Like the late Christopher Wallace, aka Biggie Smalls, aka Notorious B.I.G., Jamal Woolard was born and raised in Brooklyn. He also raps under an alias, Gravy, and he’s even been shot in a drive-by. But Jamal not only survived the attack, but immediately went on the radio for a scheduled interview at NYC’s Hot 97 before getting treatment for his wounds at a nearby hospital. Of equal import is the fact that he’s the spitting image of Biggie, which gave him an edge when Fox conducted a nationwide search for someone to play him in its new movie Notorious.
Consequently, Jamal is now making his acting debut in the title role of Notorious, surrounded by a talented cast which includes Angela Bassett as Biggie’s mom, Naturi Naughton as Lil’ Kim, Derek Luke as Sean “Puffy” Combs, Anthony Mackie as Tupac Shakur, Antonique Smith as Faith Evans and Sean Ringgold as Suge Knight. Here, he talks about landing his big break and what was involved in portraying the hip hop icon.
So, how was it playing Biggie?
Oh, man, it was the opportunity and experience of a lifetime.
Where in Brooklyn did you grow up?
I’m from L.G., Lafayette Gardens.
Do you still have ties to the neighborhood?
Yeah, definitely. My mom and my grandmother still live there.
I went to high school on the spot where Medgar Evers College is now. Are you familiar with that area?
Yeah, Crown Heights.
Tell me about the time you got shot in Manhattan just as you were about to go on the radio.
Nah, I don’t want to talk about that.
Then tell me how you prepared to play Biggie, mentally and physically.
I just went to my own Biggie Boot Camp. Eating, I was at 285, and went up to about 340.
Was that healthy?
It was really life threatening, because I have diabetes. But I put myself into that zone in order to do what I had to do.