Q&A: André 3000 Talks Jimi Hendrix Biopic, Hints at Solo Album

André Benjamin as Jimi Hendrix in the biopic “JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE,” an XLrator Media release.
André Benjamin as Jimi Hendrix in the biopic “JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE,” an XLrator Media release. Patrick Redmond

André 3000 has long fancied himself an actor. Now, a decade and change after Outkast's funkier half first "went to do a little acting," as Big Boi put it in "The Way You Move," the rapper finds himself caught between two career-defining roles. They are both musical icons of the past: In the new biopic Jimi: All Is by My Side, André stars as a young Jimi Hendrix in London, physically transforming his appearance and voice (so long, Georgia drawl) for the title role. Meanwhile, in an ongoing Outkast reunion tour, the artist reprises the André 3000 of 1994-2006, a songwriter the current André, now 39, has admitted he feels a bit distanced from.

It's a marked return to the public eye for an artist whose career since Outkast has largely existed in fits and starts: guest verses, minor film roles, a rumored yet still-undelivered solo album. Between the film and the tour, the artist has left his more reclusive tendencies behind.

On a recent press day in Manhattan's Murray Hill neighborhood, André chatted with Newsweek about the challenges of getting into character as Hendrix, the long-awaited solo record he still hopes to make, and whether Woody Allen would be down to direct an Outkast biopic. The interview has been lightly edited for length.

André Benjamin as Jimi Hendrix in the drama/biopic “JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE,” an XLrator Media release.
André Benjamin as Jimi Hendrix in the drama/biopic “JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE,” an XLrator Media release. Patrick Redmond

Tell me about getting into character as Jimi Hendrix.

It was a hardcore two months of vocal training, physical training, guitar training. But we'd been discussing it for, like, seven months. So John [Ridley, the director] and I had these goal-setting conversations of what he was looking for. Even just life conversations, asking me what am I into personally, what kind of music do I like. I'd read two biographies before I'd even met John.

What was the hardest part of becoming Jimi onscreen?

The voice. The voice and the left-handed guitar playing.

Voice while singing or while speaking?

Both. Well, once I got the speaking voice down, it was easier for me to do the singing.

Did you notice any similarities between you and Jimi that you didn't already know?

Not necessarily. Maybe just in entertainment life...not having all the balls to get out there and do it at first.

You both became famous at a very young age.

Yeah. I never thought about it that way. Knowing what it's like to start off not having all the confidence and building [it] over time. And actually, the people around you too, which is what this movie is about. He wouldn't be the Hendrix that we know if it wasn't for these two women. Or even the bands that were around. If it wasn't for the Who, if it wasn't for Eric Clapton, if it wasn't for these blues artists, Hendrix would not be who he is.

How much of the music did you have to learn?

We had to learn blues numbers and some of the guitar stuff we did in the movie. It was pretty hard! Because [playing] left-handed is like walking backwards.

What was tough about getting the look down?

The toughest part was trying to walk like Hendrix, which was hard because our body shapes are completely different. I have more of an athletic body shape. Hendrix is really slight-built, so I had to lose a lot of weight. But it wasn't hard to lose the weight. Just discipline.

Do you feel it was a roadblock that you didn't get the rights to Hendrix's songs?

No, not at all. I mean it would have been great to have the family on board, just to be happy about it and have a good spirit about it. But we never did need the songs or anything, so we never did need their permission to make this movie because the story was about what made him. This was before he wrote those songs.

I mean, it could have been cool to end off on a song that people know. It just would have been cool to have the family show up at the premiere.

But they're not on board at all?

I don't think so. I haven't spoken to them.

What's your favorite Hendrix album?

Electric Ladyland, I think. I like some of the prettiness of it. And it was a little bit more expansive, concept-wise.

A lot of critics compared some of the sounds on [Outkast album] Stankonia to Hendrix. Accurate?

Definitely. "Bombs Over Baghdad"—when [we] break out into guitar solos in the middle of a rap song, I did it because I was so into guitars at the time. That was clearly a Hendrix influence. It was definitely a lot of Sly [Stone] and a lot of Hendrix in Stankonia.

