Corey Hawkins has one simple ambition: He wants to do his best. In his breakout role, playing the iconic Dr. Dre in “Straight Outta Compton,” the young thespian has done just that.
You are no doubt familiar with the term “it factor” and how it relates to performers who possess that mystery ingredient in abundance, the sure ticket to claim their “star” status.
Sure, Hollywood is calling and Hawkins is answering. In fact, Variety just announced that he will be re-teaming with Legendary Pictures on its “Kong: Skull Island.” Hawkins will also be joining AMC’s “The Walking Dead” as a “thinking character.”
That’s how fast it moves when you’re stamped with the “it factor.”
Hawkins is more than a Hollywood field soldier. How do I know? Call it a gut feeling that’s based on watching many “unknowns” rise and smash stereotypes and gain legend status.
I first heard about this “young stallion, this new prince of the bard,” while Hawkins was playing Tybalt in “Romeo and Juliet,” opposite Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad.
His stunning performance as Dre crackles with truth. It’s one of the reasons that “Straight Outta Compton” is going to rack up awards, along with global box office receipts.
Here I stand with a writer’s dilemma. I could opt to use flowery language to describe Hawkins’ performance, bouncing around words discovered in a frantic thesaurus search. Rather, I will just state that Hawkins “put both feet in it!”
The rumble you heard across the night sky, that was Hawkins walking and talking and spinning like Dr. Dre. Because Hawkins is a graduate of the Juilliard School’s drama program and the recipient of the John Houseman Prize, which is granted to one Juilliard student who has demonstrated exceptional ability in classical theater, this performance isn’t a surprise.
Fun fact: Hawkins and I are now neighbors and he “loves Harlem.”
Here is an excerpt from my conversation with him.
AmNews: The moment you appeared on the screen, the first thought that blazed across my mind was “what a wonderfully controlled instrument.”
Hawkins: Wow! That’s a huge compliment. In terms of the craft, that’s something that we focused on first and foremost with this movie—the craft—and that’s with everybody. Especially playing Dre.
Dre is a reserved guy. He plays chess. He’s always a few moves ahead of everybody, and I tried to find a way to internalize and manifest that … it was about pulling back and knowing when to let go. At first I was nervous, not about the movie, but if I could do the part justice. In fact, when my agent first set the audition, I did not show up.
Then I met with the director [F. Gary Gray], and we just talked about the impact that it would make. How it would inspire people to see, to know the beginnings of Dr. Dre. Then I got to meet him. I got to sit down and go to dinner with Dre.
Dinner with the “doctor?” Charmed life. Details, please.
I remember having my audition tape on his iPhone. I looked around and I thought, “This can’t be real.” We didn’t talk about the movie during that first dinner. We were just kicking back. That night he said, “You’re the guy for the job. You have the training. Don’t worry about impersonating me. Just focus on the repping what we stood for … I will be there every single day. Here’s my number. Call me.” He lived up to that promise.
A person should live up their word. Nice to hear that part of the story.
After that, anytime I needed him on set, I could call him at 4 a.m. in the morning, and he would answer. He would answer the phone at the studio, of course, because he’s still working.
Did you get any pearls of wisdom from anyone that really stuck with you?
Wow! That’s a really great question. I sat down with his wife and we talked carte blanche. Dre said “Nicole … anything … be honest.” She’s the woman in his life. She was honest about everything going on during the Death Row days and the kind of man that it took to drop all of that for a family, for your woman.
Where is home now?