Demetrius Shipp Jr. on Playing 2Pac: "This Is One of the Biggest Biopics That Will Ever Be Done"

First-time actor Demetrius Shipp, Jr. talks becoming 2Pac for 'All Eyez On Me.'

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Complex Original

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Over the last five years, true 2Pac fans have been patiently waiting for All Eyez On Me, a proper biopic looking at the impactful life and tragic death of hip-hop legend Tupac Shakur. After films like Notorious and Straight Outta Compton released, it appears that the film powers that be knew they needed to up the ante, and in getting Demetrius Shipp, Jr. for the role (in his first acting role), they put their best foot forward, and cast someone that's the spitting image of Pac.

Demetrius has a bit of personal history with 2Pac, primarily being the son of the man who produced Pac's hit single "Toss It Up," but also just being a fan of Pac's. We caught up with the young actor about working on such an important biopic and Pac's legacy.

Your father, Demetrius Shipp, Sr., actually worked with 2Pac when he was at Death Row, right?
They were pretty close. For the short time that he was there, he knew him. My father actually knew Pac—I believe they first met in Atlanta. They knew each other then and then got really close when they came to Death Row. 

I'd read that you'd actually been called "Pac" before, because you bear such a resemblance to him.
I started getting that in high school.

Now, the 2Pac biopic has been talked about for the past five or six years. When did you first hear about it, and what drew you to audition to play Pac? 
It was in 2011, my first audition. I sent [a tape] in because my friend told me, "You might as well audition. You might as well do it." I wasn't gonna do it but he convinced me to do it. 

Were you a fan of Pac growing up?
Of course, I mean everybody is a Tupac fan. 

Do you think you may have been a bigger fan because you had more of a personal connection with Pac? 
Definitely. He was the man at the time and my pop was able to produce and do a single for him, so Pac, he was there. 

How involved was Pac's family with you and your portrayal of him?
They weren't a part of the everyday setting. Afeni was an executive producer. As far as her being on set or anything like that, I never got a chance to meet Afeni. There were relatives that were willing to [give me] information. The Outlawz–EDI Mean and Noble–E grew up with 2Pac, so he gave me a lot of stories and information, and just great feedback on my work as well. The most important thing they were saying is making sure to recapture the essence of who he was.

Not only is this your first film, but it's also Benny Boom's first time directing a film. How was working with Benny on this project?
It was dope working with Benny. He is a guy who really takes his work seriously, all the way, completely, 1,000%. So, when you got people pushing on all ends and working their best and understanding that we can't have a mediocre film with this, it's Tupac, you know what I'm saying? Everybody was on the same page, we were all pushing for the best at every turn.

After a film like Straight Outta Compton, that got a lot of critical acclaim, you don't wanna half ass anything anyway, but it's almost like the bar has been raised at that point. You have to properly represent...
It's not even comparing that, because it's 2Pac, and this is a global star and icon. This is one of the biggest biopics that will ever be done. Next to Michael Jackson, you know what I'm saying? As far as the people in the world that's respected and loved when it comes to entertainment and as big as Pac, it's Mike... 2Pac, Elvis or something like that? 

Are you preparing yourself for your life changing after the film drops? 
People are already telling me, they're saying I don't have any idea. I know. I'll see if they're right. We are just gonna see what happens, and what's gonna take place and just wait. 

From the teaser we've seen, it looks like it packs a lot of Pac's life into the film, from his early life to his tragic death in Las Vegas. Was there any particular scene that was the hardest for you to shoot?
The hardest scene was the death scene, shooting the first part of it. We waited until the end of it all, so we literally shot it at the very end. You're coming to the end of it all, and you realize what's really going on, the full spectrum. I engulfed myself in his life completely, and it was really emotional for me. It was like, wow, I'm really understanding his life and the turns of what happened that led him to being there that night. 

That's the craziest part, right? 
He had just got back from New York, he got a call to come to Vegas, and he said he would be there so he went, but he really didn't wanna go. 

You were young when he actually passed away. Going through this process, did it make you look at the entirety of his life differently than you might've when you were younger? 
The greatness that I adore the most is him as a man, as a person, and as a leader, as a black leader. That's what I idolized in Pac more than the music. As a kid, it was just the music, but growing up, becoming a man, and diving deep into his life and seeing exactly what he had to go through, what he overcame, the choices he made and the wisdom he carried at 25. Man, that's something that was amazing. 

Finally, what are some of your favorite Pac songs?
"Dear Mama" is my favorite song, ever created. And then after that "So Many Tears" is my favorite Pac song just because of what he's talking about, the message, the delivery, all that. It's just one of the best rap songs ever recorded.

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