If his films represent his ideology, prolific director F. Gary Gray loves rapid action,
vulnerability, and laughter mixed with tears. His film “voice” shows us that he loves raw
humanity. He has directed and produced many unforgettable films such as the 1990’s
classic “Friday,” as well as “Set It Off,” and “The Italian Job.” However, next Friday, August 14th, the world
will be able to see his most epic film to date.
“Straight Outta Compton” is a true-to-life story about NWA; one of America’s most popular
rap groups from the 1980s. The film is unapologetic, and one of its central themes,
“Police brutality,” can be related to news headlines of today, many decades later. I spoke to Gray about “Straight Outta Compton’s” production and
casting process, his vision for the film, and its historical importance.
Shadow and Act: The film connected directly to the current state of cop crimes
and black people. However, this story took place in the 1990’s. Its now 2015, more
than 25 years later. However, we have the same national rhetoric. What are your
thoughts on that?
F. GARY GRAY: You know, I wish I could say that this is a period piece and back in the
day when cops over stepped their boundaries, and that now there is this change and
more. But things have not really changed. But I am optimistic. These guys of NWA were
courageous in shining a light on the problem before pre internet, recording incidents.
Now that a lot of these cop related matters are in the headlines, you can’t help but to
know that change is coming. Change has to come. Its got to put a lot of pressure on our
law enforcement to get it together, and a lot of pressure on our leaders.
Shadow and Act: I went to see the film and I did not know what to expect. I
assumed that it would be a music biopic, and that’s it. What I walked away from
was something more focused on a person’s dreams and civil rights. I did not
expect that at all.
F. GARY GRAY: I take that as a compliment. Thank you. This film is so much bigger
than the group. Their message is so much bigger than the music.
Shadow and Act: When did you start shooting the film?
F. GARY GRAY: I’ve been involved with this film for four years.We started shooting last
year, and we just finished shooting it a few weeks ago.
Shadow and Act: Did it all take place in Los Angeles?
F. GARY GRAY: Yes, we shot it in Compton, and South Central LA. We used the
realities to serve the reality of the story.
Shadow and Act: Tell us about the casting process. Many are not familiar with
any of the leads. I saw that Ice Cube’s son was cast as a lead, however, if I am
honest, I did not expect performance with depth. After screening the film, I am
deeply moved and impressed.
F. GARY GRAY: It was crazy. It took us years to find these guys. I always say were
scoured half of the planet in search for these guys. Cindy Tolan really stepped up and
helped out. It was a long process. And I want to dispel any rumors about Ice Cube’s
son. He ‘s worked hardest to get his role. We had to carry a movie, and so after the
novelty of saying “It’s Ice Cube’s son” wore off now he had to actually perform. And
no one wants to jeopardize a film due to any kind of nepotism. That would be really
Shadow and Act: I have to admit, I did Google the lead actor’s performance
backgrounds after screening the film. I was blown away. All three leads gave it all,
and I am grateful for their commitment to their part in serving the story.
F. GARY GRAY: I love these guys. They all come from different backgrounds. They
went through boot camp. I had them record the album together they needed to
become. DJ school. They went through it all.
Shadow and Act: How did you make the connection with your cinematographer
F. GARY GRAY: Yes, he’s the DP from Black Swan, Iron Man, Inside Man. He’s just a
great DP. He’s one of the best. And so when we reached out he was really excited
about doing the NWA story because he is a huge fan. He’s a huge hip hop fan. We
couldn’t afford him, because he’s used to doing these huge big tent pole movies and he
just expressed his passion for the film. He said that he had time to shoot it.
Shadow and Act: The film has an amazing blend of humanity and action. What
inspired you to tell the story that way?
F. GARY GRAY: You have to enjoy yourself when you go to the movies. People don’t
want to spend their hard earned money to simply go see a history lesson. So I tried to
stay as true to the story as possible, and make it a fun ride. So, adding humor and other
elements that get your heart jumping will separate this film from your typical biopic.
Shadow and Act: There were parts of the film where I was angry, and crying
and yet there were moments where I laughed, and even felt deep compassion for
F. GARY GRAY: Good, that’s what I wanted.
Shadow and Act: Can you tell us about your connection to hip hop before your
involvement with this project?
F. GARY GRAY: Hip hop has been an integral part of my life and my whole career. I
started off doing videos with Ice Cube, and Dre, and Mary J. Blige, and TLC. So I’ve
been involved in hip hop since the beginning. My very film was ‘Friday” which people
consider a hip hop film. As well as set it off.
Shadow and Act: If one simply listens to the lyrics of a NWA album, they wouldn’t
receive fully everything that the film can give them. The film adds in many
complex human elements.What would you say the historic significance would be
for the group?
F. GARY GRAY: I wanted to set out to just tell the truth with this story. And because the
story is so dynamic, you are going to touch on a lot of factors. Like how relevant the
NWA story is to American history. I was aware of that when I took on this project. For
sure. I said that this project is a snapshot of American popular culture, and 100 years
from now when people see this film, and wonder what was going on in America during
the 80s and 90s; they will then see this film, and know. This film is a special story. We
had to go into dangerous storylines, to pull out what motivated these guys. I think it’s
universally inspiring to see them starting in a garage in this extremely dangerous
environment and work their way out of it and become family men, and successful
entrepreneurs. And so when you zoom in to this story and not just focus on the lyrics, or
things that you disagree with but look at their courage of standing up against their
environments, the record company, dealing with life issues and more and fighting
Shadow and Act: Okay, I want talk about the female roles in the film. There were
no female leads; only supporting characters. And there was no mention of any
prior major incidents with women that that is public knowledge.
F. GARY GRAY: The original film was 3 hours and 30 mins long. It actually included
more of the entire story that included women. And the relationships are really fleshed
out. We did not forget, because it’s part of the entire story. However, we could not fit it
all into a 2 hour movie. We had to weigh out what we were going to be criticized on.
Shadow and Act: Any last words to our readers about your film?
F. GARY GRAY: Everyone that goes to see this movie will be surprised. You will be
educated and entertained.
“Straight Outta Compton” opens nationwide this Friday, August 14, 2015.