If he messes this up, Gravy can never go home — at least not without getting heckled. Brooklyn native Jamal Woolard, known in the mixtape community as Gravy, will have a hard time returning to Brooklyn if he fails in his turn as one of BK's finest, the Notorious B.I.G., in the forthcoming movie "Notorious."
"He's still living, through me," Gravy said recently at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York, where he was filming concert scenes for the Biggie biopic in full Big Poppa playa wardrobe. "Get Money," "Warning" and "Juicy" were sending the fans into a tizzy.
"I'm going to let y'all know: I'm not going to let y'all down," Gravy continued. "Put it down for the borough. This is for the borough. BK, stand up."
Gravy revealed that it is his and the filmmakers' objective to show all aspects of the MC giant's life.
"We're targeting every corner of it — from Christopher to Biggie Smalls to Notorious B.I.G," he said. "He's a funny dude. That's the part in the film that you'll see. He's a comedian all the time."
If you think Gravy is being scrutinized as Biggie, how do you think Derek Luke feels? He's playing Sean "Diddy" Combs.
"What kind of criticism [did] Puffy give me? Oh, man, I tried to stay away from him," the accomplished Luke explained. "You know, 'cause I just wanted to get a heart. I was inspired by who he is today but mostly how he started. But to be honest ... man. He just looked at me, and he was like, 'Yo, you do something wrong, trust me, I'll let you know.' So, I believe, that was good."
"It's rare that you get a movie made about you when you're still relevant, but [they] took on the challenge," Combs told MTV News recently in Los Angeles. "People asked me years ago who [I'd] want to play me, and I said Derek Luke ... so it was just destined. I got to see him do his thing, and it was scary for me. I had to leave, 'cause he was acting just like me."
"The preparation I took to play Puff was I was going to talk to Puff's mom," Luke said. "Puff opened the office to me, but I was like, 'Man, if I get to [meet] his mom, it's all good.' I went to his mom, and she kinda set me into the right place about who he was, how he started out as a child, who he is today."
Luke also reached out to another mother when researching the role: Big's mother, Voletta Wallace.
"Ms. Wallace, because [of] how she raised Biggie," Luke explained. "Every time I come on set, she never refuses to be a mom. If she needs to say something to me and pull me to the side, she's going to pull me to the side. I respect that."
Naturi Naughton, who was formerly in the group 3LW, takes on the role of the Queen B, Lil' Kim.
"Well, people have been critical," said Naughton, dressed seductively and fresh from performing "Get Money." "A lot of people don't expect me to be able to fill these shoes and play the role that's so different than what they've seen, because people know me. They think, 'Oh, she's sweet. She's little. She's a little girl from 3LW.' I'm a grown woman now, OK? Things have changed. It's a little challenging, but I'm willing to take this challenge and prove everybody wrong. All the naysayers, all the haters, I'm going to show them what I'm made of."
Naughton says that she unfortunately hasn't met Kim yet, but many of the Junior M.A.F.I.A.'s members, who were mentored by Smalls, have been working closely on the film. DJs Enuff and Mister Cee, who both played integral roles in Big's life, are also on the set. Derrick "D-Dot" Angeletti, who produced and guided Big in the studio, is the film's music supervisor, and Lil' Cease has been coaching Gravy as well as actor Marc John Jefferies (who plays Cease).
"I've had to show him how to roll blunts. That's important to the story," the real Cease said, standing next to his Hollywood counterpart. "You got a lot of 16-, 17-year-olds who probably hear their mother or siblings or something play Biggie all day and don't have background on him. This movie, you get to see his background. It's bigger than music. You see his personality. You get to see how he treated his kids, how he bonded with his moms, how he treated Junior M.A.F.I.A. It's something special, something good.
"The reason why I think this story is important to be told is because this is a story about two dreamers," Cease added, "and I love the fact that one is from Harlem, one is from Brooklyn, and [they] came in this world with nothing only but a dream. So what I got from this story is that if you got a dream, you're rich. That's enough."
You can have the best acting and tell the greatest story, but if the music doesn't sound right, the film won't win. D-Dot says not to worry. We're going to hear nothing but authentic Biggie.
"The music is gonna be Notorious B.I.G. music," says D-Dot. "It's gonna be a lot of period music. Notorious B.I.G. loved hip-hop we all did. So a lot of '80s hip-hop, '90s R&B. You'll possibly hear Wu-Tang [Clan] songs, Mobb Deep songs and M.O.P. songs. Leaders of the New School. Just period pieces. Things for the time."