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Universal’s N.W.A. Biopic Finds Its Dr. Dre and Eazy-E

Universal's N.W.A. Biopic Finds Its Dr. Dre and Eazy-E

An unconfirmed Billboard magazine report published this morning, states that, joining Ice Cube’s son, O’Shea Jackson Jr. (who will play Cube) will be 2 relatively-unknown actors in Marcus Callender (who will play Dr. Dre) and Jason Mitchell (Eazy-E), in Universal’s NWA biopic, “Straight Outta Compton,” which will be directed by F. Gary Gray.

I should note that Universal hasn’t officially acknowledged any of the film’s casting – even last week’s news that Cube’s son had been cast to play him in the film.

You’ll recall about a year ago, when director Gray insisted on casting *unknowns* for each starring role – a move I applauded – especially given what is expected to be a relatively slim budget (by Hollywood standards). There have even been multiple open casting calls, primarily on the west coast, over the last year or so – most recently, in March, in Los Angeles. F. Gary Gray told Rolling Stone in a March interview that what he was looking for that “certain thing that a person from the hood has,” adding that, “there are times where a thespian can get there and give it to you, sometimes they can’t, and street credibility it’s just that thing. When you watch American Idol and they have that ‘It Factor’ – there’s a ‘Hood Factor.’ You get the authenticity when you’re in an environment likes this, and you have an open call, and I’ve been seeing that, and I’m pretty happy with it.” 

Both Callender and Mitchell have IMDB pages, although, unlike Callender, in Mitchell’s case, there are several Jason Mitchells listed on IMDB, so I can’t say with certainty which one is THIS Jason Mitchell. 

Research tells me that Callender is a professionally-trained actor, who studied the craft at State University of New York at Purchase, and is a grad of The Public Theater’s Shakespeare Lab (a professional actor development program that immerses a carefully selected company of professional, mid-career actors in a summer intensive, performing Shakespeare). He also has some screen credits – although it’s a very short list with just 4 projects listed (all in 2013), primarily bit parts in TV series.

As for Mitchell, as I said, until I’m certain of which Jason Mitchell he is on IMDB (given that there are several), I can’t say anything about his past work.

Although, assuming Billboard’s report is accurate, I’m sure we’ll know a lot more about both actors eventually, and pictures will surface. 

You’ll recall that both Eazy-E’s son and daughter previously claimed that they were either in the running, or would be the best fits to play their father in the movie; The son said that there was a “high probability” that he’d play the part; the daughter just wanted her shot. She even created an audition video, demonstrating her chameleon skills, which you can watch here.

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Cube had a few things to say about the upcoming project: “We’re getting the script tight and we’re starting to cast. Hopefully we’ll start shooting in April. We’ve had a few different writers; we’re still working that out. We’re going for a dramatic story that encompasses hip-hop, dope-dealing, Reaganomics, Aids, LAPD, rap feuds, FBI, PMRC, the Parental Advisory stickers on the records … all of it.”

He also said that none of the real members of NWA will be in the film; not even in cameos apparently.
In April this year, it was revealed that Michael B. Jordan was at the top of the list of actors producers of the film were considering for roles in the biopic. But the currently in-demand Jordan wasn’t available. Group member Dr Dre reportedly wanted Jordan to play him in the film, which, frankly, I can’t immediately picture. 
“After Michael B. Jordan, the list of black actors with big names in that age group falls off a cliff,” an insider said in April. “The casting situation is kind of a mess right now. And now you have Ice Cube tinkering with dialogue.”
In addition, it was reported that some footage has already been shot (not actual footage from the film – more like a promo for the group), but done in order to qualify for California’s expiring film tax credit, and which was to be used in a presentation to Universal Pictures, the studio backing the project.
Originally set up at New Line, Universal picked up the sub-$25 million project in turnaround, with F. Gary Gray still attached to direct. John Singleton was, at one time, interested in the job.

Also worth noting, Eazy-E’s widow, Tomica Woods, who inherited his share of NWA song rights, is also involved, as a producer. 

The upcoming film was set to begin shooting this summer for a release next year, according to producers; but given that it’s still being cast, I’d expect shoot dates to be pushed back. Unless further announcements are just around the corner.

Will Packer and Cube Vision’s Matt Alvarez are also producing.

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