Christopher Jordan Wallace, Son of Biggie Smalls, Makes a Name for Himself in Everything Must Go
Before he made his screen debut in the 2009 biopic Notorious portraying his own father, the late rapper Christopher "Biggie" Wallace, newcomer Christopher Jordan "CJ" Wallace had no aspirations for a Hollywood career. But the acting bug hit and a call from writer-director Dan Rush followed, and within a few years Wallace, now 14, found himself playing opposite Will Ferrell in the achingly bittersweet indie drama Everything Must Go, about an alcoholic salesman struggling to cope with losing it all.
Meeting the ninth grader in Los Angeles to discuss Everything Must Go gave way to a number of surprising revelations. He's impressively, genuinely normal in a way actors his age rarely seem. Polite and thoughtful, Wallace possesses the same gentle maturity that lifts his on-screen interactions with Ferrell in the film, in which he plays a lonely neighbor kid who befriends -- and saves -- Ferrell's sad sack in crisis. His performance is one of the many quiet marvels of the film, one that presages a thoughtful film career to come -- but only, Wallace insists, after he focuses on school.
That Biggie's son, a young actor capable of holding his own against veterans like Ferrell, maintains such balance in his life is the happiest discovery of all. He spoke with Movieline about the advice he's received from his mother, singer Faith Evans, how his work on Notorious brought him closer to his father, and what the future might bring as he sets his sights on college, acting, and directing.
Notorious was your first movie. When and why did you first decide you might like to try acting?
I think I was 11. I didn't decide to do it -- my grandma, she told me, "You should try and see if you can play your dad in the movie." And at first I kind of thought, well that would be real typical, for Biggie's son to play Biggie as a kid. But I kind of got into it a little bit. I didn't want to just pass it up.
Did you have to audition?
Yeah, I auditioned. I read the script a couple of times and went over it and found out stuff I didn't even know about my dad. So that was pretty cool.
That's a pretty special way to start, with that unique personal relationship to your character. Did you have any experience acting before then?
No, not really. My grandmother just thought I should do it! If she hadn't have done that, this wouldn't have happened.
Were you always interested in performing arts? You've dabbled in music, for example.
Not exactly. I first started doing music before I did the acting; I just would joke around with my brother and pretend to be a rapper on Garage Band -- we would make up songs, take instrumentals from other people and rap on them. It was fun! I never really got serious about it but then the music thing came. I don't really do it that much anymore but if I get the chance I'll do it. It's fun.
Did you start listening to rap by listening to your dad's music? I think I was your age when I first started listening to him.
I don't know -- I remember one time, when we first moved to L.A. in 2004, being in the car and it came on the radio and said, "And that was Christopher Wallace's 'Juicy.'" I asked my mom, I didn't even know! "That's me -- I'm Christopher Wallace!" She was like, "No, no, no, that's your dad." Then I kind of got into it a little more.
Well there's also the fact that some of his lyrics are a little explicit! Were you even allowed to listen to some of those songs when you were younger?
[Laughs] My parents treat me a little older than I am, and I actually appreciate that. I don't like being treated like a little kid.
You do seem to have an old soul.
[Laughs] Is that good?
Thank you. But yeah, I don't really like to be treated like I'm four. When I'm in class and the teachers come up to me and ask, "Did you do your homework?" Yes I did my homework!
You're a freshman in high school now. How does acting fit into your normal life? Is it something you want to do in the long term?
Yeah, I would love for it to be my job, if I could. But right now the main focus is school. Acting would definitely be a good choice after. I'm about to take acting classes, starting as a sophomore. Freshman aren't able to do it, but I'm taking it.
After Notorious, how did you find your way to Everything Must Go? Were you considering a lot of different projects to go out for next?
Actually, no! I've never gone to an audition. I was just invited by the director and producer -- with Everything Must Go, Dan [Rush] called my dad and he told him that he saw Notorious and wanted to see if I could be Kenny. I read, and he said he would keep in touch with me, and a couple of weeks later he called my dad and told him he wanted me to read with Will [Ferrell] this time. So that kind of let me know that I did good the first time. [Laughs] After that, two weeks later, he called me after school and said he wanted me to be his Kenny.
