Of course, nearly everything about the late rapper Christopher Wallace, a.k.a. the Notorious B.I.G., was grandiose-from his incredible girth to his explosive rhymes to the tragic piece of punctuation that his death put on the gangsta-driven hip-hop revolution of the ’90s when he was gunned down in a drive-by shooting 12 years ago this March. But if you listen closely, Wallace’s songs are actually very small. They’re sketches, really-artfully-constructed vignettes that do for street life in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, in the late ’80s what John Cheever did for mid-20th-century, Northeastern, upper-class ennui-drawn from the short, fast life of a chubby kid with a lazy eye who made good grades and loved his mother but who got sucked down a wormhole of crack-dealing and prison, and came out the other end a musical icon.
George Tillman Jr.’s highly anticipated new film, Notorious, chronicles Wallace’s life, from his unlikely rise to his untimely death. The film stars rapper and first-time actor Jamal Woolard in the title role, and also features Wallace’s real-life son with singer Faith Evans, 12-year-old Christopher “CJ” Wallace Jr., as the younger version of Biggie. Here, Wallace’s mother, Voletta Wallace, talks to her grandson about stepping into his father’s very big shoes.
VOLETTA WALLACE: I was deeply thrilled that you got the chance to play my son-your father-in the movie. I remember one day I saw you on the set walking with Angela [Bassett, who plays Voletta Wallace in Notorious]. It made me think about how when my son was small, I used to call him Chrissy-Pooh. I got his name, and yours, from the Winnie-the-Pooh books-Christopher Robin was the main character. But I’m telling you, when I was watching you on the monitor, I went boo-hooin’ seeing you because I was so deeply touched. What did you do to prepare to play your father? When he passed away, I don’t think you were 4-months-old.
CHRISTOPHER WALLACE JR.: Well, my mom told me some stuff that he used to do, like how he rubbed his nose sometimes. And then I got some of my character’s scenes like six or seven months before we actually shot the film, so I went over that stuff a lot. I was really ready.
VW: Well, it looked like the real thing when I saw you crying in one scene. How did you do that?
CW: Wendy, my acting coach, said that I should think about if he was alive, how I miss him, and, yeah, I just got really into it.
VW: Would you consider that the hard part, or was it the easy part?
CW: The hard part was the crying.
VW: It looked easy to me!
CW: It wasn’t that easy, though. I just thought about things in the past and about how successfulhe would be if he was still alive.
VW: I saw a YouTube piece where you and your friend Josh were rapping. You think you’re gonna want to do that yourself in the future?
CW: Probably. But first I want to go to college. And I want to graduate and study film.
VW: Oh, excuse me! That’s nice to hear. Do you think you might want to try acting again?
CW: Yeah, of course.
VW: You would?
CW: Yeah. It was an experience I’d never had before. You learn a lot about the person you’re playing.