Demetrius Shipp Jr. Aims to Provide a Better Understanding of Tupac in ‘All Eyez On Me’ Biopic – Exclusive
Hip-hop has been waiting 20 years to see a film about the life of arguably the most iconic rapper to ever grace the earth, Tupac Shakur. Whispers of a film being in the works plagued the industry for years, but it was on Dec. 18, 2015, when the cameras finally began rolling and production commenced on the Tupac biopic All Eyez On Me. Demetrius Shipp Jr. is the actor taking on the role of the famed rapper, a face essentially unknown in the entertainment industry. With a strong resemblance to Tupac, the 27-year-old likely just scored the role of his career (and his first professional acting gig).
What many people don't know is that Demetrius has closer ties to the legendary MC than what appears on the surface. His father was actually a producer for Tupac in his early days at Death Row Records. He helped craft the song "Toss It Up." Although Shipp Jr. has no recollection of meeting 'Pac himself, as a kid, he spent much time at the Death Row studio with his dad, Suge Knight and other early members at the storied label. Who knew that one day everything would come full circle for him.
Fast forward two decades later, in 2011, and the then 22-year-old heard about a possible casting for a 2Pac biopic online. After sending in an audition tape, he would wait nearly five years to get the call that he had received the role of a lifetime, ultimately changing his life.
XXL recently linked up with Demetrius to hear about the life-changing experience. Not only did he express his hopes for the Benny Boom-directed film but he also speaks on the release and what to expect from him down the line.
XXL: How did this come about? How did you get the role of Tupac?
Demetrius Shipp, Jr.: My best friend showed my this flyer that they had all over the Internet about a national casting call that they did for the role of Tupac. They had a website and you had to do like a monologue, pictures and a video. You had to upload the video to their site. You also had to upload it to your social networks and YouTube. I did it the last day and my dad happened to be a producer for Death Row as well. He produced “Toss It Up” for 2Pac.
So being that he was a producer at Death Row, he was also cool with L.T. Hutton, who was also a producer at Death Row. So I hadn’t told my dad that I was doing it or anybody. I just went out and did it. I submitted it on Facebook and my dad seen it. From there, he forwarded it to L.T. on Facebook. Then there were calls made like “Wow, that’s your son? I have to meet him.” It was just an ongoing process since like 2011.
Wow, so five years you’ve been waiting on this?
I didn’t get the call that I officially had it until [Nov. 18, 2015]. Two days before my birthday.
That’s a long time. You couldn’t get a better birthday present than that. We spoke to Benny Boom and he said that you were born for this role. What’s your take on that? This is your first real acting role.
I engulf myself in the character and I engulf myself in his life. I have to say that I’m a very passionate person, a person that’s very driven on integrity and my beliefs. I believe there’s definitely a similarity there. Just getting into the character, I fell in love with who he was. It was common things that were brought together with me and him, our childhood. It was a crazy thing to be able to do it. And the thing is, we have a lot in common. I’m a strong believer in the things that I want to do.
Do you have any acting experience prior to this? Maybe a high school drama class?
In high school, we would do improv. Me and my boy were like the stars of the class. We would get up and improv, and everybody would want us to get up [to do it] every day. That was cool but I mean, other than that, I just really went to an acting class with my boy because he was an actor as a kid. When he would go, I would go with him but I was never really enrolled in a class. The most I’ve done was a play in 6th grade. I don’t have a huge acting background at all.
Were you rapping before this? Did you have a buzzing career? What were you doing before this came along?
I’m a producer. I had a regular job. I was just trying to figure it out like the next man and trying to get it all together. Music is my passion. I’ve always been musically driven and musically inclined. I play the keyboard a little bit. I love listening to music and discovering music. That’s my love but I’m not a rapper at all. I tired to about 16. Going back to what you said about ‘Pac. I used to do poetry as a kid and stuff like that. I wanted to be a rapper at like 16. I had some good stuff too but I just never really pushed through with that.
That’s kind of ironic how you’re a producer and your dad was a producer for Death Row. In those days, did you ever actually meet Tupac?
Not to my knowledge. I don’t believe so. When I got there, it was a little bit different at Death Row. My dad worked at Death Row before ‘Pac got there. I was there maybe a little bit before ‘Pac got there. I think after he got there, it was a little bit crazier. I wasn’t around as much. I remember vividly as a kid, [my dad] going there and me being in the back room. They had a drum set and that’s where I was all the time. I would be there and I would just be loving to be the drums.
So you met Suge Knight though?
Yeah, I definitely met Suge. I met a lot of people, everybody that was there early. Everybody that was there before [Tupac] got there, I pretty much met. My dad actually knew Suge before Death Row too.
Do you have any cool stories to share about Suge or Dre from back in the day?
I was too young. I just remember one particular person who would be with me. His name was Kevin Louis.
