Why you should care
Because in show business, a triple threat is better than a single one.
It’s about 20 degrees in Park City, Utah, during the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, and Shameik Moore decides that sitting on a bench outside is the best location to discuss his budding film and music career. For the 19-year-old triple threat (dancing, acting and singing), everything he does seems to be about leaving a lasting impression — even this conversation.
“I feel like life is a showcase,” Moore says, his almond eyes peeking from beneath his beanie. The medium-height, chocolate-toned performer is unfazed by the chilly air and speaks in an animated fashion, sometimes breaking into impromptu dance moves. He exudes optimism with a contagious positive energy that always suggests the glass is half full. “You had better put on a show, because there’s no point in doing anything if not going all out,” he says.
This is one cocky kid, especially for one whose résumé speaks only of appearances in music videos, a few bit roles and a part on a sketch comedy canceled on Cartoon Network. But in June, he’ll be starring in Dope, which after Sundance was promptly picked up by Open Road Films for $7 million. Moore’s performance — playing a smart aleck, ’90s hip-hop-loving Inglewood teenager who gets swept up in a day of chaos that nearly derails his Ivy League aspirations — has led to many movie pros pegging him as this year’s breakout star.
That’s, of course, always far from certain. But what makes his story unique may be his level of confidence. Ultra confidence. Listen to him talk about his music and his performance: “Nobody can tell me that when you hear the music you won’t like it. Nobody can tell me that when you see me dance you’re not entertained. Some things are just meant to be, and I’m going to do all that I can to change history.”
For some, that kind of optimism and conviction might be on the arrogant side. Yet “if you don’t try to make your dreams come true, no one is going to do it for you,” says writer Brian Moylan, who gave Dope high praise in his review for The Guardian. Moylan believes that the potential for Moore to break out is there, but tempered by factors beyond the teenager’s control. “I think Moore would be smart to keep working very hard with determined focus to have the kind of career and make the kind of art he wants,” he says.
Moore plans on making a big splash in the music world.
If his career does take off, it won’t be from years of experience in show business. While many start young, Moore is a late bloomer who grew up in a strict household that certainly wouldn’t have allowed him to go near something like Dope. Born in Atlanta to Jamaican parents, Moore says his Christian upbringing with his mother was a sheltered one where the only focus was on the Bible. Anything secular was forbidden. “Hip-hop music was devil’s music; it wasn’t allowed.”
Still, it wasn’t all strict: His father happened to be Errol Moore, founder of reggae band Monyaka. And after his band returned from a tour with Inner Circle, the elder Moore realized that his son was old enough to experience popular culture and took young Shameik to see the urban dance film You Got Served. Moore says it changed everything. “I was a totally different person and began dancing from that moment on.”
Look carefully and you will find him in music videos such as Keri Hilson’s “Turning Me On” and Soulja Boy’s “Bird Walk.” He has some commercials too, and got his break in acting when he became a regular on Cartoon Network’s short-lived sketch comedy Incredible Crew. Bit roles on Tyler Perry’s House of Payne, BET’s Reed Between the Lines and the feature film Joyful Noise soon followed, but Moore knew it was time to take the next step in his career when he heard auditions were being held for Dope by director Rick Famuyiwa — known for feature films The Wood, Talk To Me and Brown Sugar.
Interestingly, his ultra confidence parallels his arrogant character in Dope, who refuses to be denied his path to glory. “I think when a new person bursts onto the scene and they want to work in various different media, it’s hard for people to know what to take seriously and where to categorize them,” Moylan says, explaining that most artists (e.g., Justin Timberlake, Common and Jamie Foxx) focus on and try to perfect one craft before moving onto another.
But give Moore credit. For all his confidence in Dope, he isn’t banking entirely on the movie. He’s wrapping up an EP titled 30058 — named after the Lithonia ZIP code where he cut his teeth as a performer — and plans on making a big splash in the music world. “This isn’t my album; this is my soundtrack,” Moore says of his upcoming project. “I call it a soundtrack because these are real stories of where I come from. These songs sound like they could be on the radio right now, and they will be.”