Writer-director John Ridley’s biopic of guitar great Jimi Hendrix eschews the typical cradle-to-grave format, focusing on the year leading up to Hendrix’s breakout performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. ”The excitement was in avoiding what was expected,” says Ridley, who cast André Benjamin in the role despite the OutKast frontman’s limited acting experience. ”André had so many traits of Jimi — humble, thoughtful, introspective,” says Ridley, an Oscar winner for his 12 Years a Slave script. ”The way he embodies Jimi is unbelievable.” Ridley and costume designer Leonie Prendergast share how Benjamin transformed into the legendary rocker.
Before the shoot began, André Benjamin underwent five months of rigorous guitar lessons. ”André learned how to play the guitar upside down and left-handed just like Jimi did,” says John Ridley. ”He gave himself over to the part in all ways.”
For a scene in which Hendrix performs ”Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” with a few Beatles in attendance, Leonie Prendergast hand-painted a wildly psychedelic pattern onto a custom-made white silk jacket. ”That was really fun,” says the designer. Slim tailor-made trousers complete the look.
No detail was too small for the style-conscious Benjamin. He accessorized with Native American pieces and several replicas (made by Irish craftsmen) of Hendrix’s signature jewelry, including a silver and onyx ring. ”André would always pick his jewelry as a finishing touch,” says Prendergast. ”He made a daily ritual of it.”
Benjamin wore a custom-made wig in the lofty pompadour style Hendrix had during his days as a backup instrumentalist.
The Weight Loss
The film begins in 1966, when ”Jimi was just emaciated,” says Ridley. ”He was broke.” So Benjamin lost 20 pounds from his athletic 5’10” frame. Despite the star’s low-cal diet, Ridley says, ”André was just an even-tempered, thoughtful, and hard-working individual.”