It took an entire decade, filled with no shortage of controversy, but director Benny Boom’s Tupac Shakur biopic “All Eyez on Me” finally unspooled for a crowd that included cast, crew, and a number of Tupac contemporaries Wednesday night at Westwood Theaters in Los Angeles.
After a packed and chaotic red carpet scramble – attendees included former Shakur collaborators Shock G, DJ Quik and key mentor Leila Steinberg; hip-hop luminaries Kendrick Lamar, Russell Simmons, 2 Chainz, Big Boi, Big Boy, the Lady of Rage, E-40 and MC Hammer; and sports figures like boxer Floyd Mayweather and NFL star-turned-actor Nnamdi Asomugha — the film began well over an hour late. But for producer L.T. Hutton, a former Death Row Records exec who has been with the project since the beginning, a little start delay wasn’t going to keep him from enjoying the moment. “This took ten years of my life to make this movie, so you can wait just a little longer,” he quipped while introducing the film.
Joined onstage by Boom, lead actor Demetrius Shipp Jr., and producer David Robinson, Hutton addressed the film’s long gestation, saying: “You heard a lot of rumors. They said I’m crazy. They said I’m difficult to work with. But I say I’m just passionate. And my vision is Pac’s vision.”
After the screening, attendees adjourned to the nearby Hammer Museum, where a busy dance floor and an array of champagne and Alize cocktails awaited. Attracting the largest crowd of well-wishers was Shipp, a first-time actor with an often uncanny resemblance to his filmic counterpart.
“This was my first time seeing it,” he said, “and I’m still taking it all in.”
With the film scheduled to debut this Friday, on what would have been Shakur’s 46th birthday, Shipp noted he’s already actively seeking a follow-up role. “I’m working on something right now, trying to close things out,” he said. “I feel like I really need to find the right second role, the one that’s going to propel me and give me a stamp as an actor. Even if people are receptive to my performance in this movie, I want to be seen as someone more than just, ‘oh, that’s that guy who played Tupac.’”
Actress Annie Ilonzeh, late of “Empire” and “Person of Interest,” worked with Shipp playing Kidada Jones, to whom Shakur was engaged at the time of his death.
“The fact that he’s so raw, with a willingness to be open, that was refreshing for me,” she said of Shipp. “I’ve worked with some amazing male co-stars, but Demetrius was just like a marshmallow that I could fall into. There was no jadedness around him, and that was really special.”