O'Shea Jackson Jr. Interview

O’Shea Jackson Jr. may not be guaranteed a long and successful career as a film actor, but there is certainly no shortage of motivating and inspiring factors in his life to get him there. Although he’s been acting for less than five years, he’s had a succession of fascinating roles in a short time, beginning with playing his father, the rapper Ice Cube, in the 2015 N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton. After key supporting parts in the dark comedy Ingrid Goes West (opposite Aubrey Plaza) and the brutal ensemble crime drama Den of Thieves, Jackson jumped at the chance to play Seth Rogen’s best friend Lance in Long Shot, a romantic-comedy set against the backdrop of politics, with Charlize Theron playing Charlotte Field, the current U.S. Secretary of State, who is on the verge of announcing her run at the presidency. Rogen plays journalist Fred Flarsky, who has known Charlotte since they were kids and she used to babysit for him. When she hires him to help her punch-up her speeches, the two begin to have all the feels for each other.

But Jackson’s May is just beginning. He also co-stars as the head of the secret, kaiju-fighting branch of the military in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, due May 31. And he just wrapped work on the drama Just Mercy, the latest from Short Term 12 writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton; the film co-stars Brie Larson, Michael B. Jordan, and Jamie Foxx. And it appears Jackson is gearing up to star opposite LeBron James in Space Jam 2 (working from a new script by Black Panther‘s Ryan Coogler and Searching‘s Sev Ohaniandue), for release in 2021.

/Film spoke with Jackson in Chicago recently to discuss the importance of not being pigeonholed as an actor, what he learned from working with Rogen and Theron, and just how many monsters he has scenes with in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Long Shot opens nationwide on Friday, May 3.

The funniest thing about the Q&A last night is that when we threw it to the audience, almost none of the questions were about the movie; they were all about finding out more about you. You’re still new enough to the scene that people are trying to figure you out.

O’Shea: I love it!

How did you get involved in this film? Was it as simple as your agent getting a script?

O’Shea: They told me it was a Seth Rogen-Charlize Theron comedy, and I said “I’m down. Let’s do it.” And they were like “Well, no. You haven’t got the part yet.” So I had to go through the audition process. I had my sides, learned him, got them down pat, and they brought me in. I didn’t know I was going to be reading with Seth, so he comes in with his dog. Shout out to Zelda, because I feel Zelda help me get the part. He walked me into the room and asked if I needed a copy of the script, and I said, “No, man. I’m trying to impress you. I’m trying to get this role. I have it memorized already. Let’s just go.” And I knocked it out, but I was sitting there biting my nails for about a week, and then your agent lets you know you nailed it.

I’m sure you’re auditioned a few times. Are you good at it? Or is it terrifying every time?

O’Shea: No, it’s so bad. If you get pages that you feel attached to and passionate about, it comes easy. But some of these scripts have long monologues with words you don’t normally use; it can be a little intimidating but it’s fun. And you can kind of tell when you killed it and did alright. Even if you do your best, you have to take in that fact that you won’t get it because you don’t fit the director or creator’s visual. There have been parts where I’m too tall. Recently I didn’t get a part because I was too young. I thought tall and young is what they wanted, but it’s not working for me [laughs]. But it’s a process that I can’t wait until I’m big enough not to do anymore.

Or you’re big enough that you coming in might change what their vision is.

O’Shea: Yeah, when they have to have you because you were so good.

Were you at all hesitant that this is a film set against the backdrop of politics, because politics is such a volatile thing right now?

O’Shea: Not so much, especially since it was a comedy. Those who are smart with comedy use it to get real topics across in a light manner. They use it to plant a seed in people’s minds. I’m not trying to overbearing, but this is something worth thinking about. That’s the goal, to get you to think. That’s what Long Shot is. And people will find to complain about the sky if they want to. That’s just the world we live in today. You never want to make a movie for half the country; that doesn’t make sense. Michael Jordan said, “Republicans buy shoes too.” We made something for everybody to enjoy. I wasn’t fearful at all because the team I’m with is all about balance. Plus, we’re actors—we play pretend for money. Let’s calm it down a little bit.

When you saw the script for the first time, what about Lance grabbed you and made you think you could do something with this guy?

O’Shea: He’s a super-rich, little psychotic best friend. I’m all about my friend Fred reaching the top. He’s going to be better than he thinks he is, whether he likes it or not. I love his energy. It’s all about “We’re going to do this, accomplish this, climb this mountain.” Everybody should have somebody like that in their corner. He’s the ultimate best friend.

My first thought after seeing the film was that we all need a Lance in our lives. I figured at some point we’d get a scene or line where we find out they’ve been friends since they were 10 or high school or college, but there isn’t. All we need to know about them is in your first scene together where you close you multimillion-dollar company for the day because your friend needs you. Was there ever a consideration for their backstory?

