Demetrius Shipp Jr. may be a complete unknown before taking the lead role in All Eyez on Me, but he may have a bit of help connecting to the real-life Tupac Shakur.
Shipp Jr., who has been called the spitting image of the late rapper, had no acting credits to his name before being picked as the lead role in the biopic released this week. Producers are hoping to mirror the success of last year’s Straight Outta Compton, the N.W.A. biopic that turned out to be a surprise hit, and Shipp Jr. is shouldering the load.
But if Demetrius Shipp Jr. needed any help in connecting to the real-life Tupac Shakur at the peak of his career, he didn’t need to look very far. The actor’s father, Demetrius Shipp Sr., worked as a producer for Tupac’s song, “Toss It Up,” from the album, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory.
It was actually Demetrius Shipp Sr. who helped his son land the role as Tupac.
“My father, who produced for Tupac, shared my audition with LT Hutton, who’s one of the producers on the film,” the actor told People magazine. “He and LT had worked together back at Death Row. Then, they got me in for a table read.”
Demetrius Shipp Jr. certainly had the look for the role. He bears an uncanny resemblance to the real Tupac Shakur, something the actor heard every day even before he signed on for the role.
“It’s every day at this point, everywhere I go,” Shipp told USA Today, noting that people also joked about theories that Tupac was still alive. “Like, ‘I knew he was alive!’ “
Shipp had never done acting work, and he was actually working at a fitness center when a casting call went out for All Eyez on Me. Shipp’s cousin convinced him to try cashing in on his resemblance to Tupac, so the actor sent in an audition tape, USA Today reported.
After landing the role, Demetrius Shipp Jr. said he spent months studying Tupac’s videos and interviews to get down his mannerisms, and he also worked with a voice coach to help him mimic Tupac’s high-energy performing style.
Shipp also tried to understand the depth of the multi-layered artist, even reading some of the plays he performed at the noted Baltimore School for the Arts.
“He’s a layered person, so you have to tackle all the aspects of Tupac individually,” Shipp told USA Today. “The people who worked and grew up with him all said the same thing: Tupac worked like there was a clock in his head. He knew he didn’t have enough time and was always just going.”
It appears that the work Demetrius Shipp Jr. put into immersing himself into Tupac Shakur’s life has paid off. The unknown actor has gotten good reviews for All Eyez on Me, which thanks to his performance could re-create some of the same success as Straight Outta Compton.
[Featured Image by Earl Gibson III/Getty Images for BET]