As biopic hits screens, rapper's mother speaks out on son's dark past
By SHEILA MARIKAR
To call "Notorious" big is an understatement. Pardon the pun, but the movie about the Notorious B.I.G., the self-proclaimed and industry- and audience-validated "greatest rapper of all time," goes above and beyond the bounds of the traditional bioflick.
The film took 11 years to make -- nearly the same amount of time that's elapsed since B.I.G., aka Biggie Smalls, aka Christopher Wallace, was killed in a still-unsolved Los Angeles shooting in March 1997, months after the murder of his former friend and rap rival Tupac Shakur.
"Notorious," starring Hollywood newcomer Jamal Woolard as the infamous Brooklyn, N.Y., rapper, finally hits theaters today.
On the eve of the movie's release, ABCNews.com spoke with Voletta Wallace, B.I.G.'s mother and a producer of "Notorious," about the making of the movie, her thoughts on the reported "East Coast/West Coast" rap feud of the '90s and how she's handling the ongoing mystery surrounding her son's death.
Q: Talk about the process of making "Notorious":
A: The thought process, I would put it at 11 years. About six years ago, the final script was done. It was not an easy process. It was an arduous one, finding the right people, finding Fox Searchlight. It was tough to find people to believe in the project. Searchlight believed in us.
Q: What were you looking for when casting someone to play your son?
A: I was looking for someone not only of Christopher's stature but someone with his personality -- someone smart, intelligent. When I read Jamal [Woolard's] bio, I was not very impressed. There were so many up-and-coming rap artists with the same bio. Looking at his picture, I didn't think he was right. But the first day I actually met him. & He came in for an audition; he walked in with the Biggie attitude. He was dressed the part, he knew his lines, he was very sure of himself. When he was leaving, I said to myself, "That's my son." He displayed everything that was my son.
Q: How did you feel about showing the dark sides of your son -- the drug dealing, the violence?
A: That was something I discovered during the process. When I read the script, I read my part. When I spoke to the writer [author Cheo Hedari Coker] & I told him he had to interview Christopher's friends. I hadn't read their part. I saw it on the screen and in filming. It was very, very hard. There were days during filming when I was not there. Then seeing certain things happening, putting it together, seeing it in its entirety -- it was completely different. I wanted to be shocked, and shocked I was. Angry I was, very very, angry.
As a mother, you're trying to make a life for your son. To find out that during the time when he was supposed to be in school, he was not in school; knowing that he was selling drugs -- that pissed me off. I thought that was disrespectful. He jeopardized me, he manipulated me, he disrespected my home. I could've been in jail. Was I angry about that? Of course I was angry. That character I didn't like very much.
My love for my son has not changed, but the fact is, I'm angry at him. And if he were here, it would be a different story.
Q: What are your thoughts on the reported "East Coast/West Coast" rap feud of the 1990s?
A: I don't think there was any East Coast/West Coast feud. I feel that the media and some really annoying people took a situation and blew it out of proportion. They took a wonderful friendship and obliterated it, destroyed it.
Q: How are you handling the case of who murdered your son?
A: Today, I'm in waiting mode. This I will not discuss. Any questions pertaining to the case must be directed to my attorney. But I'm waiting like everyone else.
(Wallace, Biggie's estate and his widow, singer Faith Evans, sued the City of Los Angeles in 2001. After a July 2005 mistrial, the case is currently in a holding pattern, according to Wallace's attorney Perry Sanders. Sanders said the suit "alleges that certain (Los Angeles) police officers were involved in his (Biggie's) homicide," and that the city has "a pattern and practice in place that facilitated officers participating in unlawful conduct." The criminal case also remains open and an "active criminal investigation is going on as we speak," according to Sanders.)
Q: Are you in touch with any of Tupac Shakur's family or friends?
A: A few days after my son's death, Afeni Shakur [Tupac's mom] and I started talking. Today, to this moment, have a wonderful relationship. We talk, we compliment each other, we bless each other. The relationship is as smooth as a baby's bottom.
Q: What did you want to accomplish with "Notorious," and what do you hope audiences come away with?
A: Everyone who's going to see the movie, they're going to see a lot of negative things. But they need to not focus on the negative. They need to see a life that was going the wrong way but made it into something good. The message is make the best of it. Take the talent you have, take the energy, and make the best of it. Don't focus on the negative, focus on the positive.