Jason Mitchell’s portrayal of the late and controversial Eazy-E is going to stampede over details about the actor, Mitchell. That thunderous onslaught of compliments are well deserved and might be surprising to some, because the actor is relatively new to the game.
In 2010, the New Orleans’ resident and father of two young daughters, aged 1 and 3, enrolled in a local acting class because he “wanted to meet new people.”
His role in “Straight Outta Compton” is pivotal.
No haters will dispute that Eazy-E put West Coast gangsta rap on the map with N.W.A.’s explosive and controversial album “Straight Outta Compton.” Before stepping to the recording booth, he was selling drugs, and it was clear that he was not a natural-born lyricist. To get the sound that would become legend, Eazy-E took cues from Ice Cube and Dr. Dre and jumped from the streets to fame and now, to the status of legend.
Like most interesting stories, it’s a complicated rise and fall. His burgeoning career was abruptly cut short when the rapper died in 1995, just weeks after he was diagnosed with AIDS.
Fast-forward and pause, it’s 2015 and Eazy’s legacy is much bigger than his tragic death, and that’s what Mitchell has helped become a reality.
“Hello, hello, hello” is how our conversation began. Mitchell’s voice is smooth and tinged with the sounds of an urban landscape. His laugh is deep and strong. In less than three seconds, I know that I like Mitchell.
“I really just started acting because I needed new friends,” shared Mitchell. “You know me and Eazy-E’s life runs so parallel. I grew up in New Orleans and a lot of my friends were getting caught up, as was I—we all made mistakes. I just didn’t want that for myself. I know I didn’t go to college, and I didn’t feel regular. I felt like an alien in the situation. I needed some type of stress release.”
A great chess move in the game called life. It was Mitchell’s self-made audition tape that earned him the role. A lifelong passion project for director F. Gary Gray, his attention to the casting is what makes this film head-and-shoulders above the fray.
“I was nervous to be honest—keeping it real with you,” added Mitchell. “There wasn’t a moment when I wasn’t nervous. There were always butterflies in my stomach. If it wasn’t for the director making me feel so safe, I could not have done what I did. I felt like I had to hit the mark … There is a fine line between making a classic and making a parody with Jheri-curl wigs.”
Dr. Dre has spoken openly about the impact of watching the N.W.A. story come to life after such a long and sullied struggle to get the story done correctly. Some of the more touching accounts that Dre shared were the moments when his own emotions centered around Eazy-E and his death.
“There were a couple of times where I got emotional on set,” said Dre. “When he’s in the hospital and he finds out he has the disease [AIDS], his [Jason Mitchell’s] acting was so great. Goosebumps, man.”
“You have to rebuild the mindset of people who only know him for messing over the group and then dying of AIDS,” Mitchell said. “He was so much more than that. And it was important for me to hit every little mark … I wanted people to really, really understand why.”