With Straight Outta Compton arriving on Blu-ray/DVD this Tuesday, I got on the phone with director F. Gary Gray to talk about the home video release, which includes his director’s cut with an extra twenty minutes of footage. Produced by original N.W.A members Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, alongside Matt Alvarez and Tomica Woods-Wright, Straight Outta Compton chronicles the rise and fall of the legendary hip-hop group. It’a also an honest and powerful look at what brought the group together, and what tore them apart. The film stars O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Ice Cube, Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre , Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E, and Paul Giamatti as the group’s manager.
During the interview Gray talked about what’s different in his director’s cut, the amazing critical response to the film, and if his process has changed during his career. Also, he gave an update on the status of Fast 8 (he’s directing the next installment), where they might film the sequel, what it was like meeting with Vin Diesel for the job, the action set pieces, and a lot more. Check out what he had to say below.
Collider: I’m gonna start with a fun question, how’s the weather in Cuba?
F. GARY GRAY: Hot, and very, very nice.
Jumping into why I get to talk to you today, I know that the Blu-ray has the “director’s cut” with extra 20 minutes. For fans who are gonna watch the movie for the first time, do you recommend the director’s cut or the theatrical cut?
GRAY: Well, of course, the director’s cut, it’s in the title, it’s the director’s cut. There’s more Compton, more controversy, more danger, more music, more relationships, more nuances. It’s more of the original vision. I think both are really, really good but if I were to pick, of course the director’s cut.
Was there ever any talk … because at the junket when I was talking to people, it sounded like [Ice] Cube and a few people were thinking about trying to release the director’s cut in theaters or maybe do like a re-release? Was there ever any talk about, with the success of the film, trying to reissue the director’s cut in theaters for like a special release?
GRAY: I’m not really sure. I imagine there were a couple of conversations but we’re pretty happy how they released it for sure. It did really well. There could’ve been a couple of conversations but we’re pretty happy how it turned out.
You make a movie like this and it’s pretty personal, you hope it’s gonna be a hit, you hope people are gonna turn out. And it’s a huge hit, both commercially and critically and all these awards groups are showering it with praise. When you’re making the film, do you have any idea that you might be able to reach this level that the film has reached or is it still even for you a surprise?
GRAY: We always knew that the movie was important. You don’t ever know if the world will get it. Obviously there’s elements of journalism in there, but it’s such a specific story about a specific time and a subculture within music and within America, you just never know if people will get it, and we’re glad that they did. But we always knew, I wouldn’t have spent four years making this movie if I didn’t think that it was special, but I guess special is subjective, right?
Absolutely. Little bit of a fun question for you, what did you learn on the set of Major League as an extra that impacted Straight Outta Compton?
GRAY: That you gotta start somewhere and I absolutely.. Like the guy who works really hard to become who they are today, Major League was the beginning, and while I’m not a billionaire like Dre, I think it all turned out well [Laughs].
I would absolutely agree and Major League is one of my guilty pleasures, so I think that it’s funny that you’re in it.
GRAY: [Laughs]. That was my film school, that’s what I learned. I didn’t have the money to go to USC or NYU so I was on the set shadowing directors and that’s part of the price you pay, and I’m very proud of it.
You have made some really good movies and you’ve had a really good career thus far, as it’s gone on have you learned stuff that has refined your process as a director or do you have the same process for every one of your movies?
GRAY: No, no, you always learn. Leaps and bounds, from movie to movie. When you start directing movies at the age of 24, you’re just a kid, you don’t necessarily even have the experiences to add to the story, you’re working off of instinct and raw emotions and raw talent, and hopefully it’s the same trajectory as growing as a person. You travel, you experience different people, different cultures, ups and downs and all these things and all of these experiences that you add to your choices as a filmmaker and as a storyteller. I think that… [Pause]. I’m trying to think if there’s some of things that I know that I’ve improved, and I think with working with actors and the performances, storytelling period, you just really… Hold on one second.
Sorry about that, I just passed my first apartment that I’ve ever lived in, I thought that was funny. But hopefully you get better, and I think that I’ve improved, and again, because I didn’t go to film school, you learn so much from a lot of creative artists. I remember working with Kevin Spacey on The Negotiator and I asked for an addressment in his performance because I thought I wasn’t getting a certain choice from him in a specific scene, and he told me, “I gave it to you.” I said, “Okay, well if you can give me one more that’d be great.” And he said, “No problem”. And what was great about it was that he did, but when I went back and I watched the dailies on the big screen, I saw that it was very subtle and he had given me what I asked for, and from that point on I never directed from video village, I always direct next to the camera and watch my actors, and so you can see the small things that you can’t see on the small screen but you can definitely see on the big screen. And so it’s little things like those that make you better, there’s always things like that from shooting a film that you pick up that hopefully make you better.
Getting back into Compton for a second, what was the toughest scene that you cut out that didn’t make the theatrical cut, or were there two scenes that you were sad to see go that are in the director’s cut?
GRAY: Oh, wow. I don’t want to give away too much, but there were scenes between the group and the relationships with the women in their lives that I thought were really important and in some cases poignant. There’s a surprise at the end with Eazy-E and the woman that he was dating in the movie, and I was sorry to see that go and I’m glad it’s back. There are some humorous moments on tour and more music; because I’m a huge fan of NWA, more music is always better for me. So we had to trim more than I really wanted to on some of the relationships and some of the more fun stuff with the group. Did you see the director’s cut yet?
I haven’t seen the director’s cut yet.
GRAY: It has more. There’s more Compton, more music, more fun, more nuances with the relationships. There’s a noticeable difference.
When you add twenty minutes to a movie, a movie that’s already really good, then I’m sure it’s even better. There’s no way that it won’t be, I’m very confident.
GRAY: Thank you.
You landed a really awesome job with Furious 8; it’s a huge movie, it’s like getting the keys to a Ferrari, literally. Can you describe meeting with Vin [Diesel] to talk about taking on and joining the franchise, what those conversations were like with him?
GRAY: It was great. I went to his home and it was a reunion, because I had already directed a movie with him earlier in my career, 15 years ago or so. We were both really excited to get back together and do it again. We talked about all of the Fast movies up to this point, and where could we go. I think he was really happy with the vision I have for the franchise and I was really happy about where he sees not only his character going but the franchise itself, because he’s a producer as well. So it was all love. Definitely all love.
You’ve made some really great action set pieces in the past, but the challenge of a Furious movie is a whole other level. So in the back of your brain are you already thinking about, “How am I gonna amp up this franchise?” in terms of action set pieces, or is it more about spending as much time on the characters? Because it’s a huge challenge.
GRAY: It’s a combination of both. When you look at someone good like J.J. Abrams who gives you the spectacle and great action set pieces but also gives you character and great story and plotting and narrative, I think it’s my job—and my intention—to do both. You amp up everything, you work on the performances, you work on the story, you work on the action; it’s just not one thing. Hopefully I bring more to it, that’s part of the point is to bring something different to the franchise while still satisfying what the fans want.
The last movie sort of ended in a really beautiful way and it was sort of like the ending of a big chapter. When you guys start up with Furious 8, how much is carrying over from the way it resolved and how much is it sort of not rebooting, but rebooting?
GRAY: That’s a really good question. I’m probably not at liberty to go too far into detail. All I have to say is I’m extremely excited about the direction we’re going in, and we’re really pushing to make sure the audience feels like it’s not more of the same. They feel like it’s fresh, they feel like the characters they’ve come to know and love are there, but this is gonna be different, and that’s probably the most I can give you right now. It’s kind of top secret.
Yeah I don’t want to get you in trouble.
I do wanna ask about Cuba, because now that Obama has allowed people to go there in commercial travel and the fact that you guys are gonna film there… When you guys went on location scouting, what did you take away from Cuba that you think is gonna add a new flavor to the franchise?
When do you actually start filming?
GRAY: Not really sure yet. We’re locking down the date, I’m not one-hundred percent sure but we are in pre-production.
I wish you nothing but the best, I’m super happy you booked that gig.
GRAY: Thank you, I appreciate that.
Have a great day.
GRAY: You too, man.