From Hollygrove to Hollywood, breakout star Jason Mitchell has taken flight.
A simple six week acting class (meant for meeting new friends) would launch the 29-year-old actor into super stardom, a divine twist of fate landing the Louisiana native on movie bills and credit rolls. Admitting to a checkered past: “I was seeing friends do the wrong things, and I done my thing too, but I was just thinking how me and my sister grew up in the same city but have two different circles of friends and two totally different lifestyles,” Mitchell took a change for the better, and a sweet serendipity took its course.
Starring as the late Eazy E in the critically acclaimed N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton, Mitchell is upward bound, from one project to the next. The award nominated newcomer shows no signs of slowing down, now starring in hilarious duo’s Key and Peele’s side splitting comedy Keanu. Playing the character of Bud, the film follows two square cousins on their dangerous quest to rescue their beloved kitty from the hands of menacing gangsters, including Method Man as Cheddar.
The Source caught up with the Hollywood golden boy as he talked Keanu, his breakout role as Eazy E and the advice Keegan-Michael Key gave him that changed his life.
Tell us about your character Bud in the new Warner Bros. film, Keanu?
Jason Mitchell: My character is very grounded to the situation. And the movie is such a fiasco because Key and Peele are basically thrown into The Wire and that’s where my character comes in. I’m the guy who doesn’t buy it at first but ends up having a pretty good relationship with these characters.
What separates Keanu from other Hollywood comedies?
The thing about Keanu is the genre of movie in which it represents are like the movies I grew up on, like Beverly Hills Cop and movies that’s funny family movies—but the bullets are real. We don’t really have those movies anymore and it kind of brought back that genre of movie. But at the same time from the outside looking in they created a world where the average guy can be a hero and that’s really special.
You started acting at age 23, which wasn’t that long ago.
Right! I actually started acting to make new friends. I’m from New Orleans and the city doesn’t really have much to offer and I was seeing friends do the wrong things—and I did my thing too, but I thought about how me and my sister grew up in the same city but have two different circles of friends and two totally different lifestyles. And I was inspired by that to make new friends which brought me to an acting class, which was only supposed to be like a six week workshop but I ended up really loving it and I gave it all I had.
You know how you have those people who offer, ‘Yeah, Jason, call me anytime you want to go over a scene!’, well, I was that guy calling at eleven o’clock at night! I was that guy! And by the fourth week I had an agent, I had headshots; it still took five or six months to book, but it was crazy.
Tasha Mills, who had an agency called The Talent Connection in New Orleans, and at the time a lady named Jacqueline was doing the workshop and she said you need to come see this kid! So she comes in and we’re doing scene work and then she stops the class and says,”I want everybody to look at me and take me serious because this can change your life. And this kid’s life is about to change.” And I was like, “Who, me? Are you serious?!” And everything started happening after that.
So your acting career started off with just wanting to make new friends and look at you now!
Fortunately for me I was able to catch the wave in New Orleans when they had a lot of projects going on down here. Mark Wahlberg did two films there, Contraband and Broken City and Mark spoke up for me and Universal started sending me lead roles to read for. And the first six or seven didn’t work out for me, but then Eazy E came down the line and you know how you get that feeling that so many of these movies get looked over or done bad but if I ever get that chance I’m going to kill it!
So I went to read with casting director Megan Lewis and I had to do five scenes and one of them was the hospital scene where I found out I have AIDS.
They called me back three weeks later and I’m at my job and they asked if I wanted to come to LA for a callback. But the way my bank account was set up I didn’t really know if that was the smartest thing to do! *laughs* Director F. Gary Gray wanted to Skype with me; we Skyped for over an hour and we re-did those same five scenes maybe 12 times a piece. It was the most intense thing in my life!
Right then and there they made an unanimous decision that I got the part on the spot, and it was dope.
How has your life changed since you’ve became this new superstar?
To be honest, I didn’t go into it thinking I’m going to try to affect the world, I just wanted to do my thing. But we have affected the world to the point where my whole city views me as hope.
The very next day after the movie came out we flew to Europe for the press tour and I didn’t really ever get a celebrity moment. It still hadn’t hit me yet. I get back to New Orleans, I’m from HollyGrove, and the first gas station I went to literally 30-40 people were like, “Oh my God!” And it was like a frenzy! To be a fly on the wall during that moment would have been amazing because it almost brought me to tears like who would’ve thought that the people who grew up with me would view me as hope? Now I stand for something so much more than an actor.
Has it hit you now?
It definitely has! But more than anything I’ve accepted the responsibility of what it takes—not only to stay consistent and stay in a good light. Like someone’s kid looks up to me on a daily basis, that’s how I look at it. And that’s how I try to live my life, like someone is always watching so you never want to deprive them of the best moments they can have with you, no matter what you’re going through. I just try to put my feelings and what I’m going through aside to be the best me I can be to try to inspire somebody else.
What was the best piece of advice you received and actually followed?
Keegan Michael Key told me while filming Keanu how important it is to stay grounded. He told me to keep good people around who want to see you do your best because nobody whips out a book and says now that you’re famous this is how you’re life is going to go for the next ten years.
So more than anything I’ve been focusing on keeping the right people around me and the best energy around me because life is always going to have curve balls.
Where will Jason be in five years?
In five years I want to be a movie producer. I was in a position one time where being an actor was the furthest thing from my mind. But after life hits, you get to the point where you’re not really sure how to get there. I want to revamp the whole idea of the youth centers and helping the youth. For instance, how are you going to tell a drug dealer to stop dealing drugs but don’t give them any opportunities? In order to get through to the kids you have to have something to offer them with different ways to approach them. And if I can put myself in a position to bring jobs to my city and inspiration to kids, or people just in general or whomever needs to know, I want to be in a position to do so.
Keanu, also starring Method Man and Nia Long opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, April 29.
Photo credit: Twitter, Getty Images