NWA Biopic Casts Its Dr. Dre, Eazy-E
UPDATED: Two relative unknowns are set to tackle the roles in the long-gestating Universal project.
After more than five years, four writers and a tough-to-please trio that holds cast and script veto power, Universal's N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton is finally getting the green light.
Sources say the studio has assembled its leading threesome to tackle the roles of Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and the late Eazy-E. The three parties with approval—Cube, Dre and Eazy-E's widow Tomica Wright—have signed off on the actors who will play the core members of the seminal rap group.
It's no secret that Cube has been lobbying for his son, O'Shea Jackson Jr., 23, to be cast as the teen version of his father, and it appears he got his wish.
Less known is the classically trained actor who is said to have won the role of Dre, Marcus Callender. Although the alum of New York's Shakespeare Lab at the Public Theater might be more familiar with Chekhov than Compton's gang-plagued streets, he beat out a phalanx of would-be rappers (the Beats co-founder originally wanted Michael B. Jordan to play him, but the actor is about to take on a Fantastic Four reboot at Fox). Still, Callender has some screen credits, including the pilot for Steve Zaillian's Criminal Justice on HBO, as well as bit parts in the CBS series Blue Bloods and Elementary.
Even more obscure is Jason Mitchell, who insiders say landed the film's lead role of Eazy-E after an out-of-the-park screen test. The New Orleans-based actor, who is repped by Talent Connexion, has played small roles in Broken City and Contraband. (Ironically, IMDB.com already lists two actors that are not correct: Donat Sean Abiff as Dre and Brian Gilbert as Cube.)
The casting of the film has been followed breathlessly for some time, ever since the studio first announced plans to bring the gangsta rap pioneers to the big screen. Despite scripts by Alan Wenkus, S. Leigh Savidge and Andrea Berloff, the project languished for years. But in 2012, F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job) became attached to the project, reviving its prospects. And in late 2013, Jonathan Herman did a major script overhaul, which got the studio excited. Then, in the spring, Universal shot a sequence in Los Angeles in order to qualify for California's film tax credit, which is set to expire. With the film technically underway, Universal had to find its cast. Sources say Wright was the final holdout, but she has finally given her stamp of approval, paving the way for principal photography to begin in less than two months.
This article originally appeared in the June 21 issue of Billboard.