Exclusive Interview: O’Shea Jackson Jr talks ‘Godzilla’, big budget blockbusters and future screenwriting plans
O'Shea Jackson Jr. speaks on his rise in Hollywood
Son of O’Shea Jackson Sr., better known as the legendary rapper, actor and screenwriter Ice Cube, some would say that O’Shea Jackson Jr. had it all mapped out for him. But this is not necessarily the case.
The rising star put in his own grind, studying screenwriting at University of Southern California, with hopes of being a prolific screenwriter and staying behind the scene. But life had other plans for him. The opportunity to depict his Dad in Straight Outta Compton propelled O’Shea Jackson Jr. into the limelight and, with his first acting shot, he hit a home run. Since then, he has gone on to show his versatility as an actor, playing Donnie Wilson in action thriller, Den of Thieves, alongside Gerard Butler and 50 Cent, and then highlighting his comedic chops with Seth Rogen in Long Shot.
Most recently O’Shea Jr features in Godzilla: King of the Monsters as Senior Officer Jackson Barnes and to celebrate the blockbuster hitting UK cinemas we sat down for a chat about Godzilla, the journey so far and his future screenwriting plans.
Were you a fan of Godzilla growing up?
Hell yeah. I definitely was. Since I was a kid, 5/6 years old, I would watch the Hanna-Barbera Godzilla cartoon on the Sci-Fi network Saturday mornings. He’s just always been apart of my life and to be able to have something that you used to watch as a kid come back and get you some money as an adult is dope!
Would you say this is a passion project for you?
For sure. With Straight Outta Compton, that was the role of my life and I got that first. I had my dream role, first. So when you get to have something else that you feel that you were born to play, it’s a blessing and Godzilla has been that for me. I believe the more of these types of films you get, the more fulfilled you feel.
Godzilla is currently the longest continuously running movie franchise – what do you think our fascination is with the monster?
I think there is part of humans where we like watching shit and being like I hope that doesn’t happen to me. It’s a weird part of us man, like when you’re on YouTube and watching people getting hurt or when you watch a big disaster movie and think what would I do in this situation and thank God I’m not actually in it. It’s the same thing with Godzilla, where you’re thinking what would I do if this big ol’ monster was here and there really is nothing you can do, that’s why it’s cool to watch from afar. Also, the better technology gets, the better the Godzilla films become and when you have a film that is able to update itself and stay relevant in pop culture for as long as he has, it’s like the untouchable franchise – its the Godfather of franchises – its been going for over 60 years and has over 30 movies, I mean there are actors who don’t 30 movies!
In the film you play senior officer Jackson Barnes – talk to me about the role?
It was weird at first going into it, because this is the biggest set I’ve ever been on. It was a little different going into something with green screen and all of the details that you can’t see without computers. But once I took in my character and what it means to be a green beret, to be a military man, to be the senior officer, I felt much more assured. I mean you’re in charge of the lives of men, so it’s important for you not to lose your cool when everybody else is losing their cool. When you’re the senior officer, you are here to bring the troops home and that’s the level of importance I wanted to have with Barnes. Playing the character, I aimed to have a stoic way about myself and never let anyone see me sweat…until we about to die!.
Did you have to do any special training for the part?
Yeah, we had Colonel Harland Bush who was a real deal Colonel. That dude is the real McCoy. He definitely helped us with the process of learning how to move like soldiers, our formations and with how we handled our weapons on set. It’s important to have somebody to help make what you’re doing seem authentic. Also, we have to remember to show respect to all people of the military when you’re playing them in whatever type movie it is. You want to make them proud. You don’t want to have them downplaying your performance in any kind of way. To earn their respect is an honour.
There is a lot of action in the film – the final fight between Godzilla and King Ghidorah is epic – what was it like being involved in that?
That was my first day of work. I was nervous as hell going on the biggest movie set I’ve ever been on and I get thrown into that. But more importantly I’m a Lakers fan, so any movie where we get to destroy Boston is amazing. I loved it. It’s my favourite part of the movie.
Another topic that is ever present in the film is saving the environment, would you say that this is a big theme in the movie?
I feel the message of our film is more about finding the balance. It’s important to find it in everything you do. There’s the balance of work and your family. Milly Bobby Brown’s character has to find the balance between her mother and father. There’s a balance trying to be found where the government wants to destroy the monsters and Monarch wants to keep them alive. Our planet is also off balance, as it is going through serious environmental changes and we don’t want to ignore them until it’s too late. It’s important through art that you make people think and talk about things that make them uncomfortable.
