Oral History: Tupac’s Acting Career Told Through His Co-Stars and Producers (PT. 2)
Some say Tupac Shakur was possessed by the role of Juice’s Bishop. But Shakur’s True Hollywood Story transcends his art imitating life. Interviewing his on-set collaborators, VIBE presents the UNCUT Hollywood tragedy of a man some influentials boldly called Denzel Washington’s successor. In part two, Pac’s co-stars, producers, and friends discuss their time working with him on the movies Poetic Justice, Above The Rim, Gridlock’d and Gang Related. —Thomas Golianopoulos
Nicolaides: I think John idolized Tupac. Tupac gave John even more cred. Janet was royalty. It’s another thing to work with royalty. Janet was very quiet, hard working and just about the business. She was involved with Rene Elizondo at the time. He was around a lot, and maybe there was a bit of Svengali going on. Before we shot that last scene in the beauty shop when they were going to kiss, Rene and Janet had me come into their trailer. They said, “We know the kiss is coming up in two days, we want him to get an AIDS test.” I went to Tupac, and he said, “Fuck, no. I’m clean.” I go back and was like, “He’s not going to do it, and I’m not going to try and make [him].”
Joe Torry (Actor, Poetic Justice): Janet had caught a cold from Q-Tip during the first couple of weeks of filming. Remember, they kissed in the car before he got his head blown off [in the first scene]. We didn’t know a lot about [AIDS] and Tupac had been known to be banging the bitches. He was smoking weed, coming to the set drunk, fucking bitches in the trailer. There was a little word that he had a dirty dick and that one of these bitches gave him something.
Shakur: ‘Pac was like, “Wait a minute. You treating me different. I’m a real nigga.” Janet had kissed Q-Tip in an earlier scene and caught a cold. Everyone was freaking out and wanted ‘Pac to take an AIDS test. Pac lost it. He went off on John in the trailer. ‘Pac was like, “Fuck that. Unless I’m having sex with her, I’m not taking an AIDS test.”
Singleton: That was a publicity stunt we came up with. Me, Janet, Tupac, Regina King and Joe Torry were sitting on the set. Everyone is trying to impress Janet anyway. I was like, “Man I don’t know about this love scene. You’ve been hitting all this shit. I don’t know if I want you touching my actress.” He’s like, “Fuck you man. We’re not fucking, so don’t matter whatever.” “You need an AIDS test.” “If we’re really fucking, I’ll do it.” You do shit like that and you know everyone is going to be talking about our movie.
Torry: For one or two days, this extra was messing with Tupac calling him “Four Pac.” That guy came back the next day and Tupac wanted to whup his ass. [This was] the scene with the older women. Tupac was like, “I’m going to whup your motherfucking ass.” He couldn’t really contain herself. I was like, “C’mon man. You’re smoother than that.”
I didn’t see [Dr. Angelou’s] reaction.
Dr. Maya Angelou (Actress, Poetic Justice): I heard [Tupac] cursing and using such vulgarity. Then the following day, he was in a big row with another young man about his age. I went up to [Tupac] and told him, “I want to speak to you, please.” He calmed down enough for me to ask him, “Do you know how important you are? When was the last time anybody told you or reminded you that our people stood on auction blocks so that you could live today? Somebody in your background decided they would stay alive despite this. They laid in the filthy hatches of slave ships to stay alive so that they would have some descendants. And here you are. You’re more valuable than you can imagine.” Later, when he wept and I wiped his face with my hands because I didn’t have a napkin or handkerchief. Then, I went to my trailer and Janet Jackson came and said, “Dr. Angelou, I can’t believe you actually spoke to Tupac Shakur.” I said, “Who is that?” I [later] told his mother, “I didn’t know six pack or eight pack or ten pack. I didn’t know.”
John Singleton: He was a sensitive guy. He didn’t know if he wanted to be a thug or revolutionary. I still dream about the movies me and Tupac would have made. I wrote Higher Learning for him. He was playing the Omar Epps role. The original cast to Higher Learning was supposed to be Tupac, Leonardo Dicaprio, Gwyneth Paltrow and Juliette Lewis. ‘Pac ended up getting in trouble and then all that stuff happened in New York. It was logistically impossible
Tupac was a handful on the set of Above the Rim. Around that time, he shot two off-duty cops in Atlanta and was also charged with sexual assault in New York. On November 30, 1994, the day before the verdict was supposed to be announced in the sexual assault case, he was shot five times at Quad Studios. He had been filming Bullet with Mickey Rourke throughout the fall of that year.