What did that first read-through with Will feel like?
On the way there I was kind of nervous. I'm not gonna lie, I was really nervous. Like, oh my God, it's Will Ferrell! I thought I was going to just randomly start laughing throughout the whole thing because he's so funny. We did the scene where I find the Playboys. I remember saying, "What about these?" But he made me feel real comfortable, because he's easy to work with.
And it is something different for him as well. There's a real sadness to Everything Must Go, it deals with so many heavy themes and feelings -- alcoholism, and its destructive effects.
Yeah. I was really surprised.
Do you watch movies like this yourself?
Yeah, I like serious movies. I do love comedies -- Will's movies, The Hangover, those are my favorite movies. But I love watching those serious heartfelt movies. Mostly biographies and things like that.
How did you find you related to Kenny when you first got into the character?
I honestly felt like I was the opposite. He's the complete opposite of me -- he's a kid with no friends, not really popular, doesn't have anybody around him. His sister looks after him because his mom works all the time. It's just the opposite for me. He sees Nick as a chance to get one friend, finally, and he ends up being good friends with him.
Considering that with Notorious you had so many resources to pull from, including your own family members and people who knew your father, how did you get into a character whose life is so different from yours?
That's a good question.
Did you talk a lot with Dan or Will about the script or characters?
Not really. The only time I talked to Will one-on-one was when we did the audition. I asked a lot of questions on set and Dan would help me out, like if I needed more emotion or anything like that. Dan really made me feel comfortable, too.
The kind of relationship your character has with Will's in the film is great to watch unfold. Will is this adult who's hit bottom and you're this kid who, in many ways, is way more together. It's a really interesting dynamic. Was that an easy chemistry to find with Will in the moment?
It was. Like, immediately when we first read together there was a connection, at that moment. We carried it through onto the film. And like I said before, it's just easy to work with him. He's so great! And he always had a couple jokes [between scenes] and made me laugh all the time. He can be serious, too, but he's hilarious.
A few years ago you expressed an interest in studying film.
Yup! I really love taking pictures and stuff -- I have a film camera, my sister has a film camera, and I took photo class this year. I'm in Photo 2 now. The first semester we did film, and we got to use film cameras and develop them in the darkroom. Now I'm in Photo 2 with digital, but I recently lost my camera so it sucks. I feel bad. I know I lost it.
So you have an interest in the photographic process; do you think you'd like to go into directing?
Yeah, definitely. I want to study film and possibly make and act in my own movies.
We're in an age when it's easy for anybody to do that on their own, with digital cameras. Have you done anything like that yet?
Not really, but I always talk about it. I should! I don't really have the materials, like I don't own a Flip camera or anything like that. I really want to get one.
How does your mom feel about your aspirations for an acting and filmmaking career?
She's real supportive. She's supportive of everything I do. She's never really looked down on anything -- I could do anything and she'll go for it.
Now that you're diving into the entertainment world, have you learned any lessons from her about how to handle the spotlight or the pressures?
She always taught me to always be respectful -- the cheesy stuff...
Yes, it's important! [Laughs] To always be respectful. "Let the shine come to you." Like, not to always ask for the limelight. I don't really ask for attention, I just back off and wait. So stuff like that.
What's next? Do you have any projects planned or in the works?
I don't really have anything planned. I've been recently reading for other movies and have liked a couple of them. Hopefully I'll do them, but I really don't like doing movies during the school year because it's really hard. I had to do Everything Must Go during the school year, so I had a tutor with me when I was off set. That was kind of a hassle. I'd rather just do them during winter breaks and during the summer.
What kind of scripts and stories are you looking at?
I want to stay with the whole, how do I say this? I like the low key kind of vibe. Not really hyped up movies. There's this other movie that I'm reading for, Rocket 88, about four or five kids making soapbox cars and we pretty much make those and race them around and stuff.
Everything Must Go is in limited release.