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Despite delays, timing just right for Tupac biopic star

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Demetrius Shipp Jr. never acted before playing Tupac Shakur in “All Eyez on Me.” But his connections to the rapper, and to acting, go back to his childhood.

Shipp’s uncanny resemblance to Shakur inspired his friends to call him “Pac” in high school. And even before that, Shakur’s music was part of his life. Shipp’s dad is a music producer who worked on one of Shakur’s songs.

“My fondest memory of Tupac is my father producing ‘Toss It Up’ for him when I was 7 years old and hearing that,” Shipp said. “He produced that, and that was the biggest guy at the time. So I was like ‘Wow this is dope, my pops did this single.’ … From then on it was like Tupac forever.”

“Toss It Up” was the first single released after Shakur was shot to death in Las Vegas in 1996.

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Those connections didn’t exactly prepare Shipp to play Shakur in a biopic. But a four-year delay between casting and production was enough time for the lookalike to really get camera-ready.

“I look at it now as like, even through 2011 back then… and all of these years, being able to see now that I wasn’t ready,” Shipp said. “It happened at the exact perfect time for me, just even with the alignment of the people that were involved.”

The delays — prompted by the departure of two potential directors and a legal battle with Shakur’s estate over his life rights — allowed Shipp to properly study acting, and he was unexpectedly reunited with a teacher from his youth.

“As a kid, I was going to her acting classes, not to act for myself but to support my friend,” he recalled. “And she was my acting coach all these year later for the Tupac movie… It feels like destiny.”

Shipp, 28, appears in nearly every frame of “All Eyez on Me,” which tracks Shakur’s life from his teens to his violent death in 1996, with nods to his activist…

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