‘Dope’ Interview: Shameik Moore on How Modern Teens View the ’90s

Shameik Moore

In Rick Famuyiwa’s upcoming indie film Dope, Shameik Moore plays Malcolm, a modern-day 17-year-old geek who is obsessed with early 1990s hip-hop. He wears the flashy neon shirts of the era, as well as the puffy moon boots and high flat tops. Malcolm lives in modern-day Inglewood, CA, where he is constantly avoiding a constant barrage of bullies, bike thieves, and downright criminals who would do him harm or, worse yet, recruit him for work. Dope was also one of the first films to come out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and has been gathering buzz ever since. It will be released in theaters Friday June 19th. 

CraveOnline was granted an opportunity to chat very briefly with Moore about Inglewood, and the mix tape of ’90s jamz that was assigned to him as research.

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CraveOnline: I was alive in the early 1990s when all those hits came out, but you weren’t born for a lot of that. How much 1990s research did the director have you do to familiarize yourself with Malcolm and his obsession?

Shameik Moore: Well, Rick had me watch a few movies. I watched Boyz N the Hood and Juice with Kiersey [Clemons, Moore’s co-star]. I watched Belly and The Wood with Rocky. And we listened to a bunch of music. There was a whole bunch of mix tape CDs that they gave to us. So we really did research on all the classics. On the golden age of hip-hop for that matters. It was cool. It wasn’t too hard. 

By immersing yourself in that culture of the early 1990s, what sort of conclusions could you come to about the era?

I think that it’s a revolutionary generation. The music was amazing. That’s why it’s called the golden age of hip-hop. The R&B and the other music of the ’90s, I think that part of it that was created in the ’90s was amazing. So, yeah, I definitely admire that generation, and I hope to bring some of that feeling back into what I’m doing. To take that feeling and create something new.

I know this might be a vague question, but how would you define the era?

The feeling of the early ’90s… I think it was more… It was real. It was gutter. It was more entertaining. That was the word I would use. It was entertaining. Yeah.

You said Rick Famuyiwa showed you Boyz N the Hood. I saw more than a few parallels between that film and Dope. Was that film discussed a lot while preparing?

We didn’t discuss it at all on set. I kind of just watched it. I didn’t watch anything “to prepare” or get ready for the role. It was more like I was just watching it because it’s in the same genre of film that we’re making. That was it. I didn’t “get inspired” or any of that from any of the other films. It was more “this is the style we’re shooting.” Otherwise, it barely came up.

Dope is very careful about the way it captured Inglewood, CA, where the director is from. I know you’re not from Inglewood. Did you spend a lot of time there to figure out what the city was about?

My auntie and uncle live in Inglewood, and I used to stay with them when I would come to L.A. to audition for pilot season and other things like that. So, actually, I was already familiar with Inglewood because I stayed in the area. 

This is kind of an “old man” question. Dope is about modern day teenagers. Do you think it is an accurate representation of a certain kind of modern teenage experience?

Nah, it’s cool, old man. I think it speaks to people in 2015, right now. We address real situations. It’s real life! Everything that happens in Dope could happen today. So, yeah, I think that’s the answer to that question. Malcolm is real. There are a lot of young people who are in love with the ’90s. Not just young, but older cats, too. Like Rick himself is in love with the ’90s. I have a lot of friend who are in love the ’90s. Girls, boys. ’90s music? That’s Tupac. That’s Biggie. That’s TLC. That’s Aaliyah. I still listen to Aaliyah. I still listen to Tupac and Biggie. There’s people who are really heavy on that culture. That moment. So I definitely know people. I can relate. I can relate to Malcolm. I think other people can relate to Malcolm as well.

It’s all about the environment. It’s all about the people you grow up around. I grew up around people that did grow up in the ’90s and could rather directly relate to Malcolm, you know what I mean? I may be more familiar with that. 

How did you get involved with Dope?

Nothing romantic. My manager and agent told me about the audition. I self-taped. I sent in the audition. They sent it to casting and the director. Then that Tuesday I ended up in L.A. and a week later I was recording with Pharrell.

You got to work with Quincy Brown in the movie. Forrest Whitaker is the film’s narrator. Did you get to meet some of these amazing people?

I met everybody. I have a pretty good relationship with everyone. So it was a pretty great experience. Real great experience. Everybody is like brothers or family at this point. It’s a good feeling. It’s a real good feeling. To be working with so many big names, and to have everyone respect them as much as they do. And for me to be in the position that I’m in on this project. It’s really amazing. I’m humbled.

What was the first record you bought with your own money?

The Chris Brown album. The first one. The self-titled album. Yup. That was my first one.


Witney Seibold is a contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. You can follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.