Photo Credit: @aleciarenecephoto
“No one knows my struggle, they only see the trouble.”
From the very beginning of the film where Afeni Shakur [played by] asked a young Tupac about his knowledge of a news article on Nelson Mandela versus the normal, “how was school?”; we knew that this portrayal of the rap icon would be something different. That it wouldn’t be the usual “troubled Shakur” antics, but one that would show another side, and FINALLY answer the question WHY?
What’s the WHY behind Tupac Shakur? Why did he choose to be a conscious rapper? Why was there so much pain and aggression in his eyes? Why was he the target of so much scrutiny?
Why was TUPAC, TUPAC?
According to producer L.T. Hutton, the road to developing this film was filled with lots of trials and tribulations as a result of who people assumed the rapper was, along with “false” assumptions of what sought after investors thought the biopic would lead to.
When the idea for Tupac’s biopic was announced, there was no “NOTORIOUS” or “Straight Outta Compton” to use as leverage and show how successful these sorts of films could become! Behind the scenes work on this film had been taking place since 2011 when L.T. Hutton first discovered Demetrius Shipp Jr. And according to L.T., no matter how many people auditioned for the role, no matter how many cities he’d hosted those auditions, etc…. EVERYTHING about Demetrius was Tupac and he knew that he had to fight for this young man to be on the big screen.
“There was so many challenges. Just understand that this is Hollywood and in Hollywood they’re still talking about the first black. In 2017 they’re still talking about the first black. Let’s be clear on that. So when you’re looking at Kat Graham & Demetrius Shipp on the screen, I had to fight for both of them. I had a huge argument, you know when you hear these stories, ‘L.T. was crazy.’ No I just wasn’t going to let Hollywood make me do something that I didn’t believe in, and like I said I’m fighting for new Hollywood to get new situations. So Demetrius, I had him the entire way. But he didn’t physically come on until November 18th and we started shooting December 17th. And that day, I turned over a few tables, said I’m leaving the project, I’m done packing up I’ll do the movie somewhere else. I’m not gonna do it with this particular company because ‘this is the guy.’ I don’t want to see another….. Ugh! It got so bad until the point where you know, no disrespect to Atlanta but we had Tupac auditions coming in from Atlanta. There’s a certain dialect you had to have.”
He went on to say:
“This was a vision I had from day one. So if you couldn’t share the vision or come in and didn’t come to serve Tupac, Tupac’s voice, Tupac’s goals, it wasn’t gonna happen.”
And against several suggestions, Demetrius says that he received a call from L.T. in November 18th announcing that he’d had the job.
“November 18th is when I got the call.”
But as you can imagine, playing Tupac Shakur hasn’t been a “walk in the park,” and Shipp stated that for months he’d go to sleep and wake up to Tupac Shakur. He’d studied interviews, listened to all of his music, hung around Pac’s friends and family, etc… in order to get a better understanding of who he truly was and his very unique mannerisms.
So our initial question during their DC [roundtable] Press stop at “Bus Boys & Poets” was for Shipp Jr. and we wanted to know:
How has playing this role changed your life and perception of societal issues? Do you find yourself taking certain issues a little more seriously?
“Naw, I just feel the same way. I can’t really go into it because I don’t like really talking about it that much but it didn’t change how I feel about social issues going on. It’s still bad out here. At some point I’m going to use my platform to speak on certain things when the opportunity presents itself.”
Shipp even commented that he’d become so connected with his character that he began to channel him “on and off” camera, often causing a little conflict with staff. Producer L.T. Hutton chimed in stating:
There were times when Demetrius, it was a situation! They get me on the walkie, and so I go over and talk to the kid and as he was talking, it’s ALL PAC. Til’ I’m like, ‘Aye man listen. It’s finna get really, really.’ Then I told everybody to leave him alone. Then he would call me either late that night or the day after and say, ‘Aye Unc. I’m sorry for that.’ And I’d say it’s okay because I know that was Pac saying, ‘let me do what I do.’
But that’s expected! When you become someone, the audience REALLY wants you to channel that person. And for this film to be Shipp’s opening debut as an actor, we think he did an AMAZING job.
