Approaching the roles of Tupac Shakur and Jada Pinkett in All Eyez On Me was a tricky process for stars Demetrius Shipp Jr and Kat Graham.
As with any biopic, there’s a fine line between acting and impersonating a famous star and it’s one they were both well aware of.
“It was really important for us to not do an imitation because that’s almost disrespectful in a way. It’s almost the cheap way out,” Graham explained to loaded. “We wanted to find the parallels within our own lives and put our own energy into these characters and come at it from a really profound level of respect.”
When the first trailer for All Eyez On Me landed a few months back, that work appeared to have paid off, especially in the case of Shipp Jr, a relative unknown handpicked for the part of Tupac.
Initial reactions saw fans in shock at just how much the young actor, whose father actually worked for Tupac’s label Death Row Records back in the day, looked like the rap legend. Shipp is keen to stress that he’s more than simply a doppelganger though.
“I didn’t just get this part because I look like him. It’s deeper than that,” he says. “There are people that look more like him than I do. Having the aesthetics to do the audition is just one small part.”
Immersed in the world of Tupac, the pair believes some four hours worth of footage, covering the late star’s many ups and downs, was filmed.
“There were some scenes showing the unique relationship between Pac and Jada that didn’t make the cut,” Shipp Jr says, possibly in response to some claims that key moments were missed or reshaped in the film. “I’m hoping they will make the DVD though.”
Graham is a little more diplomatic: “We shot a lot of scenes that didn’t make the cut but overall you get a deeper understanding of Tupac and his life.” So what do the pair think Tupac, the man, was like then?
“He was a man ahead of his time. Wise beyond his years,” Graham says. “He was somebody who understood what was happening in society and wasn’t afraid to challenge it. He saw that the system was setting us up to fail.
“He was a leader and a revolutionary. A man of pure passion,” Shipp Jr adds, going on to highlight one striking aspect of Tupac’s legacy:
“One thing I admire about Tupac looking at it now. There are artists and celebrities – entertainers of colour who downright see what is going on, socially, and the problems we have when it comes to racial issues in America and they choose to opt out and take the ‘okay I don’t want to mess up what I have so I’m not going to say anything’ approach as if we don’t all come from the same beginnings.
“They get to that place and they say ‘oh well that’s all going on but I’m going to be very political about that answer or not answer at all’ that wasn’t Tupac. No matter what level of fame he got to, no matter what level of success, at any moment, he was going to speak to the streets and he was going to keep it real with people.”
As for whether they think Tupac would be happy with the state of America today, Shipp Jr keeps it short and far from sweet: “Hell no, come on now.”
All Eyez On Me is in cinemas now.
Loaded staff writer Jack Beresford has produced content for Lad Bible, Axonn Media and a variety of online sports and news media outlets.