In the late 1980s, Ice Cube was at the height of his fame with rap pioneers N.W.A when young USC film student John Singleton approached him about a role in a movie. What N.W.A’s blistering “Straight Outta Compton” was for the radio, Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood was for film, and writ large across both was Cube, who bristled with charisma and talent. His transition from mic to screen was seamless. Now with his son getting set to play him in the N.W.A story, Cube and O’Shea Jr. talk about how taking risks paid off.
THE RED BULLETIN: O’Shea Jr., why was it important to you to play this role?
O’SHEA: Because as big as the movie is to everyone, the story of N.W.A is bigger to me. It’s my family, it’s my family’s legacy. It’s the foundation that all this was built on. The story was important to get right. I really wanted to make sure that the picture people would paint of my father is something I could guide a bit. I know him better than somebody who can study him. Doing my research for 20-plus years, I felt I was definitely qualified. Then it was about getting my acting tools sharpened.
CUBE: I couldn’t be prouder. I told him how I was really feeling doing some of these scenes. He needed to know what I thought of everybody, what I was thinking at the time. He used that as ammunition. It was great; he had my temperament in every situation down perfect.
O’Shea, what did you learn from your father?
O’SHEA: I get his courage by watching him lead by example. My father told me at a young age about confidence. I remember him telling me, “It’s what the girls look for. Know what you’re doing.” You’re supposed to have that look about you. If you’re not confident, how can other people depend on you?
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 you’re character is thinking, and with my father, I have so many parts of him, of his mannerisms, that a lot of the time it’s not about acting. It’s about making it real as it can be.
CUBE: When you black, and you black in America, you getting the flavor of everything. Everybody looks at you like you don’t have nothing, or come straight from what they call the ghetto. Like with my son, no matter how much money is in his pocket, no matter that he never grew up in the ’hood because he didn’t have to. Because he’s black and he’s young, he’s looked at as a ’hood person. A lot of people make you not feel as cool because you don’t come from Watts, or from Compton, from Brooklyn, you ain’t come from whatever ’hood. And you’re not as down. But it ain’t where you’re from, it’s really where you’re at.
When you look at your career arc, from gangsta rap provocateur to producer and actor in family films, are you sometimes astounded?
CUBE: I’m not astounded that now I’m doing movies. Movies are make-believe. My records are real life. That’s not a character or actor. A movie, I can be anybody because it’s make-believe. What’s astonishing is how people say because you did this kind of movie, you’re this kind of person. People would rather see Nice Cube than Ice Cube any day. Would you rather me be nice or show you shit that’s deep inside?
I can imagine you’ve gone through that process, with Hollywood trying to fit a square peg into a round hole?
CUBE: They were trying to fit a Cube into a square.
O’Shea, how often does he drop these gems?
O’SHEA: [Laughing] Man, all the time! I was going to the zoo one time. And he said, “Even a lion knows when there’s too many hyenas” just to point out to 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.