The same goes for actress Kat Graham [plays Jada Pinkett Smith], who unlike Shipp has had so much acting experience. She’s played in the following films/series: “The Parent Trap,” “17 Again,” “The Roommate,” “Honey,” and “The Vampire Diaries” just to name a few.
And fortunately enough for Kat, the woman who she’s portraying is still alive. So we were hoping that she’d gotten the chance to either meet Jada or speak with her during filming for effective portrayal. But this wasn’t the case! Kat says that when she did have a telephone conversation with Jada about the film and her relationship with Tupac, they’d just wrapped up filming so she had to rely on her own research, her acting coach, and what those close to them mentioned.
“I knew Willow & her brother. I knew her brother first and then I met Willow later on. The second I found out that this was happening was like, I wanted to let her know and if there was anything she wanted me to know out of respect. Anything that she wanted me to stay away from. Anything like that! I wanted to protect her, this is her life. This isn’t a movie for her, this is a portrayal of her life and someone she deeply cared about. She wasn’t aware of our shooting schedule so by the time she called me back I’d literally just wrapped the last scene. But you know, I believe in God and destiny and I believe that this is the way it was meant to be, and she was incredibly supportive. She was like, ‘You know what, you got this.’ And it was interesting cause when I was talking to her what he was talking about was true. She was incredibly supportive and really loving and encouraging, and I was just sharing info. with her about what we shot, where we shot, and what parts of her life there were.”
Side-note: The casting director for this film did such an AMAZING job. Not only does Kat resemble Jada, but talks like Jada as well. The irony?!
Overall, this film most certainly brought us to tears, much laughter, and at times sent chills running through our bodies after figuring out what TRULY happened in certain situations [i.e. Tupac vs. Biggie, Nigel, Death Row Records, etc….]
And apparently, we weren’t the only ones who were brought to tears. Actor Demetrius Shipp Jr. says that there were moments where he cried in his trailer prior to/ after filming a scene, example being the “death scene.” Likewise, producer L.T. Hutton says that he had to walk off set a few times during filming after growing emotional. Especially during the re-creation of Tupac’s ‘iconic’ House of Blues performance.
L.T. Hutton states:
“I broke down in Vegas and I broke down at the House of Blues. House of Blues I had to walk of set. I had to get myself together, because that one took me out. There were moments on stage that we created with the actual Outlawz, the energy in the room….. PAC SHOWED UP!”
Following this statement from L.T., he stated something that really stood out to us about the film. He stated that it was not only important throughout the entire ordeal to be authentic, but use this film as a way to shed light things going on right now. Tupac’s voice and message is still very relevant! L.T. said that it’s important for young people to understand that when the lights go dark IT’S OVER!
“After he’s gone there is no more. So to perpetuate the stories of what happened after he died and different things, he’s gone. He’s not here. And I wanted to leave it in that cautionary tale, in that moment for you to absorb and understand that. This man died at 25. That’s not a good thing. He could’ve been so much more. The theme that I created around the film was Tupac was who he wanted to be and who he had to be to survive the world that he was in.So with that theme, I called it the holy trinity. I was able to give you a full complexion of this man and his understanding of how he walked through life and how he dealt with certain things. And the ultimate being the death scene. There’s nothing else after that. So when it goes quiet, I wanted the world to understand, it’s QUIET. It needs to resonate to the kids in Chicago, kids in Baltimore, kids in the inner cities in general. This game you’re playing when you take somebody’s life for nothing, it’s black. There’s no coming back from that. I wanted it to shake you like it shook us in 1996.”
This statement literally blew us away!
Tupac died at the tender age of 25 years old. He was taken way too soon!
But what L.T. seems to he trying to get young people to understand is that, your actions have consequences. And thankfully enough, you’re still here to correct where you may have gone wrong. However, there are some people who don’t have that luxury! Once everything goes dark, there are no more chances left. Your life has ended!
Tupac once said:
“I’m not saying I’m gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world.”
Even in death, his legacy STILL continues to live on! Many only know Tupac Shakur from the troubles displayed in the media during that time. But there was SO MUCH MORE to this man and we’re so happy that L.T. Hutton, Benny Boom, and the many others who aided with this films production, was able to reveal it to the world!
Make sure to check out “All Eyez On Me” now in theaters worldwide!