The highly anticipated Jimi Hendrix biographical film, Jimi: All Is By My Side, opens today in select cities. The movie explores the late legend’s life from 1966 through 1967, just ahead of his U.S. breakthrough. However, Hendrix won’t be the only musician at the forefront of viewers’ minds. Andre Benjamin a.k.a. Andre 3000 shines in the lead role as the rock star, the rapper’s first major film role in six years.
Andre had previously been tapped to play Hendrix during the early aughts. “Well, when I was approached before, I was a wide-eyed kid, just happy that people in Hollywood wanted me to be in a movie,” said Andre. Various Hendrix projects fell through and years passed before the rapper was asked again. Meanwhile, Andre beefed up his acting chops in 2006’s Idlewild and 2008’s Semi-Pro.
A few years ago, filmmaker John Ridley traveled to Atlanta, happened to meet Andre and tried to get the hip-hop star on board with his Hendrix production. By then, the rapper was in his late 30s and initially turned down the offer. “I kind of felt I was too old to play him because Jimi died when he was 27,” said Andre. The rapper’s teenage son eventually convinced him to take the role.
For Andre, transitioning into Hendrix was a process. “Physically, I had to lose weight because Hendrix was skinny and I had to learn to walk like him because he was pigeon-toed.” The Atlanta native also adopted the Seattle rocker’s accent by listening to hours of past interviews and working with a vocal coach. He also learned to play guitar with his left hand and permed his hair to fully become the legendary guitarist.
The movie itself also explores a transformation, showing Hendrix honing his skills during a year in London. Andre’s metamorphosis into the rock star is stark, but the film itself is much more subtle. Sharply edited cinematography gives the movie a visual edge, but the dialogue and pacing are nuanced. Audiences shouldn’t prepare for a hard-hitting look at Hendrix’s life, but rather an understated portrait of his burgeoning stardom. Andre’s performance is the best part of the film and will leave a lasting impression.
[Photo Credit: Open Road Films]
The rapper masterfully captured Hendrix’s progression from a bit player to a budding rock sensation. Before going overseas, he played in R&B bands but wasn’t one to steal the show. “He played background a lot, behind a lot of [artists] from the Isley Brothers to Little Richard,” said Benjamin. “I think this time period of Hendrix’s life, what you’re [seeing] is a young man, a talented young man [but a] kind of timid, shy young man … not even wanting to be the frontman of the band.” By the time Hendrix left London for 1967’s Monterey International Pop Festival in California, he’d perfected his signature sound and iconic stage presence.
Hendrix’s humble beginnings contrast the charismatic image fans know today, but Andre put the rocker’s progression in perspective. “We get to see the growth of an artist and it happens for all artists. We don’t just jump out and be confident.”
It’s hard to believe Andre ever had to work to boost the energy he’s been known for in his music career. In addition to the Hendrix film, the rapper’s other major moments this year have come from his reunion performances with OutKast’s other half, Big Boi. Next month, the duo will wrap up a spate of festival dates that began with Coachella back in April. Is there anything next for OutKast?
“We don’t have any plans but we’re both definitely working on music. Big Boi is about to put another album out and hopefully, I can put an album out one day,” said Andre. “At this age, I can’t say that my focus is on rap, but I still write lyrics all the time, and they could turn into raps. You just never know.”
What we do know is that Andre’s versatility is on full display in Jimi: All Is By My Side. If fans can’t catch one of OutKast’s shows, they just have to head to the theater and watch Andre bring his talent to the big screen.
[Photo Credit: Open Road Films]