Keith Powers Talks ‘Straight Outta Compton,’ Leaving Football Behind and Playing the Villain
Biopics can often be nerve-wracking experiences for all of those involved. Paying homage to actual people and portraying their lives in a real and fair way can certainly put a lot of pressure on the actors involved with the project. Hence, it goes without saying that expectations often run high, especially from fans and those who knew (or know) the person being depicted — and sometimes even the person themselves. However, if the actor is fearless, the experience can be one of the best that he or she has ever had. Take, for example, Jamie Foxx’s portrayal of Ray Charles in Ray (2004). He was so extraordinary that it earned him the Academy Award for Best Actor. Likewise, Angela Bassett’s depiction of Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do with It? (1993) is still one of the best performances I have ever seen by any actor on screen.
With only a few years of acting under his belt, 22-year-old Keith Powers is already making a name for himself in the entertainment industry. A former football player turned model/actor, Powers is best known for his role as the charismatic “new kid,” Theo (aka Anthony), in MTV’s groundbreaking series Faking It. However, after this summer’s premiere of the highly-anticipated N.W.A. biopic, Straight Outta Compton, a film that chronicles the rise and fall of the pioneering hip-hop group, everyone will see how fearless he really is. In fact, he’s got the real makings of a leading man. In the film, Powers portrays Dr. Dre’s younger brother, Tyree Crayon, who died in 1990 while Dr. Dre was on tour with N.W.A.
With the media mogul’s blessing, Powers was able to pay homage to a man long gone, but one that is still tremendously important to Dr. Dre’s life. This certainly was no easy feat, embodying a loved one of a powerful cultural figure has to be mind-boggling. However, it sounds like Powers really nailed the role. “He gave me all of these amazing things, and now I get to give him his little brother on film, in front of everybody. And from what I heard, he really liked my performance,” he tells us.
Taking time out of his increasingly busy schedule, Powers chatted with us about the buzz surrounding the upcoming biopic, his move from the sports world into entertainment, and his “man crush” on Brad Pitt, all while showing us just how diverse and talented he truly is.
GALO: I’ve been really looking forward to chatting with you about your upcoming projects and all of the great things that you’ve been working on.
Keith Powers: Thanks.
GALO: I read that you ended your football career and turned to acting and modeling. How different are these two worlds for you? Do you have any regrets about leaving the sporting world behind?
KP: First of all, yes, they are totally different worlds. Football is a competitive sport. I come from Sacramento, California, and how I was raised [was that] either you were playing sports or you were a scholar — or you were both. The area of Sacramento that I [grew] up in was the type of environment where you feel like there isn’t too much else to do. You’re going to have a regular nine to five [job], you’re going to be a lawyer or a doctor, or you’re going to be in the streets.
It’s two different worlds because when you get the opportunity to be a model and travel the world, you meet these photographers, these beautiful women, and these other models. Of course, you have the other side of that. You have to deal with the people in the industry who act bourgeoisie, but that’s any aspect of life, you’re [always] going to run into those types of people.
GALO: Of course, they are everywhere.
KP: But it is different coming from sports into modeling. I [got] to travel the world and meet these different types of people. It was like, “wow, I’ve never met these types of people before in my life!” There were only a couple types of people where I come from. I never really tapped into other people’s lives unless they were my friends. I will say [that] I love the modeling side as much as I love the football side. Well, not as much. [But] I don’t regret it. I would have never made it to the NFL — I wasn’t that good. I actually thank God that I was able to discover something like modeling to take my mind to a different place. Do you know what I mean?
GALO: Yes, for sure.
KP: It really helped stimulate my mind intellectually and things like that. I don’t regret it. Thank God it happened this way, but I do miss football everyday. [However,] I [continue to] live it through my brother, so that’s cool.
GALO: And it’s good that you also preserved your body. Football is such a grueling sport and the injury list for the pros is ridiculous every year. At least you’re not constantly being hit in the head anymore [laughs].
KP: Yeah, you know, what’s funny is [that] my whole life I played football, so the hitting was normal. That’s the thing about football players that people [don’t] understand. We grow up [and] it doesn’t really start taking a toll until you get to that next level: college and the NFL.
GALO: Oh, got it.
KP: Yes, because that’s when you realize that you’ve been putting stress on your body for so long. So that’s when it really kicks in and it’s like, “oh snap, I’ve got to learn how to take care of my body.” A lot of athletes don’t know how to take care of their bodies. They don’t know how to eat right. They don’t know how to sleep right and exercise properly. Being a pro-athlete is no joke. You have to get in that ice bath; you have to go to physical therapy.
And I didn’t do any of that when I was out there playing. When I look back now, I’m like, “damn, I’m glad I found another passion.”
GALO: That’s a positive way to look at everything. Well, to continue on, House Party was such a pivotal film in the early ’90s. Were you aware of its legacy in African American cinema? How does House Party: Tonight’s the Night speak to the 21st century teen? Were you hesitant at all about becoming a part of such an iconic body of film?
KP: For one, I grew up watching House Party; it’s so iconic in my life — that [and] the Boyz n the Hood (1991). So to be able to be a part of that sequel and to have Kid and Play in the movie was surreal to me. That was like, “wow.” I never really was afraid to do the film because of what it is. Anything that I do, I take pride in it. Even if any of my work gets bad reviews or anything like that, I stand behind it 100 percent. I realize that it’s not just about me; it’s about the other people that work on it as well.
GALO: Yes, films are such collaborative works of art.
KP: At the end of the day, I loved House Party: Tonight’s the Night. And a lot of people actually loved it. They thought it was very funny, even though it went straight to DVD and was on the Fuse network. A lot of people loved it and I loved the experience. We shot the film in South Africa.
GALO: Really?! That’s dope.