Being part of such a storied franchise, what inspiration have you taken from the experience going forward?
Blockbusters are the way to go!
The entertainment business has been here for a while and if you can make a name in this, it’s a blessing. I’ve been trying to dabble in all genres of cinema thus far, just to show my versatility as an actor. But boy them blockbusters got the budget. The budget it baaanging. That’s a key difference with a lot of the films I’ve done. You can tell when the filmmakers are comfortably making a movie. You get to ask for certain things and have a little bit more time to work on them. That’s why my man The Rock is killing it right now. Blockbusters are the way to go and I want to do more!
I know you’re a screenwriter also – are you working on anything at the moment?
Yeah I’ve got a couple passion projects I want to get off the ground. I want to make my name in video game adaptations. I feel like us gamers are such loyal fans and yet when they make movies for us, its like its just a cash grab and we get the short end of the stick.
Did you see the Sonic the Hedgehog trailer?
I did and I know a lot of people were pressuring them to change how Sonic looks. But if the makers of Pikachu didn’t have to change how he looks, then why does Sonic? But even with that being said, as a filmmaker, once you put your art out there, you can’t automatically change it because of public disapproval. How you see it is your vision and you shouldn’t let the Internet punk you in no type of way. I will say that Sonic did look a bit weird to me, but at the end of the day, it’s not my vision. I think the keyboard has too much power if a director has to change their vision over what people are saying on the internet, even before seeing the actual film.
Just after you landed Godzilla you played Lance in Long Shot along with Seth Rogen, did you enjoy doing more of a comedic role?
Yeah for sure, because straight after wrapping up Den of Thieves I started on Godzilla, doing back to back action movies. So I was tired, exhausted and just wanted a break. Then my agents where like we’ve got this cool comedy in Canada and when I found it was starring Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron, I couldn’t say no. Overall it was refreshing. I love how comedy keeps you on your toes, as you have to pay attention to keep up with the jokes and fire your own back.
You mentioned Den of Thieves. How was the experience working with the likes of 50 Cent and Gerard Butler?
I’m still fairly new in the game, so when I see big names and I’m in a scene one on one with these actors, I look at it like sparring. My mind set is that you’ve got to let them know you’re here. it’s important to try and steal the show when you can. My inspiration for that is Han Solo in Star Wars. Yeah everybody wants to be Luke: he’s got the lightsaber, he’s the Jedi and he’s the hero. But Luke ain’t cooler than Han Solo. Han Solo is the man: he’s got the whip, he’s got the girl. So if you can’t be Luke, you better be Han! I get it, Toy Story is about Woody, but I’d rather be Buzz Lightyear!
It’s been wicked to see your transition as an actor from Straight Outta Compton, which many would say was your breakout role – did you feel pressure at that time? – not only playing your Dad, but also the legendary figure that is Ice Cube in rap.
To this day Straight Outta Compton is the most pressure I’ve felt, because I felt new and I was just trying to make it work. I’d never acted in a film, let alone anything of that magnitude. There’s a level of responsibility that goes into being an actor. You can make or break a movie and you’ve got millions riding on your ass. They will chew you up and spit you out if you don’t deliver. But thank God I started out with a movie so big, because it’s been a little bit easier to manage the films since then. Straight Outta Compton was the most pressure to this day, because I didn’t only look at the Ice Cube part of it, but it was about everything my Dad worked for up until that point.
On the topic of rap, you were also known as, OMG, the MC extraordinaire – can we see you going back to music in the near future?
I think that Hollywood typecasts rappers, there’s just certain roles they won’t give to rappers, because they see them as just rappers. So to avoid that, I stopped rapping and went to just producing. I feel like there are certain roles they won’t give my dad because he’s Ice Cube the hip hop artist and that’s bullshit. It’s important for me to get the roles and awards that they won’t give my Dad a chance to get and show them they can’t put us all on in a box.
I know you went to USC to study screenwriting prior to acting, so were you planning to be a screenwriter or was acting always the plan?
I wanted to be a screenwriter because I was scared of acting. I was scared of being on the other side of the camera, because you lose your privacy. You lose the ability to be able to live a normal life and make mistakes off radar. You don’t get to move in peace, as soon as you step out the door everyone is on you. You want to be rich, you don’t want to be famous. In a rolex, the gears in the watch are just as important as the face and if the gears ain’t working then the face doesn’t get any type of love. You gotta choose your path carefully and know what it entails!
Interview by Denzil Bell