While Tupac Amaru Shakur was tragically taken away from the Hip-Hop community far too soon, fans have his discography and music videos — and the rapper’s iconic roles in films like Poetic Justice, Above the Rim, Bullet, Gridlock’d, Gang Related, and Juice — to remember him by, as well as the 2017 biopic All Eyez on Me memorializing the legendary hip-hop artist for all time.
Casting decisions often make or break films. Choosing adults to play high schoolers or famous child-actors for drug dealers can stretch audiences’ suspension of disbelief thin and damage the film as a result. But when it's done perfectly, it's hard to imagine anyone else portraying that role. For example, Will Smith was almost Neo in The Matrix, Sylvester Stallone was the original choice for Beverly Hills Cop, and Martin Lawrence was the original Pookie in New Jack City.
It should come as little shock then that Tupac Shakur, Digital Underground alum and massive cultural icon on par with Biggie Smalls (Notorious B.I.G), Snoop Dogg, Nas, Dr. Dre, Eminem, and even Janet Jackson at their peak popularity, was at the top of a lot of people's casting lists. His first film appearance was in the 1991 film Nothing But Trouble.
Still, even if you haven’t seen his performances as Bishop in Juice, Spoon in Gridlock’d, Rodriguez in Gang Related, or Birdie in Above the Rim, Pac’s acting chops stretch across various IMDB listings where he worked with the likes of Mickey Rourke, Tim Roth, Duane Martin, and Jada Pinkett Smith. Not only was he an excellent actor, but his dedicated fanbase from the Hip-Hop world often gave a film that extra marketing push.
While some of his near-castings speak to his strong relationship with John Singleton, others might be shocked to learn he was once a planned part of the Star Wars Universe.
Here are the 5 roles Tupac Shakur almost played.
Tupac Shakur reportedly auditioned to play Jedi Master Mace Windu in the 1999 movie Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. Rick Clifford, who worked as an engineer at Death Row Records, said in an interview on the website 2Pac-Forum that Shakur told him he had gone for a reading with George Lucas but that the part went to Samuel L. Jackson.
"'Pac found out that I worked for Brian Austin Green, who was on 90210, then he found out I [worked on] some movies, so we always talked about his film career and stuff," Clifford revealed in 2014.
Tupac was killed in 1996, long before the prequel's release in 1999. However, the Tupac audition works according to the timeline: casting for the film was announced in 1996, and began filming in June 1997. In a different world, we may have seen what Thug Life vibes looked like in a different context—not in Los Angeles, Harlem, or Baltimore, but in the Star Wars Universe.
John Singleton's Higher Learning almost had two different leads. Leondardo Dicaprio was his first choice for Remy, who would be played by Michael Rapaport, and Malik was going to be played by Tupac Shakur. According to Rapaport, Shakur had to pull out because the studio wouldn't fund the movie following his arrest.
“So when Tupac dropped out, then Leonardo dropped out, and Gwyneth dropped out," Rapaport said. "I mean, this didn’t like happen in a day; it happened like over a period. Nobody was locked in; I think Tupac was locked in. People were sort of circling around the film; this is two or three months out [from the beginning of shooting]. So it wasn’t like, ‘Tupac’s out, I’m bailing.'”
While appearing on Fat Joe's Instagram live, Tyrese Gibson confirmed the news that John Singleton again wanted to work with Tupac. In this case, to play Jody in Baby Boy.
He told him that Tupac was in LA. shooting the video "To Live and Die in L.A." off Crenshaw, which happened to be near Singleton’s office.
As an homage, the Jody character can be heard listening to 2Pac's "Hail Mary" and has a mural of him on his wall.
4. Forest Gump
Shakur read for the part of Bubba in Forest Gump — eventually losing out to Mykelti Williamson.
5. Menace II Society
The Hughes Brothers selected Tupac to play Sharif, a college-bound, and mild mannered teen living in South Central. When Shakur pushed for a bigger role, this caused a rift with the directors, and ultimately led to a physical tussle.
Allen Hughes later said, "If ‘Pac had been in the movie he would’ve outshined everyone. It would’ve thrown the whole axis of the movie off if Tupac was in it, because he was bigger than the movie.”