[Exclusive] I caught up with actor Marlon Yates Jr. to talk about his upcoming role in one of my most anticipated movies of the year – Straight Outta Compton. He plays The DOC, who was an integral part of NWA’s rise to success and Yates teased some major moments that occur in the film dealing with his character and more. The movie hits theatres August 14th. Don’t miss it.
Straight Outta Compton is the true story of how the most notorious and in my opinion the most important rap group in the history of music rose to fame. You may remember the song ‘Fuck The Police’ – but there was much more to that group because it also spawned the iconic and legendary careers of rappers Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, DJ Yella and MC Ren. Yates portrays The DOC, who was a ghost writer for NWA (Niggaz Wit Attitudes) during the early days and an integral part of their success – later going on to pursue a successful solo career in his own right.
My favorite part of our interview was when Yates opened up about his visit to Dr. Dre’s studio where the legend played him some music from the upcoming soundtrack and asked for his input. Yates is fresh in this game, with Straight Outta Compton being his first film. I let him know after our interview was finished how much NWA impacted me as a kid and just how global their messages were considering I grew up in a small Canadian town but it still left an impression on me. I can’t wait for this film – and neither can Yates, who I hope goes on to have an amazing career as an actor.
Keven: Straight Outta Compton is one of my most anticipated movies of the year and I feel like I’ve been waiting to see this story on film since I was a kid. How does it feel to be part of such an important piece of history?
Marlon: It was a dream come true. I didn’t grow up on NWA but I knew who they were obviously. I had the opportunity to work with Paul Giamatti, Dr. Dre, Cube, F Gary Gray (great director), Matt Libatique (a great director of photography) – it was a great cast and honestly it was my first movie.
Keven: Was it intimidating to have Cube and Dre on set all the time watching you be a part of this project which is based on their life story?
Marlon: The first day was intimidating but after the third day – every morning I would walk up to video village which is where everybody like Cube, Dre and the director would sit and I’d just come up to them and share stories, laugh, shake hands so it became comfortable… It was still kinda nerve-racking making sure we were on point with certain situations. Dre and I had a personal conversation about the DOC and his speech impediment because he had his vocal cords collapse and they show that in the film as well… And I had to practice the voice with Dr. Dre off to the side before we shot the scenes.
Keven: I was gonna ask you if they show the car crash in the film which is how The DOC winds up with the vocal change – so they do cover that as well?
Marlon: Yeah, yeah – I’m not sure if I should be sayin that but they do show it.
Keven: Well – it’s a biopic so I wouldn’t consider that a spoiler because any fans of NWA or the DOC are aware of his accident and I think it’s important that they explore that element of him in the film. The DOC himself showed up a few times to visit the set – did you interact with him at all?
Marlon: He showed up a couple times and we talked. One time he and I were sitting together talking and the director came up to us and he asked The DOC if he liked what he saw and he was like, “yeah yeah” but then the director said “we’re gonna have to take him out of a couple scenes because he’s a little too handsome in certain scenes because he’s taking the shine away from what’s really happening in that moment”. The DOC was like “Hey, that’s how it was like back in the day anyway, man – That’s the reality and we gotta keep it real baby.” It was funny man – just crazy.
Keven: I’m happy that they decided to integrate the DOC into this story since he really was such an integral piece of NWA’s history. I heard they can’t use any of his music however since they couldn’t obtain the rights, was he bothered at all by any of that?
Marlon: We didn’t really get into that but I got the info from a producer who told me that they had to do a whole bunch of re-writes because they couldn’t get the rights to the music. When they called me initially when I got the part they told me to look up his songs and I was like “are you kiddin me, I gotta learn all these songs?” So I’m sitting in front of the computer and runnin around the house listening to ‘The Formula’ for about four hours straight.
Keven: I don’t know if this has been brought up before but Ice Cube’s son O’Shea looks EXACTLY like Cube did at that age to the point where it freaks me out. What was it like seeing the two of them interacting together on set?
Marlon: It was crazy cause you would see Cube come onto the set and then you’d see Shea come up to his father and then you’d see him give him a hug and kiss on the forehead… I couldn’t see what they were talking about but the fact that you got your son playin you – it’s crazy man. We were all sittin together in this 16-passenger bus going to the set one day and Cube was just telling us how they cast the film and how they all came from different walks of like, where his son grew up and what he could bring to it, where the kid who plays Eazy and where I grew up – we all come from different walks of life and that’s how the real NWA was in the first place.
