(AllHipHop Feature) Film producer L.T. Hutton, director Benny Boom, Morgan Creek Productions, and the 2Pac estate joined forces to create the forthcoming biopic All Eyez On Me.
The movie’s cast includes Demetrius Shipp as Tupac, Danai Gurira as the Hip Hop icon’s mother Afeni Shakur, Kat Graham as Pac’s longtime friend Jada Pinkett, Harold House Moore as the legendary producer Dr. Dre, and Dominic L. Santana as former Death Row Records CEO Suge Knight. All Eyez On Me will also feature acting newcomer Erica Pinkett portraying Ayanna Jackson, the 19-year-old woman that accused and helped convict Tupac of sexual assault.
Her theatrical role in the contentious 1994 case will be Pinkett’s first turn on the big screen. Television fans may be familiar with the Boston native from Love & Hip Hop Atlanta, but Erica is ready to move beyond just being tagged a reality show star.
Pinkett’s journey to Hollywood officially began when she left Atlanta for Los Angeles in order to attend self-financed acting classes. However, her relationship with Benny Boom goes back years before that when she worked as a model in music videos such as Trey Songz’s “2 Reasons.” In her early days as part of the industry, Erica avoided fraternizing with the rappers and instead focused on building bonds with the individuals behind the camera.
AllHipHop.com spoke with Erica Pinkett about making the jump to dramatic work. In addition, the product of Howard University touches on starring in a biographical film about her all-time favorite artist and whether she will ever return to the reality TV world.
Most people know you from Love & Hip Hop*****, but they probably don’t know of your background in other art forms. Can you talk about that?\*
I went to Howard University and studied psychology. That was my career dream at the time. However, my passion has always been in the arts. As a little girl, my mom would sign me and my four siblings up for every free program in Boston. I did ballet, played the piano, learned how to paint, and obviously acting is really my love. It’s something that I studied for years, but I just never took it seriously until about 6 years ago.
How did you get involved with the 2Pac biopic?
I moved to Atlanta. I said, “You know what? I’m in Atlanta, and I’m going to make the best of it.” That’s how I started working on videos. Instead of me falling into the “video vixen” category – the girl who dates the rapper – I just went to the set and did my job, because I knew the directors wanted to be Hollywood filmmakers one day.
I worked with Boom on a video set. Four years later, here I am auditioning for the 2Pac film and Boom is directing. That’s why I never looked at videos as anything but work. Even with reality TV, I looked at that as just work as well. In every situation, I looked at the outcome like “What could this be?”
L.T. Hutton + Erica Pinkett + Benny Boom
At what point did you get involved in the process?
I want to say toward the end of last year I got a call from one of the casting directors for the film. She said, “Erica, I have this amazing part for you to audition for. Would you mind coming in?” At first I thought, “Is she contacting the right person?”
Once I went in to audition for the role, I literally knew that I had it. I felt so confident about my work. I worked so hard training for the part and the audition. Needless to say, I got the role. I auditioned for Boom, L.T. Hutton, and the casting director. All the producers saw it and agreed I was definitely fit for the role. I’m very blessed.
You’re playing a controversial character. You said you did some training to prepare for the role. What other ways did you prepare to take on that particular part?
When my acting coach and I were going over this part, because I love Pac so much, it was hard for me. He continuously told me, “Do not judge the character. Your job as an actress is just to tell the story.”
Once I got there mentally, it was easy for me to dissect the character. From growing up in Boston, I’d seen girls like this all the time. There were girls like this in my neighborhood, and these type of things happened all the time. On top of that, with my acting skills, the character came alive.
Did you get a chance to speak to Ayanna Jackson?
No, but some people have told me, “She may reach out to you once the movie comes out.” I wanted to focus on telling the truest story that represented the legacy of 2Pac in its most genuine form. Because this story was about Tupac Shakur, I didn’t really have to reach out to anyone to get their side of the story. This is 2Pac’s story. Had it been her story, then that would have been necessary, but since that isn’t the case I didn’t feel the need to reach out.
Erica + Demetrius As Ayanna + Pac
What was it like filming with Demetrius Shipp?
That kid… I just know his future is going to be lit. He is so focused. For this to be his first major film, I’m so proud of him. I heard he was preparing for the role for a long time. The look is one thing, but his accent, his demeanor, his mannerisms – when you see this film, you’re going to be like, “Is this 2Pac?”
That kid nailed it. Everyone on the team is amazing. Kat Graham is playing Jada Pinkett, and she’s an amazing actress. You have Cory Hardrict [as Haitian Jack]. There are so many amazing actors. I can’t even name everyone. It was an honor for this to be my first major film. It still feels like a dream.
You’ve said everyone on the team is committed to making an amazing film. But there have been biopics – like Aaliyah and Notorious – that the public didn’t receive very well. Did you feel there was a sense of pressure on the cast or crew that this had to be a great film?
With anything that you do in life that you expect to be a classic or legendary, there’s always going to be that pressure. It’s not some kind of fly-by-night project. This is something people have spent years and years developing.
I know L.T. Hutton, Benny Boom, and Afeni Shakur were not going to let 2Pac’s legacy go down the drain by not telling the most genuine story. Even the Outlawz came on set. There was so much support from amazing people who really knew 2Pac.
I know this movie will be an amazing story and film. There’s so much passion behind every single person that was part of this project. I have no doubt that this will be anything less than epic and a classic.
I think it definitely helps when you have people that really knew him – especially his mother – involved.
I don’t want to speak on any other projects that I wasn’t a part of, but ethically I feel that the family – especially the mother – should always have some say when you’re doing a biopic of someone as legendary as some of these great artists that have passed. Once I found out Afeni Shakur was part of it, I was super excited and knew it would be nothing short of a classic.
There was an interview La La Anthony did where she said she had to quit her show because when she went to auditions she got stigmatized as the “reality star” and it was hard for her to move in Hollywood. Did you experience that and would you ever be interested in going back to reality TV?
First, La La Anthony is an amazing, beautiful actress. She has had such a prosperous career. From VJ
ing to reality TV to acting, she’s always progressed. Her next move is always better than her last move. That’s exactly what I’ve done in this.
I’ve always kept the focus on what’s the next thing. When I did reality TV, I just wanted a platform to tell my story about some of the things I’ve experienced in the past. That helped inspire young girls. I got so many emails in support and asking for resources.
With the good, of course, there’s some bad as well. With that I said, “Maybe this is not the stint for me. What’s the next thing?” Now that I got this amazing opportunity to be part of a classic film, I hope people will see my acting range and really take me seriously as an actress.
Like everyone else walking this Earth, I’ve made some mistakes in my younger years. I’m not the same woman today as I was 2 minutes ago, let alone 2 years ago. So anything I do from here on out has to be inspiring.
So to answer your question about reality TV, it’s not that I wouldn’t do it again. But it would have to be a situation where I was allowed to show something inspirational. I’m responsible for my actions. I would have to know what I was projecting to young kids – they’re the ones who watch it, 18-30 – so it has to inspire from this point on. I don’t want to move backwards.
All Eyez On Me is scheduled for release in 2016.
All photos courtesy of Erica Pinkett