Universal Pictures went the extra 100 miles and runnin’ for its Monday night premiere of F. Gary Gray’s N.W.A biopic “Straight Outta Compton,” bringing all four surviving core members of the group — Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, MC Ren and DJ Yella — onstage in front of a packed crowd at L.A. Live’s 7,100-seat Microsoft Theater.
Afterward, at a party that drew music luminaries Snoop Dogg, A$AP Rocky, Berry Gordy, The Game, Russell Simmons, Common and… Zayn Malik… DJs gave a clinic in West Coast hip-hop, while decorative lowriders with elaborate hydraulics revived the dayz of wayback around the venue. (8-Ball was unavailable at the bar, though gin-and-juice was plentiful.)
Gray and producer Ice Cube took time prior to the screening to laud the studio’s full-blast marketing efforts, with Cube going so far as to call Universal chief Donna Langley “the sixth member of N.W.A.” Of course, anticipation was ratcheted up yet another notch last Friday, when Dre launched a surprise release of his first studio album since the Clinton administration, the film-inspired “Compton: A Soundtrack.”
“I knew about it a couple years ago, but I wasn’t supposed to say anything,” Gray confided at the after-party. “It was tough though, and I think I accidentally leaked it at Comic-Con. Fortunately, they covered it up.”
Though the film stretches to just a half-hour short of “The Godfather” as is, Gray noted that his first cut — which he hopes to release on DVD — was a full hour longer, with greater emphasis on the women in Dre, Cube and Eazy’s lives.
“Everything that happened post-N.W.A is gravy, but I think we picked the right things (to include),” he said. “There was so much more I wanted to put in it, but you can’t have a damn four-hour movie, it’s just not reasonable.”
Singled out in Variety’s review for his charismatic portrayal of the late Eazy-E, Jason Mitchell credited the counseling he received from Eazy’s widow Tomica Woods-Wright, as well as his multiple trips around the Southland in order to get a feel for the man who “embodied Compton, California.”
“I’m from New Orleans, and I’d never set foot in California before this,” Mitchell said. “I booked the role through Skype, so it’s not like I had some kind of insight into the city. So I would do tours to see how much of L.A. I could see in any single day: Compton, South Central, Watts, all these different places. There are people in those neighborhoods now who actually know me, because I was there, hanging with them.”
Though he remembers getting into Eazy-E’s music through Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Mitchell confesses, “Quiet as kept, I was a huge Ice Cube fan. But that’s the beauty of acting.”
Also an Ice Cube fan: O’Shea Jackson Jr., who portrays his father in the film. Despite unusually immersive exposure to his subject, Jackson did have to work with performance coach WC — Cube’s longtime hypeman, and a Cali rap legend in his own right — to nail the particulars of an explosive hip-hop show.
“Dub helped us with the mechanics, making sure Jason walked like Eazy, and making sure I brought the kind of energy that Pops always brings onstage,” Jackson said.
While Jackson learned his role from living as deep inside the N.W.A world as possible, Corey Hawkins, who plays Dr. Dre, came straight off of Broadway. Joining the cast after playing Tybalt in the Richard Rodgers Theatre’s “Romeo and Juliet,” Hawkins has already booked a role in 2017’s “Kong: Skull Island,” but notes that working with a cast of fellow newcomers here produced a special alchemy.
“All five of us, we established a brotherhood early on, and I really feel like the stars aligned on this one,” he said. “It’s rare in this art to be able to get a bunch of unknown actors all on the same page, making a movie about a bunch of larger than life personalities, and ground it all in truth. And that all had to do with F. Gary Gray.”
(Pictured: Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown Jr, Aldis Hodge and O’Shea Jackson Jr. at the “Straight Outta Compton” premiere)