Oral History: Tupac’s Acting Career Told Through His Co-Stars and Producers (PT. 2) [PG.2]
Curtis-Hall: I first went to Laurence Fishburne, who was doing Othello in Italy. He wanted to do it but when we got into talking about it, he wanted like a million dollars. He also had a script of his own about heroin, Riff Raff. I then went after Don Cheadle, Forest Whitaker. Preston [Holmes] then said, “What about Tupac?” I thought Tupac was a good kid, a good actor but I didn’t want no rappers. Preston sent the script to Tupac and told me that he really wanted to sit down me. Tupac had just gotten out of jail and was staying at a hotel under the name “Welcome Homie.” I had to ask for “Welcome Homie.” We had the meeting and he was incredible. I told Tim [Roth] about it and Tim was like, “Can he act?” A few hours later, Tim calls back and says, “I can’t do the movie with him. I’m gonna get shot on set.” I told Tim to meet him. We all got together that night and went to some bar in Silver Lake. We sat around, smoked like eight cartons of cigarettes and drank like 40 beers and they just bonded.
Paul Webster (Producer, Gridlock’d): There is a scene where Tupac’s character has a very long monologue. Tim noticed that Tupac was really nervous and that he needed some support. He very calmly took Tupac through the scene off camera, calmed him down and we got the takes in. Tim supported him and Tupac was off and running. I think that was kind of illustrative of the cohesion between the two guys. They really worked well together.
Bokeem Woodbine (Actor, Gridlock’d): Here’s the part where Bokeem disappoints somebody. I’d go to Tim Roth’s trailer and he’d be like, “Hey, you want a beer?” And I’d hang out with Tim Roth for a few minutes and then go to Pac’s trailer and get blunted. I remember asking Pac, “You’re not hanging out with him.” Pac was like, “Nah, nah.” That doesn’t mean anything but sometimes when you do a buddy picture, you get sick of the person. At that time, to be truthful, Pac was like, “We don’t hang like that.” But he did say that he thought he was a dynamite actor…Lucy Liu was one of the actresses in the film. She practices [the Filipino martial art] Eskrima, you know, with the two sticks. And Tupac was feigning interest in it so that he could get closer to her. It didn’t work. He told me, “She got me over there waving these two sticks around when I’m just trying to get to her know if you know what I mean.” I was like, “How is it working.” “It’s not working too well.”
Damien Jones (Producer, Gridlock’d): Tupac was shooting music videos on the weekend and he was getting more and more exhausted so we had to ask him to bring that to an end because it was effecting the movie. You could see it on screen that the man was working long hours seven days a week. We managed to bring that to a halt. We would always shoot his close-ups in the morning because he would get completely high at lunchtime in his trailer and forget his lines and stuff. It made sense to shoot his close-ups in the morning.
Holmes: Tupac never seemed to rest. While we were shooting Gridlock’d, he was working every day on a tough low budget film. Then, he was recording, doing music videos and writing nonstop. I once asked him, “When do you rest?” He said he didn’t have time to. I didn’t get into what that meant. He felt like he had to make the most of what time he had left.
Jones: Everybody around Hollywood loving the package and the price of the film. But, frankly, they were also all terrified of it because of Tupac’s bad reputation. I think he was on bail, probation and parole for three different crimes at the time. He was uninsurable.
Webster: Tim said to him one day, “Why do you do this stuff?” Referring to the violence and the dangerous side of the hip-hop world. He basically said to Tim, and I’m paraphrasing, of course, “It’s too late. I’m in it. I can’t get out. If I go straight now, I’m going to be a dead man.”
Tupac rarely got the chance to stretch and was usually typecast—in four of his six movies, Tupac played a variation of the thug/gangster role.
Brown: Tupac said that he got scripts but he was being stereotyped as an actor.
Flock: In our movie, he was playing some version of the image he portrayed in his career. Whether that was him or not, I don’t know. It was a thug life role. He came in and did the job and he got paid. It was a gas for him. It was an easy thing to do.
Leon: He’s mainly a rapper, so people are going to give him roles that suit the image he portrays. He lived and died thug life, so he was offered thug roles. It wasn’t like he was trying to make himself believable to be a doctor or lawyer.
Hughes: You’re already a hip-hop guy, you shot two cops in Atlanta—although justifiably he shot those two jokers. Then he allegedly attacked a director. [Writer’s Note: Tupac and a horde of gang members attacked Allen Hughes in early 1993.] That’s why he wasn’t working with high-caliber directors or getting a great role in a Spielberg movie. Trust me…Tupac signs with Suge [Knight], [Dr.] Dre leaves [Death Row] and I remember he was uninsurable. Everyone in the business, all the suits and the money are petrified of Suge. The suits fear of hip-hop, the white perception of hip-hop in the halls of the studios and there was the Death Row and Suge thing. It was a problem. It was a major problem.