O’Shea: Yeah, there are a couple of deleted scenes. I know there’s a scene where we talk a little bit about their past, talking about their freshman year of college, when Fred used to help Lance with extracurricular activities [laughs]. They used to partake in some smoke in between classes every now and then, and they just developed this friendships. And even though their lives took two different paths, they always made sure they met each other in the middle.

What was a bigger deal to you: being in a movie with Seth and Charlize or being in a movie with Boyz II Men?

O’Shea: It’s for sure Charlize. I would have definitely met Boyz II Men some other way, though music, and Seth was always on the acting bucket list, but I could never expect to be cool with Charlize and get to be in such a fun film with her. Maybe I thought it might have been something dramatic and heavy, maybe an Oscar-buzz movie, but this was fun and I got to see her in a different light. She’s super chill, and me and her need to work together again—all of us need that reunion.

A lot of what you’ve done so seems to indicate you want to switch it up from role to role and not do a different version of the same guy in every film. This is your first straight-up comedy. Is it important to you to not be pigeonholed?

O’Shea: It’s very important to me. I want a piece of all of it and show everybody that I take my craft seriously, and when they think I’m not, I’m working on it. I’m looking for things to make me better. You shouldn’t go down just one avenue. I’m trying to drive this car all over the place; I want some road trips. It’s important to show versatility and range, because these producers are trusting you with multi-million-dollar films, and you’ve got to show that you’re worth that check. I’m showing them that I’m worth more than I’ve been getting [laughs].

Even just your two films this year, that’s a range in itself. And you mentioned you had this Destin Cretton film coming out next year.

O’Shea: Yeah, I play Anthony Ray Hinton, who was wrongfully accused of a murder in Montgomery, Alabama, and he spent 30 years of his life in prison; he lost his mother and other family members while in prison. It was a case of mistaken identity, and he was framed for the murder. The gun that they had in the court case didn’t match the bullets they found at the scene, and forensics just never checked it. They knew 14 years in, when ballistic specialists came in and found out the bullets didn’t match the gun, and all that any judge in Alabama had to do was look at the filing that the three ballistic experts had. And they wouldn’t, so he had to stay in jail another 16 years. He has a small role in Just Mercy, but I made sure that I did him justice. He’s out now, enjoying freedom.

Talk about Jonathan Levine a bit—his films all have so much heart and do tend to focus on friendships. Compared to other directors you’re worked with, how does he compare in terms of collaboration?

O’Shea: He’s super approachable. He’s so good at pulling at your heartstrings in a comedy. Like I said earlier, it’s about taking real-life situations and speaking on them in a lighthearted manner. All of his movies, they are about some heavy topics, but he finds the gold and the light in them. And with this rom-com, it doesn’t feel cheesy at any point. You feel like Charlize and Seth are in a bubble away from the world when they’re around each other, and he’s able to show that balance of their outside lives. On Fred’s side, you have my character telling him “Go for it. You’ve go to be with this woman,” and on the other side, June Diane Raphael plays the female version of me, and she’s not for it. She’s all about Charlotte staying far away from Fred, and even then, we’re counteracting each other, and we’re rarely on screen together, and that’s all credit to Jonathan.

It sometimes feels like he’s being tempted to make the movie about you and Seth.

O’Shea: That would be wild.

And you mentioned that they did some reshoots, but it was really about doing additional scenes with you.

O’Shea: Man, when you hear the words “additional scenes,” that’s a good thing. Seth and Charlize can tell you how funny you are, but you never know until you know, and “additional” helps you know. It makes you realize you must be doing something right, and it was Charlize saying “We need more Lance.” And I was like “I’m going to let them have it.” So we shot my office scene, the SUV scene, those are huge moments that you need in the film.

Tell me about who you play in Godzilla, and do you get some good monster time?

O’Shea: Oh yeah! I am up close and personal with every single one of them. There were some hectic days on set. I play Chief Warrant Officer Barnes, the senior officer of G Team. I take my orders from a colonel played by Aisha Hinds. We are the grunts, we work down there. We work for a separate branch of government that might be under wraps; we fight the things that go bump in the night, and they are huge. I get screen time with Ghidorah, with Mothra, me and Rodan have the most back and forth, and of course, I’m just sitting around praying for Godzilla to come around [laughs].

Have you seen any of it yet?

O’Shea: I’ve seen it twice. It’s so good. As a nerd, I love when Hollywood gives the keys to another nerd, to somebody who gets it, and [director/co-writer] Mike Dougherty used to draw Godzilla in his bible as a kid. That’s somebody who’s passionate. He did such a good job; I text him every day to let him know: “I know you’re not ready for the 31st, right?” [laughs] I’m proud of him and so happy for him.

Great to see you again. Best of luck with this and everything.

O’Shea: Thanks, man.

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