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It’s hard for Jason Mitchell to complain about anything at the moment.
He was in the surprise hit of the summer and is about to get on a plane to star in Hollywood’s next attempt to make a movie about King Kong.
But he’s the first to admit that it hasn’t always been like this.
Like the iconic rapper he plays in “Straight Outta Compton,” Eazy-E, Mitchell also had it rough in his youth.
“Growing up in New Orleans and just being in a poverty-stricken neighborhood gave me that same fire that Eazy had to separate himself from what could have ended up being such a bad situation,” Mitchell tells Business Insider.
Mitchell, 28, who was around gangs and drugs most of his life, points to the beginning of “Straight Outta Compton” – where Eazy-E shows up at a house in South Central Los Angeles to do a drug deal – as a moment he was all too familiar with.
The scene ends with Eazy escaping a police raid on the house. In many ways, the scene was a wake-up call for Mitchell’s character to change his life.
Mitchell had a more sobering wake-up call in real life.
“My best friend was killed,” Mitchell said. “I had lost friends, guys I went to high school with, but that was a shock to me. That was so close to me that I could see myself in that situation. I would never say I could see death around the corner, but it was definitely too close.”
That’s what got Mitchell into acting.
His first role was as a 7-Eleven cashier in the indie film, “Texas Killing Fields.” He followed that with blink-and-you’ll-miss-them roles in a few Mark Wahlberg movies (“Contraband,” “Broken City”). But when he got word that a movie about N.W.A was being cast and the producers wanted unknowns to play the rap group, he jumped at the chance.
Mitchell says what drew him to the role wasn’t just his rough past, his similar 5-foot frame to Eazy, or the fact that he looks strikingly similar to the rapper when wearing a jheri-curl wig.
It was the opportunity to be part of a biopic that could be remembered forever.
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“If you get it right, it’s the most grand thing you could ever do,” Mitchell said. “So many people let biopics slip through their fingers, but the opportunity to play Eazy-E could change my life.”
That’s exactly what happened.
“Straight Outta Compton” to date has grossed over $160 million in the US – its reported budget is $28 million. And Mitchell’s performance as Eazy-E has blown critics away.
Mitchell will next be seen in the comedy “Keanu,” starring Will Forte and Keegan-Michael Key, due out next year. And he’s about to begin filming the much-anticipated “Kong: Skull Island,” opposite Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, and Samuel L. Jackson.
But as Mitchell’s star rises, he’s trying to stay humble.
“I never ever thought I was going to be an actor, so to be where I am now and have these experiences, I have to take every moment for what it is,” he said.