Who Played Ya?

Erròn Jay, a 27-year-old aspiring actor originally from Kansas City, has one film credit to his name: the 2005 Sci-Fi Channel horror flick Larva. "I was the police deputy," he recalls. "The only black person in the movie. You can't miss me."

Jay knows his race does not bode well for his longevity in such a film. "Yeah, but I didn't die first," he crows. "I died like an hour and a half into the movie. There's plenty of deaths before mine."

Now he's chasing a much larger, more prominent role, another tragic figure who didn't die first: Biggie Smalls.

Fox Searchlight's Notorious is evidently a full-scale biopic — à la Ray or Walk the Line — of the deified Brooklyn rapper. Except it hasn't been shot yet. Or cast. In fact, the producers announced last week their leading man would be some random dude they found on the Internet.

Biggiecasting.com is hosting online open tryouts with the tagline "RU BIG?" Get a video camera. Act out a page of the script. (Yes: good lighting. No: profanity.) Engage in some freestyle rapping. Upload it. Anyone can do it; anyone can win. Might be Jay. Might be you. Might be a terrible fucking idea.

Citing a major announcement sometime this week, the producers were unavailable for comment. Just hope to Christ that announcement isn't So You Think You'll Love It When We Call You Big Poppa, a new reality show hosted by Malcolm-Jamal Warner wherein starry-eyed hopefuls try to remember all the words to "Me & My Bitch" or ­flamenco-dance to "Hypnotize."

Filling Biggie's shoes — size 13, notes his mother/Notorious coproducer Voletta Wallace — with an absolute unknown, in a gimmicky MySpace/YouTube/American Idol flourish, smacks of desperation. The onetime Christopher Wallace is not a Broadway production of Grease or a Pussycat Doll, he's one of the most lionized and romanticized figures in hip-hop history.

Can this possibly work? No way of knowing, alas, until the producers find their man. Or don't. Might be anyone. Might be you. Might be Jay.

"The look we're going for is an actual trailer," he says excitedly. "As if I was already in the movie." Erròn is discussing his own audition video from Chicago, where he's lived for the last four years. He recently graduated from DePaul with a master's in fine arts and acting.

When the open call was announced, biggiecasting.com's message board immediately lit up with aspiring Biggies offering résumés, passionate testimonials (often typed in all caps for emphasis), MySpace pages and uploaded photos to underscore the uncanny resemblance. Popular tactic: Wear a Biggie shirt and mimic his facial expression.

Somehow, Erròn Jay has dominated. Roughly half the posts are his, or people claiming to be him, or people claiming to know and enthusiastically endorsing him for the role, though one poster frets that he might be too handsome. Others denounce and accuse him of orchestrating this campaign himself.

"I guess I have the most supporters on there," he says. "Which then makes me have the most haters on there."

He laughs at the notion that all these supporters are his own invention. "I may be an artist, but I don't think I'm that creative, nor do I have the time. I go on at least nine or ten auditions a week here in Chicago. I think it's a hilarious theory that I would just sit on my computer all day, rather than work on my craft or do something more productive."

So he's doing something more productive: the audition tape. For the freestyle portion, he's working with a rapper friend from Queens who has been helping him to nail the East Coast style. More metaphoric, he says. He is also employing his researching skills.

When Jay played a "50-year-old socially inept man" in August Wilson's play Two Trains Running, he sought out actual 50-year-old socially inept men — mostly war veterans and the homeless — and talked to them. So he's absorbing Biggie's music, videos, interviews, photos. Working on the voice, the cadence, the walk. The swagger. Especially the swagger.

Jay bristles at the notion flung by some of his online detractors that he's not gangsta enough for the role. "Kansas City is not the easiest place to live," he notes, pointing out that prior to Training Day, no one was particularly scared of Denzel Washington. "He put it on," Jay says. "He put it on just fine. Put it on enough to win an Oscar."

But perhaps Jay has already had too much air time. Biggiecasting.com has already put up several audition videos they've received, and they're not promising. William from Dallas clearly reads from a script and can't quite suppress his Southern accent. Isaiah from D.C. actually has a pretty great read-through, but his freestyle includes a shout-out to Vitamin Water.

Ondre from Freeport, Kentucky, has gotten terrible reviews — "If you really love Big you wouldn't even have done that" — and Brian from Philly is overdressed. Mmmm. This is going to take awhile.

Let's chat briefly, via e-mail, with a few other Biggie wannabes:

James Oliphant

Age/Weight /Location: 26, N/A, Toledo

Acting Experience: Nearly cast as the lead in the Fat Albert movie

Rapping Experience: "Hell yeah I'll freestyle!!!!"

Possible Issues: "I hate to sound vain, but Biggie wasn't a good-looking man and I been told that I'm a good-looking guy...That might be my biggest hurdle to jump gettin' into this movie, but as far as swagger and personality and emotion I got it on lock."

Current Mood: Determined

Gabriel "Big Bamm" Edwards

Age/Weight /Location: 34, "a strong 300 pounds plus," Brooklyn

Occupations: Actor, music producer, hotel-industry union delegate, fashion designer, caterer

Prior Acting Experience: Portrayed Wallace in Judgment Day, a play about Tupac put on in Harlem in the late '90s

Connections: Catered a Biggie memorial at S.O.B.'s, where he met Voletta Wallace ("She was really nice and enjoyed my cakes.")

Brooklyn Swagger: "It's the way we walk, the way we talk and wear our clothes and floss. Once you are born and grow in Brooklyn it's embedded in your soul, and no matter where you go in the world people are like, 'You from Brooklyn, right?'"


Age/Weight/Location: "Grown and sexy"/"270-plus as of today"/Flatbush native, currently in Dallas

Occupation: "IT Consultant/Six Sigma Master Black Belt (Google if unsure of this occupation)"

Claim to Fame: Appeared as T-Bone in the first season of I Love New York

No, Seriously: "The I Love New York show was crazy, honestly! I say 90 percent or more of what you saw was spontaneous and real. I met some really cool people and we stay in contact to this very day."

Brooklyn Swagger "The gangsta part is a nonissue for me — growing up in Brooklyn, I already know, enough said."

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Rob Harvilla
Contact: Rob Harvilla