Jason Mitchell may not be a name you know but thanks to this year’s Straight Outta Compton, you absolutely should.
F. Gary Gray’s energetic and propulsive film- which chronicles the rise and fall of the infamous rap group, N.W.A. – is one of the year’s best films. Comprised of a cast of budding actors – including O’Shea Jackson Jr., playing his father Ice Cube – the film gave each performer a chance to shine and make a name for themselves. They were rewarded as a cast with a nomination from the Screen Actors Guild for Best Ensemble, the top prize at their annual awards ceremony.
While Straight Outta Compton is an ensemble piece, one of the actors stood out and imprinted himself into my mind the moment the film was over; that actor was Mitchell. His performance as Eazy-E – born Eric Wright – is one of the great performances of the year, finding a great deal of shading in a character that could have proven to come off as one note. Mitchell brings nuance to every frame in his characterization of Eazy-E, which makes him a worthy contender for Best Supporting Actor.
Mitchell is the first character we see on screen and from the opening shot, his Eazy-E radiates blistering confidence and command. He teams up with Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and Ice Cube, an aspiring DJ and rapper, respectively, to make some music of their own. They all bring different talents to the table – Dr. Dre can produce, Ice Cube can write and rap and Eazy-E has some expendable income from selling drugs to fund studio time.
Being the one with the money gives Eazy-E a gargantuan ego, which often causes clashes among the group. What’s great about Mitchell’s performance and the film is that there are moments where Eazy-E loses his hardened exterior and we get to see the person behind the fame. Mitchell shares a scene with Paul Giamatti, who plays their manager, Jerry Heller, about having to retaliate against Suge Knight and his crew for beating him up. From the scene against Knight to the scene in front of Jerry’s house, there is a shift in attitude for Eazy-E. He goes from fearless to vulnerable and Mitchell’s range is devastatingly good.
Portraying such a well-known character is a daunting task for any actor. Mitchell inhabits Eazy-E with striking bravado, which makes him mesmerizing to watch from start-to-finish. Those who are familiar with this period of music history know that Eazy-E died of AIDs and the scene where the doctor tells him his diagnosis is the perfect example of the complex work Mitchell did as Eazy-E. It’s an unforgettable performance.