In 1994 Bokeem Woodbine was an up-and-coming actor who had just completed a movie called “Jason’s Lyric,” in which he played the titular character’s troubled younger brother. At the film’s premiere event, he met and hung out with Tupac Shakur, who was already well on his way to his own acting stardom. The two men formed a relationship that would see Shakur requesting Woodbine to be a part of what turned out to be his final music video (“I Ain’t Mad At Cha”). The two also worked together on the feature film “Gridlock’d,” which was released after Shakur was murdered in 1996. Now, by what Woodbine calls “kismet, definitely no coincidences,” he is starring as Officer Daryn Dupree in USA’s “Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac & The Notorious BIG,” a fictionalized limited series that dives into the investigation not only of Shakur’s murder but also the murder of Christopher Wallace (aka Notorious BIG).
“There was just a rapport,” Woodbine tells Variety of his relationship with Shakur back in the ‘90s. “He took me under his wing, and he confided in me his plans to do a lot of things in film and music. And per his words, he was looking forward to us working together more down the line.”
Woodbine calls Shakur “one of the last people that I’ve seen in this entertainment business that is literally larger than life” and admits that knowing him adds a little extra pressure to get this story right.
“Our show delves into their individual personalities, their working relationship, their friendship, how things went the way they went, and the end results and surreal connectivity,” Woodbine says. “We mine all of these resources of info to create a very special 10-episode examination into their murders.”
Rather than open with a dramatic scene of one of the murders, “Unsolved” starts with a racially charged road rage incident that leads to a shooting but turns out to be between two cops. This sets the tone for the show to dive into the tensions of the time, including those among the various law enforcement agencies assigned to look into the murders.
“What is most interesting about the times from then until now is how much more spirit of revolution but lack of resources existed then and how much resources we have now but lack of spirit of revolution,” Woodbine says.
While the show does use flashbacks to show Shakur and Wallace making the music that ended up fueling a West Coast-East Coast rivalry, Woodbine admits that “the exploration of the music is not necessarily the goal of our show.” Instead, the focus is much more on showing the young men as friends in their early days of finding their sound, as well as on the cops’ worlds — both at the time of the murders and years later as the investigation is still open.
“The story of the assassinations of Tupac and Christopher Wallace are exemplary of something I’ve always said, which is that the truth is stranger than fiction. Their real life stories were allegorical and we can draw all types of wisdom from happened to these men in real life,” says Woodbine. “We’re giving the audience a perspective of the investigation and the minutia of detail. There are all of these singular details that build up this case of these monolithic figures in music culture and black culture and American culture. We get an opportunity to examine what happened to them from an almost forensic perspective.”
Woodbine also promises that by the end of the season, the audience will walk away with a clear idea of who actually committed the murders. “There’s very little ambiguity after the culmination of all 10 episodes,” Woodbine says. “We’re being transparent out of respect to those that have passed and those that live with the pain of those that have passed. Sometimes transparency draws conclusions.”
“Unsolved” premieres on Feb. 27 at 10 pm on USA.