One of the most talked about movies at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival was Rick Famuyiwa’s coming-of-age story Dope. The man behind movies such as Brown Sugar, Talk To Me, and The Wood weaves a talk about three 90s hip hop obsessed friends who live in Inglewood, CA and struggle to fit into their gang riddled confines. The reason why the film translated so well had a great deal to do with the magnetic lead performance by 19-year-old Shameik Moore, who plays Malcolm: the flattop wearing, Ivy League college aspiring, geek in a punk band protagonist who navigates situations that go from bad to worse and threaten to derail his plans to escape the hood and attend college. Also starring the likes of A$AP Rocky, Zoe Kravitz, Kimberly Elise, Blake Anderson, and Kiersey Clemons, Dope became the darling of the festival for good reason.
While Moore waits for the rest of the world to see Dope (Open Road purchased the film for $7 million and set a June 12 theatrical release date), he won’t remain still. The product from Atlanta will release his first “soundtrack” EP titled 30058 and give people a taste of his musical talent. Life+Times caught up with Moore to discuss the film, his aspirations, hanging out with A$AP Rocky and more.
Life+Times: Dope received heavy praise at Sundance but most of the world won’t be able to see it until June. Can you give some insight on your character Malcolm and the film?
Shameik Moore: Malcolm is in love with the 90s. He and his two best friends aren’t regular people in their environment; they’re weird. They’re into “White” shit— good grades, punk music and positivity—when everybody else is into gangbanging. In their community they’re nerds. So Malcolm and his friends find themselves caught in between a bad situation and a worse situation, and they have to overcome. It’s continuous throughout the whole movie. Something’s thrown at Malcolm and he has to overcome. Eventually, the audience will see that Malcom stops reaching out for help, he stops feeling sorry for himself and he starts fixing the problem.
L+T: You’re 19 years old so you probably don’t remember much about the 90s though…
SM: “In my school, hip hop music was treated like devil music so I couldn’t listen to any of it. My first “hip hop” experience was when my dad took me to see You Got Served when I was 12-years-old and that experience changed my life and inspired me to become a performer.
L+T: So considering that you were sheltered, did you see any of Rick Famuyiwa’s other movies like The Wood or Brown Sugar beforehand?
SM: No. I didn’t really see any Black movies, actually.
L+T: No Juice or Menace II Society either? You must have had to do a cramming session to prep for the role.
SM: I went through a whole boot camp period. A$AP Rocky and I watched a lot of movies together. Kiersey Clemons, who plays my gay best friend, she had me watch Boyz N the Hood and Menace II Society. I watched The Wood with Rocky, and I watched Belly, a hood classic. Watching all these movies got me into character.
L+T: Did you find some things that you shared in common with Malcolm?
SM: Coming from the South, I can totally relate to Malcolm. When I went to public and high school—being out of Christian school—I met all kinds of kids. You’re forced to interact with different kinds of people. And I’m totally different from them, and Malcolm is the same way. That’s how I was able to connect with the character. It’s a totally different culture, Inglewood. How they dress, how they talk, how people move.
L+T: Did you find yourself taking Malcolm home with you after the shooting wrapped?
SM: As an actor what I found out that it’s totally different being a lead instead of doing guest appearances. You become someone else the entire time you’re filming. You’re trapped and the only people you’re communicating with, unintentionally, are the people in this movie. Your energy is connected to the work, and it’s all about how serious you take it. I’m very serious about what I do. So to answer your question, yes, you definitely still have the character within you. And that’s why it’s kind of scary. When you’re playing a bad guy and you’re serious about that role, you’re not pretending to be somebody else. You’re finding a different part of yourself. A good actor finds a different part of himself to be presented. Everything that you’ve seen Denzel Washington do that you’ve fallen in love with? That’s a version of Denzel.
L+T: What’s it like working with this cast?
SM: It is a blessing and I personally connected with everyone. As far as A$AP Rocky goes, that’s my big brother. He looks out for me, takes care of me, and checks up on me. I look up to him. And the craziest thing is that I was talking about doing something with him before I even knew he was in the film! Kimberly Elise plays my mom, and she has a beautiful spirit. She sees me so clearly. She was able to communicate with me like no one else has ever communicated with me. We’re close; she’s like a second mom to me.
L+T: So let’s shift gears, you’re also getting ready to release some music as a singer?
SM: Yeah! The “30058” EP. That’s the zip code where I’m from. The first project is a taste. Before the movie comes out in June, here you go. Right now we’re just editing the videos and getting ready.
L+T: Why do you make music?
SM: Music is one part of my goal. I use to just want to make music, kind of neglecting my acting almost. As a creative being any way that I can entertain and give to the people is what I’m going to do. God is operating through me to give to everyone else. This movie is an example. There’s so many interviews that I’ve done and ask about a scene in the movie where I lift up my hood and I walk away. I won’t give away the scene but everybody knows what’s going on. There’s a clear message in this entire movie. That fact that other people get it and ask me about it after seeing the movie, that’s means that I did my job. I gave the message. That means that there’s something bigger than me. Twenty years from now, people will look back and remember that scene. My whole purpose, my goal, to answer your question is to make history change history for the better.
L+T: How are your parents dealing with your success?
SM: My mom’s worried. I’m traveling without her, and it’s my first time doing that. Everybody’s happy. My dad’s proud of me and I can hear it in his voice. “What’s going on? What are you eating? Steak. Steak, again?! Oh my goodness.” My mom is up to date on everything—every picture I post, every tweet I post on Twitter and Instagram to keep with what I’m doing. They’re proud. And I promised my mother that I was going to change her life. I’m going to change my entire family’s life, and I’m going to help everybody. It starts with my family and then it’s going to go into my community. It’ not about me, it’s about everybody else.