It’s baffling to think Demetrius Shipp Jr. had no prior acting experience before landing his standout role as Tupac in the movie “All Eyez On Me,” but everything happens for a reason.
When the opportunity presented itself, the Carson, California native did whatever he needed to do to land the part, which included pulling up old Tupac interviews and practicing his speech and mannerisms side by side. Of course, he had to spit like him too.
Since then, the actor and music producer has found much success in the realms of television and film, playing Tyrone on “All-American” and starring in the new movie “Cut Throat City,” which was directed by Wu-Tang Clan’s founder, RZA.
The latter is an action-packed cinema as Shipp plays one of four friends who returns to New Orleans after the disaster of Hurricane Katrina. For Demetrius, working with legends such as Ethan Hawke, Terrence Howard, and Wesley Snipes was a dream in itself.
The irony is Shipp’s been producing music since the age of 16, following in the footsteps of his father who produces as well.
While he aspired to be like his pops, acting damn near fell into his life. AllHipHop caught up with Demetrius at the Kandypens house in Los Angeles to discuss how he exactly became Tupac, being a fan of his new movie “Cut Throat City,” fatherhood, and more!
AllHipHop: Being from Carson, what was the household like growing up?
Demetrius Shipp Jr.: I’ve lived in numerous places. I grew up in Carson, where I spent the majority of my teenage years. I’ve lived in Long Beach, Lakewood, Moreno Valley. I moved around Paramount. Carson is like the rich ghetto. [laughs] The upper echelon hood. When I actually stayed in Carson, I was living with my grandparents. It was cool, I grew up in the church. Both of my grandparents from my mom’s side and my dad’s side were pastors.
AllHipHop: How was being a grand-PK?
Demetrius Shipp Jr.: Growing up in that world, it’s its own world within itself. Not just “oh I go to church,” I’m talking about everything. Given my grandparents are pastors, I got exposed to how it works. Actually being a drummer myself, participating, I got to see the inner workings of how church works. I was exposed to the streets, a lot of different things very young. My dad being an entertainer and producer, I got to see the entertainment world. Rich people, all these rappers. I remember going to Death Row studios as a kid and knowing: “don’t go in that studio.”
Demetrius Shipp Jr.: Hell yeah, I knew not to go in there. I was around weed and all that, young. I was around Tha Dogg Pound. I went to the studio with my pops for a certain period of time before Death Row got real crazy. I was exposed to a lot very, very young.
AllHipHop: How did you get into acting?
Demetrius Shipp Jr.: They had this call for the Tupac role, it was online. My best friend and my cousin kept bugging me about doing it. I said “bro first of all, that’s not even real. Who’s gonna cast a movie and do it from the internet?” [laughs] It became more real as I started to see more people prepare, throw their videos up online everywhere. I wasn’t going to do it, they convinced me. My friend Herm, he was adamant. “Do it!”
AllHipHop: Aren’t you glad he was adamant?
Demetrius Shipp Jr.: Yeah. I waited till the last day, we did it at his house. Nobody knew because I hadn’t told anybody. Part of the criteria was you had to upload it to Facebook and YouTube. When I put it on Facebook, everybody’s like “what the f##k? Wow!” My pops seen it, he’s like “what, this is crazy!” He sent it to L.T. Hutton, a producer with him at Death Row and currently the producer over the Tupac movie. L.T. sees it and says “ah man, that’s your son. We have to bring him in. He looks like him, he got the dental work and the whole thing.” 2011, that’s what really got the ball rolling.
AllHipHop: Did you ever think you’d be in this acting world?
Demetrius Shipp Jr.: Never in my life. I’ve seen Ethan Hawke on TV watching Training Day, Wesley Snipes. Now I’m on screen with these people, that’s nuts. That’s amazing! Cut Throat City just came out, based on Hurricane Katrina. Damn, where was I at when Hurricane Katrina happened? What year was that? How old was I? I was 16 years old. At 16 if somebody would’ve told me, “hey in 15 years, you’re going to be in a movie based on what’s going on right now, opposite all these people you see on TV and movies,” bruh okay.
AllHipHop: How did the role in “All Eyez On Me change” your life and your career?
Demetrius Shipp Jr.: That’s not something I’d seen coming. I wasn’t an aspiring actor. As I got into it and really believed in myself that I could do that role, it’s one of the things that I love. It’s where I’m the most comfortable. I completely love what I do for a living. It’s crazy because in different settings and talking in front of groups, I’d shy away. I wasn’t headed to the front to go perform. It’s crazy to think I became somebody completely comfortable in that world, that’s amazing and I love it.
AllHipHop: Did you feel pressure playing Tupac? Those are some crazy shoes to fill.