If they made a biopic about you, who would you want to play you?

I joked earlier about making the Outkast movie as a comedy. I don't know seriously who I would get to play me. But I did say Leonardo [DiCaprio] would have been someone hilarious, just to see him do my mannerisms and voice. It would be hilarious to see Kevin Hart play Big Boi.

Anyone in mind to direct?

What's that guy who works with Will Ferrell? McKay? Is that his name? [Adam McKay.] A great comedy director. Or, actually, Woody Allen. That would be dope.

Wow. Is he an Outkast fan?

I don't know! I don't think so. I just like his sensibility of filmmaking. I just think he would find it hilarious, too. I thought it would be cool to change the whole biopic genre. Instead of making it all serious-serious, make it a comedy. And do it while we're still alive so we can get the facts right.

You'll cooperate when they make a movie about you?

Hell, yeah! Hopefully, I'll be the producer on it.

Some friends of Hendrix's have come forward and said parts of the movie are untrue. Does it bother you if they think you didn't depict everything accurately?

Only thing I have to say is: Just research it. Honestly, it's not hard to find things. Just research it. That's all I can say about that.

Between the movie and the Outkast tour, you've been in the public eye more recently than in quite some years. Did you miss it at all?

No, not really. It's been challenging. But I just knew that I'd have to go out and support [the film]. With the tour, it's been good to just go out and see fans. With the Hendrix movie, I think it's a great thing to introduce people to the film. I hope they get to see it.

So much has changed since Outkast's last album in terms of celebrity and how that plays out online. Do you feel any pressure to join Twitter and promote yourself?

I feel no pressure at all. I've never had any of the social media companies. I've never been involved in any of them. It's really great when you think about what they are and what they do and the big hands that they have. Like, if I had something to say enough, it would be cool to jump into it.

But you don't—

The only time I think about Twitter is when I discover a new song, and I'm like, "This song is so dope, I want as many people to know about it right now." That's the only time I think about it.

It's been such a breakneck pace for you, with all the Outkast shows. Are you going to miss it?

I don't know. I'm actually just looking forward to making more music. I'm looking forward to getting in the studio and making my album.

There are lots of rumors swirling about that online. Can you clear the air at all?

I'd love to make another album, but I'm not trying to mess with people's emotions or anything.

A solo album?

A solo album. There's no plans for any Outkast albums right now. As for a solo album, it kind of sucks that people wait on something or kind of expect something, so I'll just say, People, please don't wait on it.

But you are interested in recording again?

Oh, yeah. Yeah! For sure. I have ideas that I'd like to try out to see if they work.

André Benjamin as Jimi Hendrix in the drama/biopic “JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE,” an XLrator Media release.
André Benjamin as Jimi Hendrix in the drama/biopic “JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE,” an XLrator Media release. Patrick Redmond

Do you think you'll want to rap again?

Who knows, man? I don't even know what you would call it. Who knows?

When you were touring with Big Boi, were there any moments when you had an urge to record with him again?

No. We were just kind of going to work and doing our songs for the stage. Didn't have any urge to go and record any Outkast songs or anything. But it's been fun on the tour.

What do you think is next for you after promoting the film?

Recording. I think after this last show, I think recording is really the best. That's what I love to do. I'd love to get in there and get this album knocked out.

Do you feel a lot of pressure because of how long it's been?

Yeah, I think there's a certain pressure. But also I think there's a kind of freedom. There's no pressure to be successful with it or anything because I've been successful in my young life. Even if I sell, like, 20,000 albums and do little clubs here and there, as long as I get off what I want to get off, I'm totally satisfied. I know it may sound like, "Yeah, you're just saying that shit," but honest, man. We've sold a lot of albums, thank God. We've traveled around the world.

So if I were to die today, man—we've done it. We've done it. So right now is just, like, passion projects. To be honest, this has always been passion projects.

Your whole career has been passion projects?

I've never done anything that I wasn't really into. It's really hard for me to do stuff that I'm not into.

Who do you feel inspired by? New artists, films?

Honestly, I'm inspired by everything—even the things that I think are wack. Because I know, well, that's not what I want to do. You gotta know what not to do to know what to do.