Long Shot’s O’Shea Jackson Jr. is Ready to Shine
With legendary rapper Ice Cube as his father, O’Shea Jackson, Jr. is no stranger to the world of movies, as he often visited the sets where his dad shot his many films as a child. He’s also no stranger to living in the shadow of his famous father, something that was heightened when he made his big-screen debut playing – who else - his pops in Straight Outta’ Compton. Rather than feeling daunted over making a name for himself, Jackson has embraced the challenge of blazing his own trail. Passionate about film, he studied screenwriting at University of Southern California and is intent on making a name for himself in front of, as well as behind, the camera. He’s taking a large step toward making this reality as he appears in two high profile films this month – the big budget extravaganza Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and the timely rom-com Long Shot, in which he plays the best friend to Seth Rogen’s beleaguered speech writer Fred Flarsky.
On a recent stop in Chicago, I was able to sit down and have a wide-ranging conversation with Jackson that touched on these two films and his co-stars, as well as politics, his plans for the future, his artistic influences and a shout out to his dog. Open and enthusiastic, the young man was brimming with ideas and seems eager to conquer the movie world.
I asked him what he learned from being on the sets of his father’s numerous films. “Everybody has a job to do,” he said simply. “A movie set is like a nice watch. As an actor, you’re the face of the watch, but the gears and everything that has to go into making a film, everybody has to be focused on their job. The sound guy, lights, grips, they’re all focused on what they have to do in making sure they’re at the top of their level. So, make sure you as an actor, that’s all you’re focused on. Don’t worry that you’ve got a bunch of faces watching you. Don’t worry about the several people in one room. Just focus and realize that as one group you try to make the best project possible. And in the end, you got a nice watch!”
While one would think that Jackson would have wanted to enter into the music business, his first love is film. “I just love the art of storytelling,” he said. “I love the fuel to someone’s fire that the arts can be. Movies and films, they can motivate you to new heights and I love the idea of being the person to create a world, not so much playing in it. Being able to create a world and what it can do for people that you might not ever get to meet, it’s a powerful thing. The acting thing, I’m kinda’ making that work, but I’m a writer at heart.”
He’s certainly making the acting thing work in Long Shot. He has a key part that may not have much screen time but one in which Jackson makes the most of, as he steals every scene he’s in. I asked about working with Rogen and their on-screen chemistry.
“I’ve always been a fan of his work and all of his films so it was an acting bucket list, you know, just one of those things to check off,” he recounted. “And he’s a super cool guy, super chill, made me feel welcome, made me feel a part of the family and he’s got a great, wide range of musical knowledge. He’s a super smart dude and his dog is named Zelda. So obviously, he’s a trustworthy guy!”
And while Rogen gets the lion’s share of the film’s laughs, he can’t hold a candle to the movie’s other star, Charlize Theron, an actress with incredible presence. Jackson was well aware of this before meeting her. “I was for sure nervous to meet Charlize,” he says. “She’s like Hollywood royalty and you’ve got to be on your toes a little bit. But she was so chill. First day of work, she came in and sat next to me at catering, eating lunch, just making me feel welcome. Her and Seth are producers on the film, so they just made me feel a part of the team. They wanted me to shine. They said, ‘We picked you for a reason.’ I didn’t shy away from that and this early in my career, it’s important to get those moments, so I’m thankful to the both of them. They definitely should hire me again, I can say that!” he said, laughing.
On its surface, Long Shot is a comedy, but at its core the film is an examination of the sacrifices those who enter into this public arena have to make in order to survive. It’s a world of extreme scrutiny in which politicians find they can’t be their true selves if they want to survive, something Theron’s character, presidential candidate Charlotte Field has to contend with as soon as she announces her candidacy. I asked Jackson about the movie’s approach to these issues.
“The world that we’re in is a super political one,” he says, “and our director Jonathan Levine, does a great job of balancing the key points that he wants to get across with the light-hearted comedy. Being yourself is what I think is the underlying meaning or what the message is. Seth’s character has to find the confidence in himself and build on his own self-esteem to even be able to speak to Charlotte. Charlotte has to be herself in her strong, capable way as a character to become the president. It speaks to having self-confidence and self-awareness.”
And while Theron is a big star in her own right, Jackson’s next movie revolves around one of gigantic proportions, Godzilla. “Definitely the biggest film I’ve ever been on,” he said with a laugh when I pointed out this was a bit different from Long Shot. “They’re really blowing stuff up at work! It’s really crazy. We worked 18 hour days and we filmed it in Atlanta. I had a lot of physical challenges with this one but director Mike Dougherty made the perfect monster movie. It’s monster Pay-Per-View and I can’t wait!”
Brimming with enthusiasm and optimism, Jackson has grand plans for himself but is intent on helping others along the way. “In film, there are so many people with talent that just don’t get the door opened for them. Something that comes easy to us, we might not even pay attention to, but that might be what you’re good at so I want to get to the point where I can give opportunities to others. As far as acting, I just want to get to the point where I don’t have to audition anymore,” he says with a laugh.