Who are some people that you’ve spoken to prepare you for the role? I’m pretty sure Afeni Shakur is around set. Has she given you any advice? Or like Snoop Dogg or Suge Knight?
Afeni hasn’t been there and I haven’t got a chance to speak. That’s coming up soon. Of course, if I was able to make that happen myself, I would love to. I don’t know what’s going on. I can’t get into that. I spoke to E.D.I. Mean who was a member of the Outlawz and he was with ‘Pac all the time. He gave a lot of good advice like certain things that he would say or do. Everybody has a perception of Tupac from what they’ve seen or heard but nobody knows who he was behind closed doors. That’s what I wanted to get really deep into.
E.D.I. gave me a lot of information as far as that like who he was by himself and with the family. He was really a kind-hearted man, always looking out for other people. With this movie, there ended up being s lot of people in the different departments that had worked with Pac. One of the AD’s, he worked with Pac on Juice. Him and ‘Pac were together for his first movie. The wardrobe [stylist], she worked with Pac on Juice. Some other people worked with him on Poetic Justice.
Did anyone stop by set that you were surprised by? Like actors or rappers?
Lil Scrappy came, he was a huge ‘Pac fan. Trae Tha Truth came down. T.I. came down. Killer Mike came down. A lot of people in Atlanta just came down to show love. A lot of them were big fans of ‘Pac. I was kicking it with T.I. outside of set. He was sick [when Tupac died]. I believe he even cried that day. It just messed up his whole day when he got out of school. A lot of people were really influenced by this guy and really loved him. Oh and Rick Ross came down there too.
What do you think this movie is going to do for pop culture?
Why I took on this role is to give people a side of him that they never had. To really get a great understanding of him and his life, and why things ended up the way they did. We don’t really know the inside, the ins and outs. You can just paint your own picture and have your own perception of why he would act like that. Some people would think that he was just crazy and that wasn’t the case.
He did get to a point where things were all over the place but at the same time, there’s a reason why. If you look at when ‘Pac was 17 or 18 years old, he was basically an innocent kid. It’s a perfect contrast, completely different from how he was at 17 to when he was 23. You kind of have to take the role and think “How did he end up this way?” You have to really realize that there were events that happened in his life that caused him to be cold and to be angry.
There’s a lot of things that I got deep into and read about. His life took all types of turns. When you’re that person that’s trying to look out for everybody else and you got people going behind your back, not being loyal then who do you trust? When you’re sitting in jail for a crime that’s not even a crime, that whole rape charge -- he didn’t even go to jail for rape, he went for forcibly grabbing a girl’s butt. Really?
And, not only that but you go to a maximum security penitentiary. Then your album is out No. 1 and they ain’t have no money for him at all. They [weren’t] giving him no money. Then he got out and got with Death Row, they were like “He signed a deal with the devil.” It’s not like he signed a deal with the devil, he signed a deal with a man who was willing to get him out of jail. He did what anyone would do in that situation.
You’ve been in jail for eight months and somebody offers you a chance to get out. Then you get out and can continue what you’re working on. Everybody is going to take that deal. My whole thing that I wanted to leave people with is that they walk away like, “Wow, I never knew [that]. I have a whole different perspective on this guy’s life.”
Why do you think the movie took so long to be made? Especially with you saying you first showed interest five years ago. Do you think the creators purposely did this?
It definitely wasn’t on purpose but I think this is how God wanted it to get done. Just how everything started to manifest and come together. It was pretty much divine. Also, to go along with it, there’s a lot of stuff that goes into making a biopic. Even Straight Outta Compton, it took years to make. They were trying for a lot of years to make that movie and that’s why it came out good like that.
When you have characters that are real people and you got music rights and all that stuff, there’s a whole lot that goes into it. Then, everybody wants a part of the pot at the same time. So, you have to get a whole lot of people on the same accord to do this. God lined it up how he wanted to. When I auditioned in 2011, I don’t think I would have even got the role back then, compared to me being able to do it now. I knew I was ready to do it. I even had the confidence. I was like 22 and it was all new to me. Once I got in it now, I’m like “Yea, I can do this.”
Who casted you -- John Singleton?
No, he did not. Why does everybody say that? It was Carl Franklin at first. I had auditioned at [John Singleton’s] thing a few years ago but it was Carl Franklin that casted me. He was the director on board all of last year up until a change right before the start of filming.
As the 20th anniversary of Tupac’s death approaches in September, do you think the film will release this year?
That’s what they are shooting for, I will say that, and it’s a good shot. Then again, you never know.
What can we expect from you going forward?
I want to build an empire. I want to do it all honestly. I’m going to continue acting and doing music. I want to do fashion and start a line. I’m going to start a foundation. All the thoughts that I have, I’m going to do it all.
Do you have any roles or projects coming up? This is a huge role and I know you’re pretty much engulfed in this but is there anything?
No, just the label I have with my father. We got some dope artists and we’re definitely going to make some noise.
And you couldn’t have a better platform to do so.
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