There was nothing small about the late Brooklyn rapper Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace. Whether it was his large frame, big laugh or larger-than-life spirit, the hip-hop community has continued to uphold his musical legacy. Therefore, finding someone to fill his size 13 shoes on the big screen was a herculean task. That is, until Jamal Woolard walked into the room. Also an aspiring Brooklyn rapper and newcomer to Hollywood, Woolard was cast as the leading man in “Notorious” and delivered a memorable performance. Woolard chats with ESSENCE.com about feeling Biggie’s presence, keeping Brooklyn on the map, and the challenge of stepping out of his idol’s shadow.
ESSENCE.COM: You delivered a tear-jerking performance as B.I.G. Prior to joining the cast, were you ever told you two shared a striking resemblance?
JAMAL WOOLARD: No. I wasn’t this big. I didn’t look like B.I.G. When I was in high school, I played ball and was thin. When the weight started kicking in and I started eating too much, that’s when I started to look like him (laughs).
ESSENCE.COM: Were you nervous having Ms. Wallace and Sean Combs judge your performance?
WOOLARD: No, it was a good thing because they were making sure I did it right. If I wasnn’t doing it right, I would’ve heard, “Yo, get it right! Come here, let me talk to you.” I was doing so good, I didn’t hear that. (Laughs) It felt great showing off. This is huge for Brooklyn. This is history in the making.
ESSENCE.COM: Do you think anything could have been said to Biggie to possibly stop the coast-to-coast drama and his death?
WOOLARD: I don’t think anyone could speak to B.I.G. He was a man who made up his mind, and once it was made, that’s it. I think D-Roc would’ve been the only one who could control him to do other things, because B.I.G. looked up to him as a role model and had a lot of influence on him. But in Biggie’s mind, he was the boss and he knew it, so I don’t even think D-Roc could’ve talked to him at the time. He had a lot on his plate and he was calling the shots. I didn’t know a lot about his violent side before. The anger was just like his swagger—cool—reading that was crazy.
ESSENCE.COM: Did you ever feel his spirit on set with you?
WOOLARD: Oh yeah, plenty of times. I felt it in L.A. I felt like I was doing the right thing. I did all the vocals. All the songs, voice-overs, the deliveries—that’s me. Everything that I did, I felt like I was doing the right thing being B.I.G.—making sure I channeled him right and making sure his legacy is going to live on forever.
ESSENCE.COM: As an actor, for a project this big to be your debut is phenomenal. Will it be harder to branch out now since you are branded as Biggie?
WOOLARD: I think that’s the challenge, to get out of the shell and do something else to show diversity. I love challenges. It was one of my biggest ones to get this role and I got it so there’s nothing that I can’t accomplish. It’s back to my world.