Demetrius Shipp Jr: All Eyes On Him

For those of us growing up in the 90’s, rapper Tupac Shakur was more than just a hip-hop artist. He was a revolutionary, a brilliant, sometime controversial artist who spoke the truth in every song, interview and movie he was in. He was also cut down in his prime at the tender age of 25. As the son of a Black Panther, he was the perfect mix of intelligent lyricism to uplift a generation with West Coast gangsta rap. To put it simply, his life story has been long overdue.

Now, with All Eyez On Me, the full length film about the rapper’s life (in theaters Friday, June 16th, which would have been Shakur’s 46th birthday), the wait is over. ‘Pac is played by Demetrius Shipp, Jr, a 28-year-old young man with no previous acting experience with dreams of being a music producer like his dad. But there was one thing that he had going for him out of all the thousands of other actor hopefuls to land this role: all his life he had been told he looked like Tupac.

“It started off when I was a Sophomore in high school,” Shipp said in an interview with Jimmy Fallon. “Friends said ‘Demetrius is cool, but we’ll just call you Pac.'”

The detailed biopic, which is projected to debut with $20 million at the box office, is named for the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s fourth and final album released before his still-unsolved murder in 1996 at age 25. It paints a detailed picture of the hip-hop star’s life, from his Harlem upbringing by Black Panther activist parents to his formative years in Oakland, Calif., where he got his start performing with the group Digital Underground.

Born and raised in Carson, Calif., Shipp never dreamed of becoming an actor. His acting debut was in a sixth-grade Christmas play, as a comic-relief character named Bubblegum Bart. “I stole the show then, to be honest,” he says. “I don’t even know how I got put in that. It was just like, ‘Hey, do you wanna do this?’ And I was like, ‘Whatever.’ ”

Shipp was working at a 24 Hour Fitness when an online casting call went out for Eyez in 2011. He submitted an audition tape at the behest of his cousin, who saw the uncanny resemblance to Shakur, which was later brought to movie producer L.T. Hutton by his father, Demetrius Shipp Sr. His dad had worked with Hutton at Death Row Records in the late ’90s and produced 2Pac’s single Toss It Up.

One of the most challenging parts of playing ‘Pac was the physical transformation for Shipp. Many days of shooting included two hours in the makeup chair having nearly two dozen fake tattoos applied to his torso. He lost 10 pounds and worked out vigorously to achieve Shakur’s chiseled physique, eating six small meals a day that consisted primarily of protein shakes.