The Get Down introduces modern viewers to the birth of hip-hop and DJing in 1977 New York, via a group of young characters who discover it for themselves. Justice Smith and Shameik Moore may be new discoveries to many viewers. Smith was in Paper Towns and Moore starred in Dope, but The Get Down brings them into millions of homes.
Smith plays Ezekiel, a poet in love with Mylene (Herizen F. Guardiola) who has the beginnings of a rapper. Moore plays Shaolin Fantastic, a DJ who learns from Grandmaster Flash (Mamoudou Athie) himself. We got to speak with Smith and Moore about their roles. The Get Down is now available on Netflix.
Justice, did you audition with the poem scene?
Justice Smith: Oh no. The scene I auditioned with, I think it got cut.
Shameik Moore: When we met.
JS: The scene where we met which completely got cut. Then I did a scene with Herizen.
SM: It just got altered. It didn’t get cut.
JS: No, that scene got cut, man. The scene where I’m talking about I’m going to go to the Trade Center and stuff.
SM: That was from the second season. Remember, it was when I came back and I was talking to you about Mylene.
JS: Yeah, that’s not in the show anymore, bro.
SM: It wasn’t season one, I’m trying to tell you.
JS: Well, that’s one and then I did the scene with Mylene in front of the church where I’m giving her that poem. That was also an audition scene. That poem was the audition scene.
Shameik, are you learning how to DJ from both the real Grandmaster Flash and the actor playing Grandmaster Flash?
SM: I learned from the real Grandmaster Flash.
Did you do the backflip?
SM: Yeah. Yeah, I did a backflip.
How did you each learn to dance ‘70s style? What were the biggest differences?
JS: Oh, we had amazing choreographers. Rich and Tone, SAMO, that taught us specifically time period appropriate dance moves so we weren’t doing any modern stuff in there.
What’s something modern you definitely can’t do in the ‘70s?
SM: The Nei Nei, The Whip, Hit Dem Folks.
JS: There’s a scene in one of the episodes where Shameik’s dancing on a car. Remember that? We’re like smoking a joint in the car and you were improv dancing. They kept being like, “No, you can’t do that but you can do this.” Remember that?
SM: I don’t think they were telling me I can’t do something. They were trying to call the choreographer to have me do it and I was like, “I know what to do.” I started doing this move [snapping fingers side to side] and he’s like, “Yeah, yeah, they did dance like that.” I was like, “I know.”
JS: That whole thing was you.
How much of the rooftop chase and jumping across rooftops could you do?
SM: I mean, I did the running part. I didn’t actually jump from roof to roof.
JS: Shameik does all his own stunts.
SM: Most of my own stunts I do.
Well, you can do a backflip.
SM: I flipped off the car. I did my slide down the rock. I do most of my [stunts].
JS: But you can’t jump off a building.
SM: Yeah, yeah, they wouldn’t let me do that. I did the hanging off, but it was from a different building.
The music in between the raps and performances is just as important. How much of that do you hear when you’re on the set?
JS: That was all in post. It all fits really well with what’s happening on screen and it was cool to see what they did with it, what our music team did with it and Baz. Sometimes Baz plays music on set to get us in the mood of the scene. I know he did that with Les Inferno scenes with me and Herizen, but it never ends up being in the show.
Is stepping on the set like stepping into a time machine?
JS: Yeah, our production designer is amazing, CM [Catherine Martin]. The costumes are amazing, Jeriana San Juan.
SM: CM isn’t costumes?
JS: CM is costumes but CM started the original costume design and then Jeriana flourished it from there.
SM: So CM is more for the set.
JS: CM is production design.
SM: Ah, okay, I see, I see.
JS: I learned that today too because I see her on both. I’ve seen her on set. CM did this one, there’s a small little snippet of a scene in the first episode where I reach for the boots, the disco boots while my aunt is sleeping behind me. It’s a very two second bit but I remember we were shooting that bit and CM comes in. She’s like, “There needs to be a ghost of a frame right here.” Then the guys put up a frame, they spray around it and they pull it off. It just ties the whole room together and it makes it look like there was a picture frame hanging there for years. That just speaks to her abilities, both of them. That couple is like a power couple. They’re both visionaries.
When you’re DJing and there’s no music playing, is it more challenging to act DJing with no music?
SM: No, I’m thankful for the talent that I’ve been blessed with to be able to do a convincing job. That’s the most humble way I can answer that question.
JS: Sometimes there’s music playing while you’re scratching.
SM: All the time there’s music playing.
JS: Unless we have lines over it. Then they cut it but most of the time, yeah, or we’ll have earpieces.
SM: I learned the actual movements so I am actually doing everything I’m supposed to be doing as if the music wasn’t playing.