The legacy of Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace lives on as the late lyricist’s life is immortalized on the big screen this month in “Notorious.” As one of hip-hop’s lyrical masterminds, the Brooklyn native and only child of Voletta Wallace told tales of his hard-knock street life. But to his mom he was simply her baby boy who always made her smile.
Coping with her son’s 1997 murder wasn’t easy but Ms. Wallace found solace in collaborating on B.I.G.’s life story as one of the film’s coproducers. ESSENCE.com spoke to Wallace about witnessing another side of her son for the first time, having Angela Bassett fill her shoes, and why she wants to have a one-on-one with Lil’ Kim.
ESSENCE.COM: We are excited about “Notorious.” What was your first impression when you saw Jamal Woodard, who plays your son?
VOLETTA WALLACE: When he walked into the room, his whole demeanor was Christopher and I knew. I was in the corner and he never saw me and I said, “That’s my son there.” The director told me that Jamal had never acted before. They would have to work really hard and there were so many other actors. I said, “Nope, that’s him.” There were days I had goose bumps just watching him. I was always close to my son and now I’m close with Jamal for the respect that he had for my son. Believe me, to fill Christopher’s shoes wasn’t easy. That’s a size 13.
ESSENCE.COM: (Laughs.) Definitely. Is there something you discovered about your son and his legacy while watching the film?
WALLACE: (Laughs.) I gained strength from it. There were things about him that I never knew that I wanted to see for myself on film. I saw a side of my son that I heard of but I haven’t accepted. I’m angered by certain things, disappointed and shocked. So this film taught me tolerance and to be less critical. I would love to speak to Lil’ Kim, because I need to ask more about this love relationship because I really didn’t like the way he treated her and I’m praying that that’s not it. Only she can answer those questions. She’s a sweet girl and I didn’t think she deserved to be treated the way he treated her, if that’s the case.
ESSENCE.COM: Any mother would want that. Did you have Angela Bassett in mind to play you from the start?
WALLACE: Yes, all the way. I didn’t even want to be a part of it at first, but then there wouldn’t be a Christopher if there wasn’t a Ms. Wallace (laughs). So I said, if there was anyone who was going to play Voletta Wallace, I wanted Angela Bassett. I read the script and sent it out to her on tape to get my accent down pat. She was very gracious and humble, and I was honored to have her. She came around the set and everyone adored her. She’s a big star and here she was saying hello to everybody when she came in the room—to people she never met before. And it wasn’t pretend. It was genuine.
ESSENCE.COM: So when did you realize your son had talent, and what did you admire most about Christopher?
WALLACE: I took note of my son’s talent when I listened to “Juicy.” When I did the video and heard all the lyrics, I listened to a story that I had never heard before. I never knew what rap was, but this was a young man that was telling a story and put music behind it. I thought that it was so intricately and expertly put together. To me that was art, that was talent. I admire his strength and the tenacity he had. Not many young men wanted something in life and he saw something he wanted and fought to get it. I have a great deal of respect for him for that.
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