O’Shea Jackson Jr. had a clear plan after he made his screen debut in “Straight Outta Compton,” playing his own father, the rapper Ice Cube, in the 2015 biopic about the influential rap group NWA.
“I wanted to take a bunch of roles that were night and day,” Jackson says. “I just wanted to show versatility.”
So he signed on to the dark comedy “Ingrid Goes West” and then flexed his action movie muscles in the heist flick “Den Of Thieves,” and then, well, Godzilla stomped all over his plans, Jackson says.
“I was in the middle of ‘Den of Thieves’ and thinking what I was going to do next, and of all of a sudden they were, ‘Look, we have this audition, it’s kind of on the (down) low.’ And it turns out to be ‘Godzilla.’
“And all that, ‘Let’s not do back-to-back action movies’ went out the window,” Jackson says. “You have to get Godzilla! I’ve loved Godzilla since I was a kid, so to be part of his legacy? How do you not jump at that?”
“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” is a textbook example of a big summer blockbuster, starring Kyle Chandler and Vera Farmiga as two scientists and experts on Titans, as the monsters hidden in the Earth now are known, and Millie Bobby Brown as their daughter, and well-known actors including Bradley Whitford, Sally Jenkins, Charles Dance, Ken Watanabe, Thomas Middleditch and Aisha Hinds in other major roles.
Jackson, who plays Barnes, a chief warrant officer in the G-Team, the special military unit formed to fight the Titans, finds himself busier than ever as not just Godzilla but King Ghidorah, Rodan, Mothra and more show up over the course of the movie.
“I remember I’d never seen anything like it,” Jackson, 28, says of discovering Godzilla as a boy. “I had Thomas the Tank Engine, trucks and dinosaurs, and trucks and dinosaurs have no stories. There’s no storyline to follow besides destruction.
“So I’d never seen anything like Godzilla, and my dad brought home the figures from Japan,” he says. “I just fell in love. The coolest dinosaurs I’d ever seen in my life.”
From there he devoured all the Godzilla he could find, movies on the SyFy network, Hanna-Barbera animated cartoons, admiring Godzilla — who as in the new movie, sometimes gets to be the good monster — because of his seeming invincibility.
“He couldn’t be defeated, he couldn’t lose,” Jackson says. “Until I saw him as a kid lose to Mothra, he for sure loses to her. But he was just always the biggest and baddest.”
As an adult, Jackson says he figured out the reason why fans loved mega-monsters like Godzilla is because of the fear and awe that comes with thinking about something even higher than us on the food chain.
“You just think, like, ‘What is something bigger than me? Bigger and badder out there — what would I do?’ ” he says. “It’s part of the fantasy: What do you do against Godzilla?
“I love that they still try to shoot bullets,” Jackson says. “He’s a monster! It never works. And we still to this day are shooting at him with handguns and assault rifles.”
With “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” wrapped, Jackson says he was able to get back to his plans for creating a résumé with range, acting in his first rom-com even though the offer came right as he returned from the “Godzilla” set in a state of post-filming exhaustion.
“I’m not answering my phone, I’m good, and they’re like, ‘Well, we’ve got this rom-com in Canada ... and it’s Seth Rogen ... and Charlize Theron,’” Jackson says of the call he finally answered. “Well, this sounds like two slam dunks, let’s do this.”
“Long Shot,” in which Jackson plays Rogen’s best friend, came out May 3, and he couldn’t be happier that both movies arrived the same month.
“I love that I got them out at the same time and they’re night and day,” he says. “ ‘Long Shot’ coming out first, I can calmly get the fans ready, and they think light of me before we knock ‘em over the head with ‘King of the Monsters.’ It’s just the perfect set-up.”