On June 16, what would have been rapper Tupac Shakur’s 46th birthday, All Eyez on Me, the long-awaited film chronicling the musician's dramatic life—and untimely death—hits theaters. All eyes will be on Demetrius Shipp Jr., the actor who plays the rap icon. Shipp, who bears an uncanny physical resemblance to Shakur, was plucked from his job as a DISH TV installer and now seems set for an old-school big break.
You never acted before starring in this film. How did you land such a high-profile gig?
When they put out this open call for the movie, I wasn’t really thinking about acting, but I wanted to do this. They had you post videos of yourself and share them on Facebook. That was how my dad saw that I was auditioning. He was a producer at Death Row Records when ’Pac was there. He shared my stuff around, and now here I am. The whole experience of making a movie—everything was so new. It was kind of crazy. I definitely want to keep acting now. I’ve got all kinds of projects I want to do.
You’ve had the chance to screen the film a few times, particularly for people in the music industry. How have they been responding?
Some people have been a little freaked out, to tell you the truth. Tyga saw it and, at the end of it he was like “I don’t know if I can look at you right now, man,” because it’s so weird seeing the death and all of it, and then I’m right there in the room. It’s surreal. I think ’Pac would say I did a pretty good job playing him. I think he would be into it.
Why do you think Tupac and his legacy still loom so large in L.A.?
I mean, “California Love” is a classic, but it’s more than the songs. He really lived L.A. Tupac was a person who was all about love. I feel like that’s me, too, that’s who I’ve always been. I want to be a part of bringing people together and sharing that love.
All Eyez on Me opens at area movie theaters on June 16.