When it was announced in late 2015 that newcomer Demetrius Shipp Jr. had been cast as Tupac Shakur in director Benny “Boom” Douglas’ upcoming biopic All Eyez on Me, some observers were left scratching their heads. Wait, who?
After all, Shipp didn’t have a single acting credit to his name, so shouldn’t the challenge of playing one of the most iconic rappers of all time go to someone with a little more experience? Not according to Douglas.
“I feel like I definitely got the right actor to play Tupac,” the director told Page Six recently. “It was important to get an unknown [actor] so people can lock into him and his performance versus any sort of baggage that another actor would bring. This role is just too important for hip-hop culture to mess it up.”
That kind of approach certainly worked for George Tillman Jr., who cast the previously unknown Jamal Woolard as Biggie in his 2009 film Notorious. Woolard went on to earn raves for his performance and will reprise his role as the Brooklyn rapper in All Eyez on Me.
And like Woolard—who raps under the name Gravy—Shipp too had his eyes on a music career. “Music is my passion,” he told XXL in June. “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.”
We guess that’s why they call it acting. Watch Shipp transform into the late, great, Tupac Shakur, when All Eyez on Me hits theaters on June 16, 2017.