Bin the late 1980s, rapper Ice Cube was at the height of his fame with hip-hop pioneers NWA when film student John Singleton approached him about a role in his movie. Cube was receptive, but he had doubts as filming approached. “I didn’t think I was qualified,” he says now. “But then I saw my first dailies [raw footage from the day’s filming] and I knew I could do it if I worked at it.”
What NWA’s blistering tunes were to radio, Singleton’s Boyz N The Hood was to cinema, and writ large across both was Cube, who bristled with charisma. His transition from rap to film was seamless, and he went on to set up his own production company, Cube Vision. Now, with Cube’s son, O’Shea Jackson Jr, set to play him in the NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton, the pair talk about how risks can pay off.
THE RED BULLETIN : O’Shea, why was it important that you took this role?
O’SHEA : Because as big as the movie is to everyone, the story of NWA is bigger to me. It’s my family’s legacy, so it was important to get it right. I wanted some input into the portrayal of my father – after doing my research for 20-plus years, I felt I was qualified. Then it was about getting my acting tools sharpened…
CUBE : I couldn’t be prouder. I told him what I was feeling and thinking back then, and he used it as ammunition. He had my temperament perfect in every situation. It was great.
O’Shea, what did you learn from your father?
O’SHEA: I learnt courage from watching him lead by example. He told me about confidence at a young age. I remember him saying, “It’s what the girls look for. Know what you’re doing.” You’ve got to have that look.
Did it matter that you didn’t grow up in Compton?
O’SHEA: I wasn’t trying to do ’hood research or anything like that. As an actor, what’s important is what your character is thinking. I have so many parts of my father’s character and his mannerisms that a lot of the time it’s not about acting. It’s about making it as real as it can be.
CUBE: When you black in America, you getting the flavour of everything. People look at you like you don’t have nothing, or you come from “the ghetto”. No matter how much money is in my son’s pocket and no matter that he never grew up in the ’hood because he didn’t have to, he’s young and black so he’s seen as a ’hood person. He still feels that pressure. And then some people make you feel not as cool because you don’t come from Watts or Compton. But it ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.
When you look at your career arc, are you surprised?
CUBE: I’m not surprised that I’m now doing movies. My movies are great, they do good, and people watch them over and over again. On my records, that’s not a character or an actor you’re hearing, that’s real life. But in a movie, I can be anybody because it’s all just make-believe. What’s astonishing is how people say that because you did this kind of movie, you must be this kind of person. People would much rather see Nice Cube than Ice Cube any day.
O’Shea, what inspiration do you take from your father’s career?
O’SHEA: That no matter what they tell me, I should always be true to myself.
Cube, does hearing that warm your heart?
CUBE: I don’t want him to feel like he’s got to live up to anyone but himself. The more you try to please others, the unhappier you become.
Did Hollywood try that with you, Cube, fitting a square peg into a round hole?
CUBE: They were trying to fit a Cube into a square, yeah.
O’Shea, how often does he drop these gems?
O’SHEA: Man, all the time! I was going to the zoo one time and he said to me, “Even a lion knows when there’s too many hyenas,” meaning that you should always be aware of your surroundings. He’s got a bag full of them. I love it.
CUBE: Be good to your kids. You gonna be old one day and they’re gonna have to take care of your ass.