Playing a Playa: Casting the Part of Biggie Smalls Hollywood is looking for an actor to fill some very large shoes: the role of Christopher Wallace, better known as rapper Biggie Smalls, The Notorious B.I.G. Aspiring actors turned out for an open casting call in New York City to show producers their best Biggie impressions.
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Playing a Playa: Casting the Part of Biggie Smalls

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Playing a Playa: Casting the Part of Biggie Smalls

Playing a Playa: Casting the Part of Biggie Smalls

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/15127672/15119531" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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C: the role of Christopher Wallace, better known as rapper Biggie Smalls, The Notorious B.I.G.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "JUICY")

NOTORIUS B: (Rapping) Living like without fear. Puttin' five karats in my baby girl's ear. Lunches, brunches, interviews by the pool. Consider the fool because I dropped out at high school. Stereotypes of a black male misunderstood and it's still all good.

: Biggie was killed in a drive-by shooting 10 years ago. Producers have been trying to put his life story on the screen ever since, but they've faced some setbacks, including finding an actor who weighs more than 300 pounds and can rap. So they headed to New York City this weekend for an open casting call.

And NPR's Robert Smith stopped by.

ROBERT SMITH: Tank Nitty(ph) from Crown Heights, Brooklyn is at the very front of the audition line, and he's already in character.

TANK NITTY: (Rapping) This is ain't about money. I don't want to talk. If it ain't about a network, (unintelligible) broke. I don't want to discuss nothing at all.

SMITH: Tank never even glance his back at the 50 or so men behind him in line, even though they look just like him - the same (unintelligible) silhouette, same thug scowl and a dark sunglasses.

NITTY: Mama says you striptease, gets changed.

SMITH: But the other Biggie wannabes are all watching him rap. Behind him, Kenny Williams from the Bronx, says he won't be giving away his skills for free.

KENNY WILLIAMS: I'm saving up for the audition - too many Biggies out here.

SMITH: Oh, you don't want them to steal your style?

WILLIAMS: No doubt.

SMITH: I pull out my camera and he gives me the Biggies Smalls' glare.

WILLIAMS: I will never smile. Life's too serious.

SMITH: Oh, come on. You're smiling now. You could barely keep it down.

WILLIAMS: You got me. You got me.

SMITH: It's not easy keeping up the face of a legend. Ten years after his death, Biggie Smalls is still a monumental figure in the hip-hop world. Part of it was dying young - 24 years old, with only a couple of albums out. But the men here say it's more than that.

Jermaine Hopkins, from Philly, says Biggie opened up the game for men of his size.

JERMAINE HOPKINS: He was a real strong influence on hip-hop, especially for us big guys - big dark-skinned dudes. He made us like we're the star.

SMITH: And then there was Biggie's loose easy style of rapping - often imitated, if not, quite equaled among this group.

HOPKINS: (Rapping) Who? I'm good to go, you know? Check, check. Who? Records we have all over the globe as the bottle in (unintelligible).

SMITH: He calls himself atomic bomb - fat, fly and sexy, he says, just like B.I.G.

HOPKINS: Pretty much, your swagger, your style, your delivery. You got to be confident.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SMITH: Most of the people here are in a T-shirts or track suits. But I see one of the gentlemen who is rocking a very, very fine suit. Sir what's your name?

RAY LOUISMA: Ray Louisma.

SMITH: Louisma didn't want to show off Biggie as a thug. Others here may admire the street savvy Biggie, the former drug dealer turned famous.

LOUISMA: Exactly. That's one yet small part of me at bigger and broader things out there.

SMITH: So you're - by dressing up like this, you're sort of the dream of Biggie?

LOUISMA: Exactly. Exactly, because there was all the dream when it came to Biggie, you know?

SMITH: Louisma started to smile, then quickly put back on a serious face. He says he practiced the look for hours in the mirror, and he wasn't going to let it drop for the audition.

Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

: And you can get a look at some of the Biggie wannabes and hear more of them do their impressions at our Web site, npr.org.

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