Wayans: He was a workaholic when we were shooting Above the Rim. He worked when people slept. When he finished on Above the Rim, he would go straight to the studio. He would be there all night making music, probably get an hour and a half sleep and come back to the dressing room. I shared a trailer with him and I could smell the weed and hear the music. I would be high as hell off the contact high. Our trailer was one big blunt. It was a hot box.
Leon (Actor, Above the Rim): When we were in the park, Tupac was running around with his pants falling down and people were passing blunts to the extras in the audience. During production we had to switch scenes around and things were delayed a bit because he was arrested a couple of times. It was madness.
Wood Harris (Actor, Above the Rim): There was a take that we did once. It was a real quick shot. It was nothing. It was me and Tupac driving into the scene and getting out the scene. We had the girls with us. We had to drive in, get out the car and go into the park and there was a cut after that. We’re talking about a pretty easy shot. Tupac drives, he parks and is trying to pull the knob up on the door and it’s not coming up. The door had a faulty knob where he couldn’t just smoothly pull the knob and open the door. It was like, “What happened?” “I couldn’t get this to come up. Somebody should probably change this because this thing is not working right. I can’t open the door from the inside.” The director ignored it. We do the scene and the same thing happened again. By the time he got his door opened, he got out the car, looked at the director and said, “I told you this was going to happen.” And he went straight to his trailer. I’ve never seen a person do that on a set. It didn’t come off like a diva. You see a lot of diva behavior on set like wanting the M&M’s separated by color. That wasn’t diva. He was just like, “Alright, I’m gone. Holla at me when you take care of that.”
Wayans: One time, Tupac was like, “Yo, this Range Rover. Why it got doors on it? Take the doors off. I want the doors off the Range Rover.” He was saying that a gangster isn’t going to ride in a car without tints.
Cindy Malika (Actress, Above the Rim): We were about to shoot the scene before he was going to get shot in the movie. This was after his friend in the movie [Wood Harris] got shot. Tupac called over the prop master and asked for a bottle of alcohol to sit on the table. The prop master was like, “I don’t know. It’s going to get a little crazy. It might spill and make a mess.” And Pac was like, “My best friend just died. I’m not going to sit here with one drink at a time, I’m going to want a bottle here in front of me.” That’s real. Tupac then went over and asked the director for the bottle because Tupac thought it was that important.
Martin (Actor, Above the Rim): We were on set and Tupac had just got back from Atlanta. Me and Marlon [Wayans] went to his room, and the first thing Marlon said was, “What are you doing man? You need to take the ‘T’ off of your stomach and you need to put ‘Hug Life.’ You need a hug, nigga.”
Wayans: [My mom] was like, “[Tupac] is a nice boy but he has a bad element around him. My mom told me not to hang out with him. But we hung out on set mostly and that’s when he went through a lot of troubles. I kind of listened to my moms. It wasn’t about him. It was the cloud of trouble around him.
John Enos (Actor, Bullet): We shared a trailer and I would show up the next day and there would be a Vibe magazine, some other hip hop magazines, an empty bucket of chicken and piles of tobacco that were emptied out for blunts. He was out on bail. He didn’t care. We burned the candle hard during that movie. We would get out at about 10 o’clock and go straight out, and then we’d probably have a 9 o’clock call.
Benza: At the time, Mickey was having trouble with [then-wife] Carre Otis. In between scenes, Mickey would be in his trailer holding rosary beads and crying. Tupac would be in his trailer soothing him.
Shakur: Tupac and Mickey Rourke got real tight. We went out once with Mickey and his [wife] at the time. He was like, “Man, Mickey and his girl are going through it again.” Tupac was giving him advice and being a friend. They had a real connection. Mickey was a guy’s guy. Tupac was a guy’s guy too.
John Flock (Producer, Bullet): Mickey always liked to think of himself as a street guy. I think he felt like Tupac was giving him some street credibility, which is what you want from a 40-year-old actor.
On December 1, 1994, Tupac was convicted on two counts of sexual assault and was sentenced to one and a half to four and a half years in prison. He was released on October 19, 1995. He immediately read the script for Gridlock’d, an offbeat buddy picture starring Tim Roth. Shakur earned the strongest reviews of his career for his depiction of Spoon, an addict looking to get clean.
Holmes: Tupac got out of prison and was broke. He wanted to do as much as he could do as he quickly as he could do it so he could get his feet on the ground. When he got out, I gave him the script to Gridlock’d. He got back to me immediately, not more than two days later saying that he would love to do it. I breathed a sigh of relief. Then I told him that a commitment has already been made on the other role and was about to go into an explanation who Tim Roth was and he was like, “Aw, man, I love his work.” He surprised me by how much he took to the script and how he aware he was of Tim Roth and his work.