Steve Nicolaides (Producer, Poetic Justice): Tupac was an absolutely delightful, charming, giving, funny, charmer. All the time, he talked about being hard and being a gangster and balling and all that stuff. The rhetoric didn’t fit with the personality, I thought.
A.J. Benza (Friend; former gossip columnist New York’s Daily News): There are a lot of misconceptions about Tupac. Forget the gangster shit. He was one of the most charismatic people. He illuminated the room. He was self-deprecating, funny. One night we were at Mello’s restaurant on the Upper East Side where we would pretty much run the place and he let me in the circle the way Mickey [Rourke] did even though I was a journalist. He told me that he read every best seller on the New York Times Best Seller list. He told me not to write that shit.
Shakur: He was supposed to be in Menace II Society but those Hughes boys tried to be slick and weren’t respecting ‘Pac’s position in the game. I drove him to his rehearsal that day. He came out fuming. They treated ‘Pac like a peon. They got out of their place and got checked. They wanted ‘Pac to do things the way everyone else was doing them and ‘Pac wanted to do it his way. They caught feelings because they were the directors and whoopty woo. ‘Pac was big on respect and if you didn’t respect him, then you had a problem.
Allen Hughes: People were like, “Why wasn’t Tupac hired to be O-Dog.” That would be too obvious. He played Bishop and we needed someone with some weight to play Sharif, the Muslim character. He started engaging with John Singleton at the time. He had said to me, direct quote, “I’m not starring in anyone’s movies but John Singleton. We’re going to be like Scorsese and De Niro.” I loved hearing that because I didn’t want to fight with him to have him star in my movies because he was already becoming a handful and headache. At the time, he and Singleton were having a love fest. When we started rehearsing, he would throw a tantrum about something every day. We would barely get to rehearse. Our makeup person would come in to talk to everybody about their makeup and he would be like, “I don’t wear no motherfucking makeup. I aint ever worn makeup. Fuck makeup.” And he’d get up and start grandstanding.
Jada [Pinkett] was there. Anytime there was a female there that he knew, he would start this macho-thug performing act. He was funny when he was mad. The cast members were laughing a lot, which encouraged him to talk more shit and create more problems. I told the cast, “Look, when he comes in the room, he’s going to raise some outlandish because that’s the shit that’s he’s on. Don’t laugh because we’re not getting any work done. Don’t play into that shit.” He came back the next day and he started talking shit again. I don’t remember what it was. No one was laughing this time and he got real uncomfortable. It got real uncomfortable. We went to the office, just me and him. He’s pacing the office like “Fuck this shit.” He was making like $500,000 for three weeks and no rapper was getting that. He was pacing back and forth and I’m sitting at my desk. I started smiling because it looked like he was going to get violent. I smile before I get violent sometimes; it’s a nervous thing. He walks over to me and says, “What the fuck are you smiling at nigga?” I stood up and go, “Let’s go nigga. Let’s do it. Let’s start throwing.” He literally ran to the door, opened it, looked back and said, “Call my manager,” and ran out of the building. That’s what got Tupac fired from the movie. I called him a few hours later and was like, “What’s going on?” He’s like, “Fuck this shit. Fuck you.” I’m like, “I can’t even talk to you. I can’t even communicate. Let’s communicate.” He’s like, “Call my manager,” and he hung up on me. I then realized that this dude was out of control. Then I went to the head of New Line [Cinema] and said that we got to fire him.
Tupac teamed with director John Singleton for 1993’s Poetic Justice. The role was a departure. He was cast as Lucky, the sensitive romantic lead opposite Janet Jackson. They had little chemistry, both on and off the set.
John Singleton (Writer/Director, Poetic Justice): Tupac wasn’t supposed to be in Poetic Justice. That role was written for Ice Cube, but he turned it down because he was nervous about playing a romantic lead. I was like, “I need a real dude that’s not going to be intimidated by Janet Jackson.” I saw ‘Pac in Juice and was like, “I’m calling him up.” What really made me want to work with ‘Pac was when I saw him in this BET interview and he was taking off on every established black person in Hollywood. Everybody. He was talking about how everybody was fake ass and he was like, “They going to see a new nigga when I get to Hollywood.” I was like, “This is someone I want to work with.”
Tyra Ferrell (Actress, Poetic Justice): At the table reading for Poetic Justice, Tupac and Regina King and everybody were throwing [the N-word] around really strong. I gave a speech, I said, “We need to think about this word.” Tupac turned to me and said, “No. This is who I am. We use this word.” I said, “OK.” I thought I’d try. I do believe in my heart, if he had lived to today, he would have changed his mind about the word. He was also about telling the truth. I miss him. I truly wish I had more time with him on screen. He makes other actors look better because he was so good. The scene I had with him was something he improvised—when he said, “Y’all need to get yourselves a Tic-Tac.” It’s almost like every take was different. He was just real. When he was off set, he was like, “You need to start doing braids in here. Why are you straightening hair.”
Singleton: We were shooting in Simi Valley when the [L.A.] riots broke out. He and I had arguments whether we should stay there. He wanted to go riot. He actually drove down to Wilshire Boulevard in the middle of the riots and then came back in time to shoot. That was ‘Pac though. You couldn’t tell him nothing.
Peter Lyons Collister (Director of Photography, Poetic Justice): I don’t think there was any natural chemistry between [Tupac and Janet Jackson]. They are totally different people. She was secretly married to Rene at the time. I don’t think there was any emotional or physical chemistry between Janet and Tupac. There was no hostility or tension. Tupac and Janet just had nothing in common. At the time, Janet was a young naïve woman. Tupac was 21 and going on 50 when it comes to street experience
Check back on Friday for part 2 of Oral History: Tupac Shakur’s Acting Career—Uncut!