Demetrius Shipp Jr.: The pressure was getting the role, 100%. They didn’t even choose me until the last second. I’m a new actor, I’ve never acted in my life and I was playing Pac. The director wasn’t sold on the idea, it was L.T. who said “this guy could do it, he can pull it off.” I had my acting coach Angela Gibbs, she’s amazing. I did the work. I did an interview of Tupac’s and started sending them interviews. I’d sit next to the TV and learn the interviews, write it down. Once I got good enough and got the mannerisms down, I’d record myself doing it along with him next to the TV. I got all that down.
AllHipHop: Can you describe the feeling when you got the role? Did you cry?
Demetrius Shipp Jr.: For sure, of course I cried. I’m in my apartment building in Long Beach, my acting coach had told me they’re going to be calling you, you got it.” The head producer over at Morgan Creek called me and said “Congratulations, you got it!’ So much in my life was uncertain, I didn’t have a job to go back to. I was on disability leave at Dish Network. My license was suspended, I had got eviction notices. Everything was all over the place so I’ll always remember that moment.
AllHipHop: Did you have to physically prepare for the Tupac role?
Demetrius Shipp Jr.: I had to lose 12 pounds for All Eyez on Me. I was 178 pounds and got down to 163. I had to do cut down, I was dieting. It’s mental, honestly. I worked my a## off every morning and at night, I’d workout and hit the sauna again. I need to get it so I had to make sure I look the part. It’s not hard when you want it.
AllHipHop: New movie “Cut Throat City” is out now. How you feeling?
Demetrius Shipp Jr.: I’m excited, that’s amazing. To be included in that cloth of talent and catalog, those people are well-respected in the industry. For me to star in it, I’m not just on screen. I’m one of the first faces you see on the screen, and one of the last faces. I’m thoroughly impressed, it’s a long time coming for that project. We’re working on that back in late 2017, filmed it November 30 to December 21.
AllHipHop: How emotional was it playing Miracle’s character?
Demetrius Shipp Jr.: That was a beautiful experience, I made some lifelong relationships there. I watched it last weekend and enjoyed the actual body work itself as a fan. I was more into my character, Miracle. I hate to compare but something with Pac coincides with Miracle where they’ll judge you by the actions, but there are no choices to choose from. Miracle, there’s limited choices so what do you do? I can’t go get a check, there’s no government assistance. Everything’s underwater, but you have to still live. You find yourself doing things you never thought you’d do, out of survival.
AllHipHop: How was it working with Terrence Howard, Wesley Snipes, T.I.?
Demetrius Shipp Jr.: Super fire! It was dope to work with Tip because we already had a relationship rapport. I met TIP the first day I got to Atlanta to film All Eyez On Me. I knew somebody really close to Tip. He’s dope as hell, that was cool to work with him on set. Terrance was dope, he’s a whole person within himself.
AllHipHop: I can only imagine!
Demetrius Shipp Jr.: Terrance is somebody who demands attention, he loves it. [laughs] He’s not boring. He’s like “I want to put you up on game, I want to enlighten you.” He’s dope as f##k. That switch for him is fire because you see somebody go from chitchat to once it’s time for work, bam! [snaps] He’s cold. The one thing about Wesley, he’s in tip-top shape at 60 years old. Nobody wants problems with Wesley Snipes, it’s amazing.
AllHipHop: Best memories from the set?
Demetrius Shipp Jr.: Having fun and getting that real nice, raw New Orleans feeling. Catching the lingo, being around the people. They had people actually from New Orleans come to set. We filmed right around the corner where New Orleans broke. Being amongst the people, having conversations, learning the slang, how they do things, walking and talking, all that.
AllHipHop: Best memory playing Tyrone in “All-American?”
Demetrius Shipp Jr.: When my grandparents came on set, because they hadn’t seen me so I had them come onto the set one day. That was fire. They treated them so good. They had never seen any production of any kind, so that was a moment.
AllHipHop: I heard they treat you bomb in the film world.
Demetrius Shipp Jr.: TV is beautiful. They feed you 3, 4 times a day. “All-American” had that taco truck on certain nights, I’m eating very good.
AllHipHop: Talk about being a single dad and balancing all that you do.
Demetrius Shipp Jr.: I got three kids: two 6-year-olds and a 10-year-old. Homeschooling is interesting, but I love my kids. I love being a dad. It’s challenging, until it’s not. The challenge is always there. As they get older, they start experiencing and doing more. I had to get on my daughter yesterday, she had a screensaver and it was profanity on there. I’m like “what is this?!” She’s like “I didn’t do that, my cousin did.” Phone off! Go to bed, no more phone. It’s not something you’re going to ever be like, “I got this” Nah, anybody that says that is a liar.
AllHipHop: Biggest lesson you’ve learned in fatherhood?
Demetrius Shipp Jr.: There’s no handbook, you learn as you go. Everybody’s way is different. A lot of it is based on how you were raised, pick up certain traits and certain ways. A lot of that transforms onto you and how you operate as a parent. Be patient with yourself and be patient with your kids, understand the process and try to lead with love. If you lead with love, you have a good chance.