shea Jackson, Jr. instantly becomes a young Ice Cube — aka O’Shea Jackson Sr., his dad. As we found out in the below conversation, Jackson Jr., who until recently had zero dramatic movie or TV roles under his belt, wan’t so sure about playing his own father in Straight Outta Compton, last year’s runaway hit biopic on N.W.A. But any cries of nepotism leading up to the film’s release were hushed once audiences got a look at Shea doing his thing, emerging as the magnetic moral center in a film laced with big personalities and bigger racial strife. (Also, groupie sex.)
Much like the N.W.A. of old, Straight Outta Compton took America by storm, breaking records for the biggest R-rated opening of all time and the biggest musical biopic ever, grossing $60 million during opening weekend and generating over $200 million worldwide to date. Beyond the stats, the film is a testament to the strength of a marginalized minority audience — and, after last week’s breathtakingly white Oscar announcements, a big middle finger to the old boys’ club that is the Academy.
With Compton’s release today on DVD and Blu-Ray, we’re proud to present this Playboy Conversation with Jackson Jr., who turns 25 just before the Oscars next month. Read on to hear his thoughts on the making of the film and its increasingly timely arrival.
Your dad asked you to play him in Straight Outta Compton. Take me back to that moment. What was going on in your head?
It’s one of my favorite stories. I was in the kitchen. He walks downstairs and says, “They’re starting to take this N.W.A. movie seriously and I kinda need you to play me.” Automatically I’m sweating. This is Universal Studios. It’s not some rinky-dink production studio. It’s the big boys. What went through my head was that I could go out for the part and not get it, with word getting out that I couldn’t play my dad; I could not take it and look like an idiot for not even trying; or it could be a bad movie. There was really no option but to give it my best shot. It was important that my father was depicted the right way because people take films like this as law as to what happened. I had to immortalize him the right way.
Were there ways that your dad walks and talks that you picked up on for the role?
I didn’t know that we had the same walk. One day I was walking by Dr. Dre and MC Ren and they started laughing. Dre was like, “Man, y’all got the same walk.” A lot of it was stuff that I’d seen him do all throughout my life. A lot of people think that he’s just frowning all the damn time, but my man is witty. My man is damn smart and really sharp.
Did you inherit his sense of humor? Do you have a future comedy in you?
I definitely have that side to me. I feel like people like to laugh more than anything. I went to USC for screenwriting and I’ve got some good things cooking up. For now, I’m staying with dramatic roles so I can be taken serious as a thespian. After that, the sky’s the limit.
Did Cube shield you from N.W.A. growing up? Was there a certain age when he said, “OK, you’re ready for this”?
My father has never shielded us from his past. He’s always let us in on what made him him, from his music to the stories of his past and the mistakes he’s made. He always tried to set up a blueprint for us to be successful.
What was the hardest scene to shoot in Compton? Did the obscenity arrest stir anger or a queasiness in your stomach?
The police brutality scenes hit a chord in me. I feel that every young black man has dealt with the police in some fashion. It’s just a way of life, and it’s a terrible thing. The cops who were in the film were actual police officers. There was a bunch of times where we had to tell them, “No, you gotta rough me up bro. We gotta make it look real.” They were good guys and I like to look at it as in their own way they were helping the cause.
What are your feelings on the outbreak of high-profile police brutality cases in recent years?
My parents let us know on the first day of public schooling that the world is not as warm as the house. These are realities that I’ve known have been happening for a while. The beauty is the technology that we have now so that we’re able to make them embarrassed to be the cop that’s captured on the phone. They don’t want this eight-month, Nancy Grace type of coverage. It’s working as somewhat of a shield, but in most cases it’s made out of paper.
Are kids more ruthless these days than late ‘80s Compton?
There’s a lot more things that are accessible. There’s a lot more information that can be gained through the internet. Kids can learn how to make a bomb! I wasn’t thinking about that. I was thinking about Dragon Ball Z and Pokémon. It’s all about the home training. It’s about the mamas and the daddies making sure their baby isn’t crazy. They better show them how to act. My people gotta stop killing each other. If we really take a step back, it’s pointless.
You’ve known [Straight Outta Compton director] F. Gary Gray for years. Was it easy on set with him?
Hell no! I don’t give a damn who you are: Gary’s gonna get it out of you. He’s gonna get what he wants. He has so many different techniques to get that star out of you. I was nervous and I know he was nervous too. My man Gary put me through the ringer. I went through two years of auditions not knowing what was going on, nauseous to my stomach every day. At a certain point we just started to click, about halfway through filming. I’m glad to have a full circle with him. We have the Friday reference in the movie with, “Bye Felicia.” It’s a beautiful thing.
Were you shocked by the Straight Outta Compton Oscar snubs, along with Will Smith and Idris Elba?
In a way, I definitely am. In a way, I’m not. I’m trying real hard not to put the race card on it. You got the Number 1 biopic of all time. You got the Number 1 black director box office of all time… and we don’t get nothing? There have been many films that weren’t recognized by the Academy but were recognized by the people. That’s what matters.
Is Hollywood scared of making films about African American triumph?
Hollywood thinks business. There’s a saying in Hollywood that black films don’t make it overseas. It’s because a lot of the trials and tribulations that we have to go through here in the US aren’t being dealt with there. They can’t connect with it. Of course there’s police brutality everywhere, which is why they were able to connect with Straight Outta Compton. If you ask somebody in Africa, “Are you black?” they’d say, “No. I’m Nigerian.” It’s a different mindset. Studios are afraid of that, straight up. I feel like Straight Outta Compton is a big first step.
Want more? Check out O'Shea’s Playboy Q&A from last summer: