‘Straight Outta Compton’ Star Keith Stanfield On Playing Snoop Dogg And Being Homeless

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Keith Stanfield’s name may not immediately resonate with moviegoers, but that’s soon to change. Racking up noteworthy roles actors could only dream to achieve at 24, Stanfield is still basking in the success of Ava DuVernay’s award-winning movie Selma and the nostalgic teen flick Dope. Now, the California native is stepping up his game in the highly anticipated film, Straight Outta Compton.

In the N.W.A. biopic, which chronicles the ups and downs of the late ’80s and early ’90s gangster rap group, Stanfield effortlessly fulfills the role of West Coast OG Snoop Dogg. The actor even donned custom-made platform Chuck Taylors to achieve Snoop’s whopping six-foot-four height.

Stanfield—also a humble and meek singer loaded with tattoos—continues to balance a a flourishing acting and music career, ensuring his name as a household staple. He recently dished to VIBE about the Straight Outta Compton audition process, his biggest strength and how he went from homeless to Hollywood.—Angela Wilson

READ: Review: ‘Straight Outta Compton’ Shines A Timely Light On America’s Darkest Scar

VIBE: Describe the audition process for your role as Snoop Dogg in Straight Outta Compton.
Keith Stanfield: It was crazy! I actually went through a series of auditions, maybe seven different auditions, sometimes going in twice for certain characters. I worked my way down all the roles until I got to Snoop, whom I never thought about, because I didn’t know he was in the movie. After I auditioned I got called back to the lot and the production was in full swing; the music was going, pretty girls everywhere, bunch of people, it was crazy. There was this other guy who looked like Snoop, and I was like, ‘Aww damn, he’s probably going to get the role because he looks just like him and I don’t.’ The only thing I got going for me is that I’m skinny. But we did improv, going back and forth and they’re like, ‘You’re the dude.’ So it was awesome. They made the decision, but didn’t tell me I got the role. I went back to the hotel and they called at 11:00 p.m. telling me that I got the role. In my head I’m going crazy but I’m like cool on the outside. I hang up then dance around and call my mom. It was unbelievable. I had to be on set the next morning so I had to saturate myself with Snoop. I was doing all this celebrating but I had to prepare so I buckled down, came to my first day on set, which was a pool party scene.

Did you meet Snoop and shadow him for a period of time to get his mannerisms down pat?
I wish! No, actually, I didn’t meet him the whole time. He wasn’t on set when I was there. I didn’t get much prep time at all so I had to figure it out rather quickly.

What’s a good reason for fans to see Straight Outta Compton?
I think this is like a landmark moment in movie history. Hip-hop has become a staple in the community primarily thanks to groups like them who popularized the scene and stood for what they believed in on a national platform. And now that we have social media, everyone has a voice. Essentially, that’s the core of what makes this movie special to me. It’s a group of people coming from nowhere, making something from nothing and having courage. These days, it’s a lot easier to text someone rather than talk to someone or show vulnerability and these dudes weren’t scared to do that. It’s never an easy road when you have something to say but when you have the opportunity to say it, you should, and that’s what they did and I respect that.

But for hip-hop lovers or people who love music in general, they’re really going to love this movie for obvious reasons, as they grew up on it. Sometimes groups like them get a bad rap. No pun intended. This movie will shed light on the more intimate parts of the N.W.A. and of the people who made up the group so you really have a more informed perception of them.

Aside from acting, you’re in a band, you write poetry and act. Tell us about your music.
I’m in this music duo called Moors. Me and a guy [that goes by] HH. We met at the screening of Short Term 12. He saw the rap scene in that [movie] and asked if I made music. He said he made instrumentals and I asked him to send one to me. He sent it and it just spoke to me on so many levels more than anything I heard before, and I just knew it was something special. We got in the studio and never made plans to make a band.

How would you describe the sound?
If I was going to describe it, I would say it’s just me regurgitating things I’m interfaced with in the world and just spewing it back out. Just me interacting with real stuff and telling it how I see it. I’m influenced a lot by my family. I have a big family. I speak on the dynamics of family, being black in America, love, relationships and different things I go through and it gives me a platform to express it.

What’s the story behind your tattoos?
I’ve always been super expressive and I’ve always liked to express myself any way I can. Tattoos were interesting, like damn, this is painful as hell and it’s going to be there forever but that was what was so attractive to me. So I started getting them at 18, and my first was my mom’s name. Everything else is a manifestation of what’s dear to me.

LISTEN: Throwback Jams: Straight Outta N.W.A.

What would you consider your biggest strength?
My biggest strength is I’m courageous or if I am afraid of something, I do it anyway. I do what I feel. It’s nothing personal against anyone, so that courageousness has been very good to me. I fell a lot, learned a lot and got back up but sometimes, the world don’t make it easy to do that but you have to stay positive and keep your eyes on the bigger picture. You can’t get consumed by the things around you. Part of the reason why is I don’t let my fear consume me. I try to use it in a positive way. It’s a lot of shit out here that’s crazy and people are afraid of certain things like the police killing all these young black dudes because they’re scared.

What’s a quote that you live by?
Trust your struggle. You go through a lot of bad things; there were times when it was easy for me to fold and call it quits. I’ve been homeless before and literally digging out of trash cans but I never lost faith that it will get better. So trust your struggle and have faith, and believe that you’ll get through by putting the work in to get to that place. And that quote works for me because trust is love and it’s all the same thing. Even in relationships, we find it difficult to trust but you have to trust to have love. There were times that I thought none of this would work but I kept moving forward. Even things going on in your environment. You hear about someone getting shot every other week by a police officer and it bothers you and you get angry but that’s all the more reason to move forward. You got people like Kendrick really laying down the trail to view it in a different way.

READ: Losing Hope: How VIBE’s ‘Militant Editor’ Went From Ready To Weary

You’re still in our early 20s with an enviable career. What advice would you give someone who wants to follow your career path?
I would say don’t follow it. [Laughs]. I’d say follow your heart and do what’s true to you. I know that’s cliché, but you don’t need to follow anyone. Follow yourself. That’s what’s special about being a human being. We all have something special about us. Capitalize on that, find your truth and what you love to do and never stop. That’s what I did.

Straight Outta Compton opens in theaters nationwide Friday, Aug. 14.