Ice Cube: 'It's important to inspire youngsters and motivate their creativity'
Straight Outta Compton tells the tale of how rappers Ice Cube and Dr Dre came to prominence. Producer Ice Cube shares insight about how the movie got off the ground.
Straight Outta Compton is a powerful tale of the epic rise and fall of California hip hop group NWA, which kickstarted the music careers of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E and MC Ren.
Directed by F Gary Gray, the biopic – starring O'Shea Jackson Jr. as Ice Cube, Corey Hawkins as Dr Dre, Jason Mitchell as Easy-E, Aldis Hodge as MC Ren, and Paul Giamatti as NWA's manager Jerry Heller – showed how the rappers revolutionised hip hop culture in the mid-1980s with their music and tales about life in the hood.
Straight Outta Compton, opening here Oct 8, was a commercial and critical hit when it premiered in the US in September.
Here producer Ice Cube speaks about how the movie got off the ground and how his son Jackson Jr got involved in the project.
This project has been a long time in the making. What do you think of it now that it’s done?
Ice Cube: I love it. We’ve been trying to put this together for five years, and I don't know if anyone could have done a better job than we did.
How did it come together?
I never thought the movie was going to get made. We have a lot of unknowns in this movie, and I figured it would take a lot of courage. I thought it would be too monumental for a studio to take on; too many risks, too much controversy.
But Donna Langley at Universal had the courage to do it, so I really appreciate her. And I appreciate Gary Gray for sticking with it for four years and seeing it through.
How hands-on were you as a producer?
I was as hands-on as I could be. I was on the project from day one and did everything I could to keep it together.
What was the most important message in the movie?
It was important to me to inspire youngsters out there that have something to say but may be in a frustrating situation, and to motivate their creativity.
You don't have to be destructive. You can be constructive. You can do music, art, poetry; anything you feel to fill that void and to have a voice.
There are a few different things running through the movie – messages about standing up for yourself, freedom of speech, and the first amendment.
Was there any temptation at all, given this opportunity, to change your story, to re-write things a little?
No, because what we went through is so vivid, it's so intricate and unusual. There was no reason to make anything up.
The hardest part was deciding what to keep in and what to leave out. We were trying to squeeze ten years into two hours. There are nooks and crannies that you can't get in there. But we tried to fit everything we could in there so people could feel the story and the journey.
O'Shea Jackson Jr. as Ice Cube in Straight Outta Compton. PHOTO: UIP
O’Shea Jr. said that he auditioned for two years. Even as your son, he was never just a shoe-in?
No. I told him he’s going to have to work hard for it, he's going to have to be approved by not only Gary – who's a serious filmmaker – but the studio too, which was putting a lot of money behind this movie.
He had to blow everybody away and I couldn't help him with that. He had to do the work, put in the hours, and become a great actor. In two years he had to turn it on.
He said you were quite the mentor.
I was going to give whoever played me everything they needed to pull it off. With him, I wanted to really let him know what I was thinking at the time, my perception of the situation, what I knew, what I didn't know, what I ended up finding out later. I wanted him to know my perception of Eazy and Dre. I was just trying to give him all the ammunition he needed.
What did you think of his performance?
He knocked it out of the park! I'm watching it and I have to remind myself that it's not me, it's my son! He turned into Ice Cube for me, so the audience doesn't have a chance. He's got it.
Did you let him listen to your music when he was growing up?
Yeah. Whenever they were able to catch something, grab something, I was there to explain it to them and to give it context.
I knew it wasn't right to try and hide anything and that they would lose a little trust in me if they thought I didn’t think they could handle it. So I've always exposed them to as much as they should see at that age.
As they grew up they started to discover my stuff without me. I'd walk in the house and they'd be watching one of my movies or listening to one of my records.
You were okay with them being exposed to that?
I was good with that. I think you should be honest with your kids. They shouldn't hear something in the street that they should have heard from you.
I always wanted them to be able to talk to me about anything and feel like I wasn’t going to jump into the daddy mode and scold them for being real. I knew I wanted to bring them up unsheltered and not naive to the world.
(L-R) Producer Dr Dre, director F. Gary Gray and producer Ice Cube PHOTO: UIP
How was it for you being back in the ‘hood, re-living these life-changing events? Does Compton still feel like home?
It does. My whole family is in the ‘hood – I'm the only one that really made it out. Most of our family functions are right there.
Everyone involved in this project says the local community was very welcoming with filming.
They loved us, man. They still love us, they appreciate us not going out of town to shoot this movie and staying right in the neighborhood and hiring some of the people from the neighborhood. They helped us out, and we used them as extras. We wanted them to feel like a part of it.
And, of course, it lent an authenticity to the movie.
Gary was really adamant about that. If he felt like you were an actor, he'd say, "Get him outta there. We need a real dude here."
He was scouring the neighborhood finding extras. We wanted to make sure we were being authentic and paying as much attention to detail as we could.
How was your experience collaborating with your former NWA colleagues, getting the crew back together again?
We were reminiscing, talking about old times, not really believing that this was all happening, that what we went through is film-worthy. We’re all just good.
The project has been a love fest, and to see that people enjoy the movie is just kind of our reward for all the work it took to get this movie on the screen, without being tainted by Hollywood. It was hard, but it was well worth it.
Any chance of an NWA reunion?
You never know. We’ve been talking about it. I would love to get on the mic with Ren and Dre and do something.
What did you learn about your younger self, about that guy on the screen?
I don't see too much of a difference. He’s still me and I'm still him.
I never thought we were superheroes, but when you look at it, it seems like an origin movie, you know? It really didn't feel like that at the time.