In Cinemas August 28
"It was like a rap tsunami! I was on 126th St and Normandy in South Central Los Angeles and I remember thinking, 'Holy shit! These guys are talking about my life! It's honest. It's not politically correct. It's not serving polite society... I love it!'"
F Gary Gray is talking about the first time he heard NWA. The SCLA-born director, who has worked on videos by Ice Cube and Dr Dre, is currently enjoying a heap of positive press for his biopic of the band, Straight Outta Compton. The film charts NWA's meteoric rise from the streets of the crime capital to their groundbreaking success and beyond.
"Initially I was afraid of the idea of helming an NWA movie because I am such a huge fan and I know some members of the group," he says. "Then I started to think about growing up in Los Angeles, experiencing the things that they rapped about – and how much of an impact NWA had on my life." According to Gray the input of Ice Cube and Dr Dre was central to the project.
"Cube was on board from the start, but Dre was reluctant at first for the same reason I was, the fear of tarnishing the legacy," he notes. "But we hung out for two weeks in Italy and I received so much information – details even Ice Cube didn't really know because he left the group so early – that really, Dre was there from the inception. They both spent a lot of time on the set too."
The film's cast includes Ice Cube's son, O'Shea Jackson Jr, who does sterling work portraying his hip hop legend father, as well as newcomer Jason Mitchell, who shines as the troubled Eazy E.
"O'Shea Jr was amazing," Gray smiles. "Jason didn't have much experience but he was involved in street gangs in New Orleans and I think that really made his portrayal believable."
As ever, Paul Giamatti turns in an exemplary performance, on this occasion as the villainous record company man, Jerry Heller.
"Paul is so inspirational," states Gray. "When an actor makes you forget to say cut, because you are locked into his performance, you know that this guy is the best. He walked into a situation with a cast who didn't have a lot of experience and they just fell in love with him. He taught the others a lot. Working with him really elevated this project in a lot of ways."
The gang violence and police brutality of Compton influenced the musical output of the seminal troupe, but also shaped them as people. The treatment of the black community by US law enforcement agencies is sadly as relevant today as it was then.
"It is, but I am optimistic," contests Gray. "I know it probably sounds crazy in the midst of this media storm, but not unlike the way NWA shone the light on the issue in the '80s, all the current coverage will hopefully help shift the culture.
"If you are involved in law enforcement and you get a chance to see this movie it might help you make the right choices in future," he adds. "I really am optimistic that we can shift and change the culture."