KP: Yes, it was amazing — that experience changed my life. It made me want to become an actor even more. Also, it really meant something to the producer. I loved the film. I would never worry that I wasn’t good enough to be in the film because the original House Party was so amazing. So many people put their all into something like that. I’m backing the film up 100 percent because of what the people working around me felt about it. House Party was a great experience; I loved being a part of it. It was the first film I ever did — and I played the villain, which was so fun. I want to play villains in a lot more movies.
GALO: I feel like they’re always so much more interesting than the protagonists.
KP: Yeah. Being a clean-cut guy like me, to play a villain the right way could be so amazing, because it could make people dislike me in a charming way.
GALO: Blair Underwood is really good at that, so I definitely get what you’re saying.
KP: Yes, I think Terrence Howard (Empire) is too.
GALO: [Chuckles] For sure!
KP: I love charming villains; they make you like them and hate them at the same time. That’s what I want. I want to be a leading man, but I also want to be a villain. House Party was amazing. It was a great experience and I’m honored to be a part of that sequel. To have that in my credits is something I get to tell my future kids about — to say your dad was a part of House Party, that’s crazy.
GALO: MTV’s Faking It is a revolutionary series, and you happen to be a part of it with your role as “Theo.” A lot of teen dramas like Degrassi, or even many of the classic WB/CW series, focus a lot on teen sex, but not so much on sexuality itself. However, Faking It deals with this subject as well as other intricacies of human sexuality. Is this why the show is so powerful? Do you think we could have had a show like Faking It in the 1990s?
KP: I do believe that Faking It is taking a chance by touching on all of these different sections of human sexuality, [which] does make it a bigger show. But I want to really applaud our writers, because our writers on Faking It are so amazing. Not only are they hip to us, they just understand kids now in today’s society. Personally, I love everybody equally; I look at people’s hearts.
I was raised a Christian and I still am a Christian, but at the end of the day, I don’t know what anybody is going through. Personally, I love everybody, but I applaud Faking It for taking that leap and touching on these topics that kids go through every single day. Kids grow up in a world where they don’t know who they are. They wake up every morning and they don’t know if they’re a monster because of how they feel inside. I feel like Faking It is like a drug, they get to escape their reality sometimes if they’re being bullied [by] watching a show that is so very light with these subjects. I feel like a lot of stuff is more accepted these days, but a lot of kids feel like it isn’t. So I applaud Faking It for touching on these subjects. For example, one of the characters is intersex. There are a lot of kids out here who are intersex and [they] think there’s something wrong with them.
GALO: It’s all about acceptance. That’s why the show is amazing — it’s about accepting people.
KP: Yes, I’m so honored to be part of a project like this because it is a revolutionary series, and I’m so glad MTV picked it up for season three because you don’t want a show like this to be gone. A lot of kids look to the show. Every Tuesday it’s like, “I love this show. I love the characters. I know what these characters are going through because I go through this.” I think it could have been a show in the ’90s, but I think it would have been a stickier subject. I think people accept things more [now] because we have social media. Social media means that no one can hide anymore; everything is out in the open.
GALO: That’s very true. Nowadays, social media is the place where many young people stay informed about current events, not just what goes on in their friends’ lives.
KP: So Faking It came out at the perfect time. Everybody knows what’s going on in the world. I’m so happy to be a part of it. I love all of my colleagues in it [and the] fans who appreciate the show — it’s just amazing. I love my character on the show, too. He’s very funny and sarcastic.
GALO: In the mid-season finale of Faking It, we learn that Theo is an undercover cop, and Lauren (Bailey De Young) reveals to him (and the entire school) that she may be intersex. How will that affect their relationship? Where will we see Theo when the second half of season two premieres in August — will “Thauren” still be a possibility?
KP: Theo doesn’t care that Lauren is intersex. He says, “I don’t care, I love you for you.” She was born like that but she’s still her. The subject is touchy for her because just like people who deal with it in real life, they get scared about what others may think. Theo was very understanding. In the first half of season two, Theo reveals that he’s a cop, and Lauren is like, “was all of this real?” I don’t want to give it up too much, but at the end of the first half of season two, you can tell that Theo was conflicted when she approached him about it.
In the second half of season two, you’re definitely going to see Theo try to prove himself to her. You’re still going to see him around, and you’re going to see a different Theo as well. He’s still that charismatic Theo, but you’re gonna see that now he has a different objective trying to fight for something. It’s really interesting.
GALO: Congratulations on your role as Tyree Crayton, Dr. Dre’s younger brother in Straight Outta Compton, which is set to premiere on August 14. How did you land the role of Tyree and what attracted you to his character?
KP: It’s funny. I was auditioning for Straight Outta Compton for like two years.
GALO: What?! [Chuckles] Well, I guess I’m not surprised. I’ve been hearing things about the project for years, but a two year audition? That’s crazy.
KP: [Laughs] Yes, I was going out for that movie for so long. I went out for Dr. Dre twice. I went out for Warren G. [But] after I went out for Warren G, they said, “We want to bring you back for another character.” I read for Tyree, and after that they said they wanted to bring me in front of the director, F. Gary Gray. After I read in front of him, [well], it was history after that.
I think I fit Tyree perfectly in this movie because, for one, I’m a big brother [in the picture]; I never had a big brother. To play Tyree, it sometimes feels like it was just meant to happen. It’s so crazy because I grew up with Dr. Dre. Dr. Dre pioneers music for me in general. If you took Dr. Dre out of my brain, you would take away Eminem. You would take away 50 Cent, Kendrick Lamar and Snoop Dogg. You would take away the whole West Coast sound. We grew up on West Coast music. Dr. Dre was all I knew growing up. My earliest memory is one of the first comedies that I loved, Friday (1995).