Holmes: I was heading up Def Pictures for Russell Simmons, and we were in the final stages to put a deal together to develop movies specifically with and for Tupac. He wanted to do a black Western with all the coolest young Black actors of the time, a la Young Guns. He wanted to do a movie about Nat Turner’s slave rebellion. He felt like he had an obligation to use not just his talent but his celebrity to educate and to work towards progressive change in the world.
Terrence T.C. Carson (Actor, Gang Related): We talked about Black people in the business, where we’re going and what we should accomplish. He said that we needed to come together more and we need to have our own. I believe that had he been here, he would have been a driving force in this industry for us.
Singleton: The last time I saw him, he was working on “To Live and Die in LA.” I told him, “I’m working on this script and I think it’s going to be the one you win an Oscar for. It’s called Baby Boy.” He was like, “Let’s make it happen.” And a few weeks later, he was gone.
On September 7, 1996, Tupac Shakur was shot multiple times following a Mike Tyson fight in Las Vegas. He died six days later. Gridlock’d and Gang Related were released posthumously. A script that he wrote in prison, Live 2 Tell, is planned to film next year. Antoine Fuqua was once attached to a proposed biopic, but that fell through. In the wake of Tupac’s death, we can only speculate on his massive untapped potential.
Leon: I was in Vegas the night he got shot. We spoke, of course. I was with my crew—Butch Lewis, who just passed away, Denzel Washington, Bob Johnson. Then we heard about a fight in the lobby involving him. We were at a private party later that night when we heard the news.
Marlon Wayans: I saw him right before he was shot in Vegas. I saw ‘Pac standing with a group of dudes. It looked like a cloud of trouble. About twenty minutes before he [was shot], me and Omar [Epps] saw him and were like, “What up ‘Pac?” I wave from a distance. Omar’s like,” Let’s go say hi.” We went over and gave him a hug. We walked away and got a cab. Twenty minutes after that, we heard he got shot.
Kain: I think Pac headed right to where he wanted to head. He talked about dying young all the time, which I thought was morbid. But he was right.
Jasmine Guy (Friend): We talked about scripts, stories, ideas. He wrote Live 2 Tell while he was in prison. He gave it to me and said, “Here’s the first draft. Go get it done.” I think that was the direction he was going to go in. He was ambitious and highly creative.
Holmes: The solitude of prison gave him the opportunity to reflect on his life. Live 2 Tell is about a young man, who, like many young Black men in the inner city, was doing what he thought he had to do to survive. He then decides to make a change and turn his life around. Once we settle on a director, we plan on putting the film into production. It’s just another example of his brilliance.
James Belushi (Actor, Gang Related): We had a connection that went beyond words. When we did a scene together, we never talked about what we were going to do. I’m a musician and he’s a musician so we would literally jam in scenes. I would take the lead energy in the scene, so if I went kind of up, he would come right in below like a nice bass line and we would just jam. You just don’t get like that by talking about acting. It’s just a chemistry, a nonverbal jam. And we jammed throughout that whole movie. I had a ball with him. We were trying to do a rap version of “Fly Me to the Moon.” He didn’t really know [Frank] Sinatra’s work. And we’d sit in his trailer and listen to it. He was so blown away by the melodic nature of Frank’s voice. We toyed with it for a week or two and he said, “That song, the way Frank Sinatra does it is just too beautiful to mess with.”
Collister: When you shot a close-up of him and he was trying to emotional or coy or flirtatious, it really came across. He had a really beautiful face, long eyelashes and really expressive eyes. He had really beautiful hands too.
Wayans: That dude had the softest hands ever. I used to call him the Palmolive Thug because his hands were so soft. Plus, he had these kind eyes. How are you going to be gangster with Mr. Snuffaluffagus eyelashes? I used to tease him.
Dickerson: It was hard to take your eyes off him. He always had an unpredictability. He had a way of finding things in the script that you didn’t know existed.
Harris: Tupac had a way of looking into himself and projecting outwardly an honest and truthful emotion. A good actor is one who can take the imaginary circumstance, which is in the script, and make it truthful. He was just truthful.
Hughes: His look is only like one-third of it. It’s his presence, charisma, depth—when you take charm and mix it with darkness. He was just a great actor. He never got the chance to do great acting.
John Singleton: He could be dangerous. He could be romantic. He was the perfect embodiment of young black manhood at that time. I think he could have evolved into an actor like a Denzel Washington.
Hughes: Denzel has got to hand that baton to somebody. I don’t see who that is right now. He was definitely going to be a star, the man. When we lost him, I said, “We lost a great actor.” He was going to be the actor of my generation.
Treach: Not taking anything away from nobody but him and Will Smith would be acting side-by-side. Tupac could have been in one of those $100 million grossing films. He was destined to be on the top of the bill.
Wayans: ‘Pac was eventually going to win some Academy Award. He was like a Frank Sinatra. He was that powerful. There was no ceiling.