If you thought the actor portraying Ice Cube in "Straight Outta Compton" looks eerily similar to the veteran rapper/actor...well, that's because he's Cube's 24-year-old son, O'Shea Jackson Jr.
It's true that the younger Jackson had a singular insight into Ice Cube, but he had a major obstacle to getting the part: he had never seriously acted before. He spent two years working to prove to director F. Gary Gray that he could perform the part. The stakes were high — not only because he'd be playing his dad in a major motion picture, but Ice Cube was also a producer on the film.
When Cube and his son joined us on The Frame, they talked about O'Shea's path to being able to embody Ice Cube on the screen, the overwhelming success of "Straight Outta Compton," and what it's like to watch your son pretend to be you.
Cube, to watch your son in this movie has so many different levels: the proud father seeing your son [nailing the role]; watching yourself as a young man and reliving that experience; and as the producer of a movie about this incredible moment in musical history. How do you separate all of those three things, or can you?
Cube: I've invented two clouds — you've got cloud nine, but I'm on clouds 10 and 11. [laughs] I just jump from cloud to cloud because I'm so ecstatic. It's so exciting that we were able to get this movie done, then to be able to see our story played out is like I'm in a "Back to the Future" movie. [laughs]
It's really crazy, and I'm most excited for this opportunity for my son ... he stepped up and he showed that he had the chops to pull it off. It's incredible vindication because I've been the one pushing for him to do this — not just because he's my son, but I just knew he was the right man for the job.
O'Shea, did you know that from the beginning? Or did you have to convince yourself and be persuaded by others, that you could play your father?
Jackson, Jr.: It took me about a day or so, really, to convince myself. I wanted this project to be right, so I thought about letting a seasoned actor get in there and do what he does. But at the same time, what could they do that you can't? A lot of people know [Ice Cube] for his scowl, but nobody really knows what's behind it, and I have a better understanding than anyone they could find.
In the making of this movie, did you learn anything more about your father that you didn't know?
Jackson, Jr: Just the fact that, when he left the group, he didn't just say that he was going to go solo. He had no plan, but he just knew his situation wasn't right and he had to go. It didn't matter that he was on top of the world with his friends — if he had to start from zero just so he could be right as a man, then so be it. That just speaks to his integrity.
Cube, this movie replays some of the great moments in your life — from NWA's formation to the group's meteoric rise to fame. But the movie also revisits some of the more troubling things that you went through personally. What was it like watching your son playing you getting beaten up, harassed and humiliated by the police?
Cube: You know, you can always tell your kids how it was, but here he was able to experience it in a safe environment, almost like a simulator. [laughs] I remember how my father used to talk about Louisiana and being in the backwoods, but until I visited and walked those backwoods, I couldn't really see what he was talking about. Hopefully, by playing this role, my son can see those stories that I used to talk about all the time.
Were there certain liberties that your son wanted to take in how he was playing you? Or did you try to keep him on a certain path?
Cube: I wanted him to play the role, but I didn't want him to act or mimic. I wanted him to embody and go with his instincts, so I gave him all the ammunition I could as far as what I was thinking in the past, and I just let him go for it. I wanted him to have the freedom to ad-lib or go off-script without feeling lost, that he could go with his gut. He knows me, and he did a magnificent job.
O'Shea, you've gotten great reviews for this movie, which is a huge hit at the box office. This is also your first film. Has the reality of all of that sunk in? Are you ready to do whatever's next?
Jackson, Jr: It still hasn't fully sunk in, but I'm definitely focused on picking the next project. I'm in a unique opportunity, so I have to make sure that the next one gets just as much praise and I'm able to show my acting chops a little bit more. I'm still in a surreal moment with "Straight Outta Compton," though.
Cube, my 15-year-old son wasn't alive to hear this music when it came out, but he listens to it now. What do kids of his generation need to know about what happened in this moment in history and what NWA represented in a larger sense?
Cube: Some of the music can be a little harsh. We talk about the good, the bad and the ugly, and we're not always 100% positive, but we're always honest. So I think that's where it starts, and that's the appeal to everyone that's into this music — they love the fact that we're honest, and hopefully they'll understand that we were just some young kids from Compton and we were constructive with our frustrations.
We just took a pen to a pad and we made art out of it. It's gotten us this far, and it's gotten a lot more attention than it would have if we had burned down a building or looted a store. So that's a lesson to the youth: when you don't like something, sometimes being creative is the best payback.