Rapper and actor Andre Benjamin plays Jimi Hendrix in the biopic Jimi: All Is By My Side. What did he learn from Jimi as a man? What does he think stands out about this film compared to others? And he talks about the challenge of playing the guitar with his left hand.
Q: What about Jimi: All Is By My Side will make it stand apart from all the other biopics?
I’m a fan of biopics. I know we see a lot of biopics and it’s like a telling of images and already things that we know of an artist and we try to see if they can pull them off. I think what’s important about this one is that we get to see a little more of the person, the human side of Hendrix, which is really important in a lot of artists’ lives. Because I’m an entertainer myself, I know how important that is: the people around you, the people that support you, and the people that nurture you. I think Hendrix definitely wouldn’t be Hendrix if it weren’t for the people around him and I think we get to see that’s what this movie’s about. So I think we get to see that. I think it connects more too because we see these stars on stage. That’s the business of making people into stars, making them bigger than life. But I think what resonates with the human is seeing the human side of a human, knowing Hendrix was nervous, knowing he didn’t like his voice, that it actually took a minute for him to get comfortable. There’s footage on YouTube of his first performance in Paris—it’s black and white footage—and he’s rolling around on stage, but it’s not as cool as it looks at Monterey, so it took him a minute to learn and get the confidence. So I think, as humans, we like to see “he’s just like me.” We put him up here, but he had to get there first.
Q: How long did you practice to play the guitar with your left hand for this project?
To be honest, it’s funny that you say that. I’m a shit guitarist, man. Honestly, I’m a right-hand guitarist but I’m a closet player. I’m more a punk guitarist more than anything. It’s just loud and fast. When we were preparing to make the movie, we thought that we could do it right-handed and then flip the image, so I could look as comfortable as possible, but it would be way too expensive to shoot that way so we decided to go with the left-handed gig, and I was really not confident in it at all. I remember having a conversation (with John Ridley, director) a couple of days before we left for Ireland about that. Another thing about the left-hand thing, Jimi, and I think any guitarist would agree, was the most comfortable-looking guitarist in the world. Most guitarists, even if they’re great, they look like they’re doing a task, like they’re working. But Jimi never looked like he was working. It always looked like an extra hand. So I guess the confidence that I didn’t have doing it left-handed was like, “OK, I’m actually doing something that my motor skills are not used to doing, and I have to look like I’ve been doing it all my life and I have to look like Jimi Hendrix doing it.” The confidence was just gone. Left-handed anything is just horrible. I don’t mean to be vulgar, but it’s like if you masturbated with your right hand all your life and then you switch it up, it’s totally opposite. It throws you off. John said, “The way we will shoot it, you’ll be OK.”
Q: What did you learn from him, his lifestyle, his philosophy? Did it affect your lifestyle or music?
Good question. The time is really important, during that time. You’ve got to think now, you may see a black man and a white woman walking down the street and it’s not as bad. But you have to remember that these were times when they were checking into hotels as The Experience and they didn’t want him there with the rest of his band. So I just learned he had to calm himself and still himself in a way and I think just that humility. You know, you learn just focusing on what’s important, and to me it was about the music for him. So he didn’t get into a lot of riffs in that way. I just learned that humility from him.
Jimi: All Is By My Side opens in theaters on September 26th.