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Shameik Moore, 'Dope' star, talks new coming-of-age indie comedy

Actor Shameik Moore from

Actor Shameik Moore from "Dope" during the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 24, 2015 in Park City, Utah. Credit: Getty Images / Larry Busacca

Say the name Shameik Moore these days and all you hear is buzzzzzzzzz. The folks at Sundance earlier this year went nuts for the up-and-comer, who stars in "Dope," a coming-of-age indie comedy that writer-director Rick Famuyiwa calls " 'Risky Business' for the social media generation." It opens June 19.

Moore plays Malcolm, a hip-hop-loving, '90s-obsessed, grade-A geek living in Inglewood, California, just trying to get through high school with a little dignity -- and without his sneakers or bike being stolen (again). But his shot at Harvard hangs in the balance when he accidentally winds up with a stash of drugs from a local dealer (rapper A$AP Rocky). His odyssey includes nerdy pals (Kiersey Clemons, Tony Revolori), hotties (Zoe Kravitz, Chanel Iman) and a dope soundtrack -- Malcolm's punk-rock band plays songs written and produced by Grammy-winner Pharrell Williams.

Moore, 20, starred in the Cartoon Network's sketch-comedy series "Incredible Crew," and appeared in "Joyful Noise" (with Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton). He recently spoke with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio.

The response to this movie has been strong.

I hope it makes people happy. You ever talk to older people about, like, when a favorite song came out . . . maybe when they first saw Michael Jackson moonwalk? Their faces light up -- that's what I want people to feel with this.

I heard you sent an audition on video.

I'm from Atlanta -- the big jobs are always in L.A. But my family couldn't afford to move. Just wasn't an option. So we had to figure out how to get me seen. We sent in hundreds of auditions, for like two years. Long story short, my agent said, "This one's gonna change your life." I sent in the tape and the director said when he saw it he cried. They called on a Friday, said they wanted me in L.A. by Tuesday, and that next week I was recording with Pharrell Williams.

Wow. What's Pharrell like?

Pharrell's affected everyone through music. To work with someone like that -- it's a gift. You ever meet somebody you can learn so much from, and all you have to do is be quiet and watch? That's what it was like. I took in how he moves, speaks, how he creates, the whole nine.

And you became buddies with A$AP Rocky?

Rocky's like my big brother for real. Our whole cast became like family. Kiersey [Clemons] plays my best friend in the movie, and she's like my best friend in real life. And Tony [Revolori] is so funny . . .

He was hilarious in "The Grand Budapest Hotel."

When he walks into a room, he makes you laugh -- he's just a goofball. We all appreciate each other. Chanel [Iman] talked to me about how she's training, her vision for herself. It's like . . . we're all growing. I think that's what makes this movie so special.

Next you star in Baz Luhrmann's upcoming Netflix series, "The Get Down."

I play Shaolin Fantastic -- the lady-killing romantic.

Ahh, so it's a part that comes naturally.

Yeahhhhh. [He laughs.] I get to be the bad boy this time. I'm excited.

I gather it's about the 1970s, kids in the Bronx, and street culture's influence on disco, punk, hip-hop.

When disco was popular, it was called "the get down." That's where the title comes from. The series captures a moment in history that a lot of people don't know about.

Your career's taking off. Gotten any good advice?

Pharrell told me to remain humble, stay focused. I think the best advice I've gotten . . . [he chuckles] . . . came from my own voice memos. I record myself talking. I have a journal. And when I listen back, I remember why I wanted certain things. I listen to me at 16, saying "I really wanna be on TV . . . I want a movie, a huge movie . . ." and I'm just like, yo, I'm humbled. I'm living a life I imagined. The fact that you're on the other end of the line asking questions -- at 16, I would've loved to be interviewed. Know what I'm saying?


I think that's the best advice I can give myself, about reaching within, staying out of trouble, sticking with my morals, understanding where I come from. I'm not some crazy party animal. That's OK. If you say you want to be the best, you have to do what the best do -- train, research, eat right, take care of yourself, and be. Don't pretend. I'm from a neighborhood that isn't amazing -- it's not the worst, either -- and I was happy. But Atlanta is just one area of a country. There's a world out there I wanna touch. And for all this to happen on my first movie -- I'm not taking it for granted. I'm inspired to work harder.

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