I actually don't understand Hollywood's penchant for casting movie stars as real people in biopics. The hardest job of a film actor is to make you forget that you've seen them in other things. That is even harder for movie stars – assuming they care that deeply, which I don't think most actually do – because they have cultivated a persona that threatens to supercede everything else in the performance.
When you add to that playing a real person who may or may not have notoriety or with whom an audience will have some familiarity, casting movie stars just seems unwise. I mean, did anyone really see anything other than Leo in The Aviator or Reese Witherspoon in Walk The Line?
The Tupac biopic will likely be a standard biopic. It's unlikely that it will tell us anything new or interesting or revelatory about Tupac, especially given the fact that his mother is executive producing.
But in spite of that, Tupac himself could be the role of a lifetime for some young actor who can capture his great humanity without playing him as some weird contradiction the way he was characterized for so much of his career.
And the right performance can make even a bad film at least watchable.
I was never a fan of Biggie (yes, since before the East Coast-West Coast media war). I saw him at the Tunnel as a kid in NY right around the time Juicy dropped. He was slovenly, rude, and could barely make it through his performance. I was totally turned off. I could never quite shake that image of him even as his legend and influence grew. He always seemed like that Tunnel guy. As an adult, I have an appreciation for his artistry even though I enjoy so very little of it.
But watching this trailer reminds me of my feeling that Hollywood is incapable of rendering any rapper’s life realistically and artfully. I think this has to do with their perception that black men are contradictions, instead of complex human beings. That perception always leads to oversimplification.
This film probably focuses a lot on Big’s war with Pac instead of the relationship between Big and Puff. Or between Big and Faith and Kim (ugh, even Charli, if you wanna be a completist).
That said, this trailer convinces me that Derek Luke gives the performance of a lifetime as Puffy. It shows very little of Anthony Mackie as Tupac, but the few scenes here are glaringly false and artificial.
Here’s to hoping it’s not simplistic and exploitative like the 50 biopic.
The casting is inspired. Naturi from 3LW playing Lil Kim ought to be a hoot. And personally, if they had to pick names I can’t think of any people better than Derek Luke and Anthony Mackie (the best black actor of his generation) playing Puff and ‘Pac, respectively.
Where’s the film on ‘Pac, dammit?!
Says so much about our country that biopics on Eminem, 50 and Biggie beat ‘Pac to the punch.