O’Shea Jackson Jr. instantly shot into public consciousness playing his father, Ice Cube, in the mega-hit “Straight Outta Compton,” but that success was double-edged. As he shared with us last week on a press tour for “Long Shot,” opening this week, the popularity came with the false impression that he could only do one thing. Since then, he’s had an increasingly diverse resume, doing action in something like “Den of Thieves” and comedy this week with Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron. A discussion with him reveals an actor driven by an incredible array of passions, including anime, monster movies, and providing opportunities for young creatives.
I was looking over your resume and the last few years. I was looking at “Ingrid Goes West” and “Den of Thieves” and now this and thinking of how little they have in common. How intentional is it to make one project so different from the one before?
Super intentional. “Straight Outta Compton” led to kind of a word of mouth that I could only do one thing, and I didn’t really like that. So it’s about showing range, showing versatility, showing that I wasn’t afraid to venture out into different genres. Not just a one-trick pony.
So how do you pick those parts not just to be different but to be something that works for you?
If it’s something that draws you. I love wit. I love being able to feel like I can improvise on a scene. The team behind it is huge. You hear Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron, you jump on it. “Den of Thieves” was a stacked cast. Christian sold me on the whole thing there. He told me how things would happen, and I found out I was the one who doesn’t die, and I really liked that. (Laughs.) That’s a key part for me. You shouldn’t do anything that you wouldn’t go see yourself. It’s important that you love the work and love your character. “Straight Outta Compton” – obvious passion project. Dan Pinto in “Ingrid Goes West” – I love Batman, he loved Batman. Hand in glove fit. Donny being a criminal mastermind. Just being IN Gozilla. Lance is a tech millionaire. Those are all cool roles. I want those.
How far ahead do you look? Do you have like 5, 10 years planned out?
Yeah, there’s definitely some things I want to get off the ground. A lot of the things that I’m into are heavily influenced by Japanese culture like anime. I want to have my own anime – I have my own ideas, I just have to get a little more famous to get into those meetings with places like Funimation and all these great places. I want to create movies, create film, and provide opportunities for others once I get into that producer role. Once I get a little more famous. Like where I don’t have to audition for roles.
Is there anyone you look at and go “That’s how you do it, that’s the career I want”?
As far as acting, Chris Pratt. Chris Pratt.
Interesting. Because of variety?
Yeah. He was the funny guy on “Parks and Rec” and then he lost the weight and buffed up and this guy is a STAR. “Jurassic World,” “Avengers,” “Lego Movie” – hit after hit after hit. And he was just the funny guy on “Parks and Rec”! And he switched it around. The movies he gets to pick are bananas.
And as far as writing and creating, Jordan Peele is on top of his game right now. That’s somebody who is opening doors for young creatives. He was the host of a Comedy Central sketch show. Little did they know they had a genius on that stage!
Two people who defied expectations and labels. So you’re still feeling a little of that thing that hit you after “Straight Outta Compton” when people thought you could only do one thing?
Oh yeah. Always. Inspiration as far as making a name for yourself – The Rock. His father wrestled. He’s a third-generation superstar. He had to hear the same kind of thing I had to hear about footsteps. Same thing with Kobe Bryant, whose father played in the NBA. And both The Rock and Kobe took their family names to new heights. That may be an unnecessary pressure I put on myself but it gives me a fire to take the name to new heights.
How conscious is that? Do you think to yourself, “This is something my dad would have done or not done” and how does that impact your choices?
My dad knows I’m a hard worker. Once I set my mind to it, it’s hard to get me off of it. He’s been there as a coach through a lot of it but he lets me spread my wings when it comes to this. And there are certain roles that they’re just not going to give my dad. He’s not O’Shea Jackson. He’s Ice Cube. They can’t see Ice Cube as that. I want to take roles that I don’t think he’d get because I have a little more freedom than he does. But it’s always roles that I can be proud of.
What attracted you to “Long Shot”?
Seth and Charlize. They had already been going at it for abut a month when I got on and both made me feel welcome. I met Seth during the audition process. I had met Charlize at the MTV Movie Awards and I didn’t know if she remembered me. She did and tole me she was happy and wanted to make it the best we could make it. And Seth, from the get-g, he let me feel a part of the family. His team of writers are so dope. They’re panning for gold all the time. How can we make it better? They’re so tight and I’m glad I could make them laugh.
Totally collaborative and improv all the time?
If it’s funny, it’s going in! (Laughs.)
How’s Seth different as a collaborator?
Super approachable. We had chemistry from the top. Usually you have to spend time or have a lunch or something but cool people tend to connect. He’s so intelligent, and his music knowledge really got me. The soundtrack of “Long Shot” is so great. He’s just somebody you can go back and forth with on references all day. He has a dog named Zelda! (Laughs.) That alone, I was like, “You’re a good person.”
I read in an interview how you were also attracted to the female empowerment aspect of the project. Can you speak a little on what that means to you?
It’s cool. It’s cool to have a strong female lead. There’s this dialogue that a lot of men don’t like powerful women. That’s crazy. It shouldn’t be that way. I’m honored to be in a film with such a strong female lead like Charlize, who is Hollywood royalty. Why are we so prehistoric in the way of our thinking? If I’m Superman, I don’t want Lois Lane at the house! I want Wonder Woman at the house! That seems like a better couple! Why lessen that idea? I would love to vote for Charlotte Field if she was really out there.
Without spoiling it, there’s a reveal for your character that adds to the idea that the movie is in part about different types of people getting along. Can you speak to that aspect of how this film addresses the divisions in this country?
There are so many things to like about a person other than who they vote for. That shouldn’t be the end-all, be-all as to how you view somebody. You should never judge someone based off their beliefs. We were all raised in different environments with different values that led to different ideas of what we think is right and wrong. And the more you try to press the issue, the more you try to change somebody’s mind, that leads to aggression and bickering. In the complete worst, it leads to war. It’s about finding the common denominator. What do we have in common? We want the United States of America to be the best place it can be. As long as we keep that in mind and try and meet in the middle, I think we’ll find a balance that is long-needed.
That balance requires monster movies so tell us a little about “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.”
(Laughs.) I LOVE Godzilla! I can’t believe I’m in it. I got to touch some Godzilla skin on set. I never thought I’d touch the G-man. He’s big and bad. I’ve seen the movie twice now. It’s SO worth the wait. It’s a masterpiece.