Dre was really into the music. Cube wanted to do the music but he was playin football. Eazy was sellin crack. So that’s how they kinda came up with casting the joint having everyone from different walks of life too.
Keven: Having that many famous rap artists coming to visit the set, were there any weird moments that stand out to you?
Marlon: The original NWA was on stage and they took a photo together and it was the first time in 20 years that they’d all been together in one room. I guess back in the day they had some beefs with each other and A falling-out so the fact that they had the opportunity to come together and put this film together and be around each other, it was just… a moment. I was sittin back takin pictures with my phone like that’s kinda dope yo. They set all the bullshit aside.
Keven: It seems like the same kinds of social issues that the NWA were a part of back at the height of their career in LA, are just as predominant today with the events of Ferguson – how important is it for you to be a part of this film since it’s even more relevant in the wake of everything that’s still happening two decades later?
Marlon: I think it’s extremely important. The timing is just unbelievable considering… I mean they portray the LA riots in the film as well. With everything goin on in Ferguson and Baltimore and all that madness…. Just the fact that police brutality is still happening 20-30 years later and it’s still impacting the world where riots are happening, it shows us that shit really doesn’t change. We think it changes but time just passes. I think it’s great for up and coming rap artists as well because NWA – they spoke truth. Nowadays these rap artists live behind a mask and they’re putting out images that they’re really not. I think that when they see this film and how powerful music can really be when you speak truth, it’ll be great.
Keven: There was a drive-by shooting in the area where you guys were filming but it turned out that it wasn’t as close as the press initially made it out to be was it? What really went down there?
Marlon: The shooting happened maybe nine blocks away. You could hear the gunshots but it wasn’t like they came by and sprayed the whole set up and everybody had to duck and run for cover but you know, its great hype I’ll tell you that. I should run with it and lie and tell everybody yeah we had to hide and drop the cameras. (laughing).
Keven: Yeah cause I wasn’t sure if it was related in any way to the film if someone had a problem with the content that was being filmed or something like that.
Marlon: Nah it was definitely unrelated, I just think we were in the wrong neighbourhood at the wrong time.
Keven: You grew up a Dr Dre fan so that must have been an epic moment for you as a fan interacting with him offset, but he seems like such a reserved and focused person in interviews and everything – what was it like hanging out with an icon?
Marlon: He was cool it — was just like talkin to my boy, shootin the shit, talkin about Compton, about where I come from. I had the opportunity to go to the studio to listen to the soundtrack with him. So I’m in there with Dre in the studio and he stops the music and goes, “hey, hey Marlon yo, what you think about that – is that shit hot?” I’m like “what!?! Nigga that shit’s crazy. (laughing). He just stopped the music, looked across the board and said “what you think about that” and at one point he played it again and he was lookin at me bobbin his head to the music makin that face like ooof and I’m lookin at him back like “yo this is ill man”… I was just in shock and awe to be a part of this moment.
This has got to be the dopest soundtrack of all time and I got to be a part of this film and the fact that I’m sittin here with Dre and he’s askin me what do I think about that verse… It was crazy dude and I forgot to take a picture dude. I’m in a studio with Dre, my phone dies, and I’m just thinkin I should be getting a pic with him on the board man, this would be ill. But at the same time I didn’t wanna act like a fan so I’m tryin to keep it cool. So I’m sittin there like I wanna record this but I don’t wanna be the guy who pulls out his phone and holds it up. He’d probably be like “don’t bring this fuckin guy back here”.
Keven: What did you learn the most that you didn’t know about NWA before signing up and what do you think fans will be surprised by the most when they check it out this summer?
Marlon: I learned that they were like rock stars at 18-19 years old. And black rock stars, gritty hip hop stars. I was sittin on set one day watching them perform ‘Fuck the Police’ and there were like 3200 extras out in the crowd and I’m looking out at the crowd and you got white people, black people, Latin, everybody from a different walk of life and they know the words verbatim. They knew every word and they were goin crazy, it was just like daaaaaamn. They made a huge impact on the world with their song ‘Fuck the Police’. Then there’s the whole controversy behind Eazy-E’s death like did he really get AIDS? Or did the government plant AIDS?