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How Dominic Santana Transformed Into Suge Knight For The Tupac Biopic ‘All Eyez On Me’


In just 25 years, Tupac Shakur lived an enormous life, and one more than worthy of a film adaptation. Twenty-one years after his death, he’s finally getting that honor with the upcoming biopic All Eyez On Me. The film hits theaters on June 16 — what would have been Pac’s 46th birthday–
and over eight years after his former friend and adversary The Notorious B.I.G.’s life was immortalized on the silver screen in Notorious. Tupac’s biopic has been years in the making, and is finally arriving next with tons of both anticipation and skepticism from fans. Yes, the N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton was a hit, and yes the actor portraying Pac — Demetrius Shipp Jr. — is a dead ringer for the slain rapper, but Pac’s legacy is a monumental one to uphold and the pressure will be on.

One of the people holding a lion’s share of that weight on their shoulders is Dominic Santana, the actor tasked with portraying the role of Suge Knight, who, no matter how he’s depicted, is bound to become the antagonist at some point. The brooding former CEO of Death Row records will surely play an integral role in the film, a fact that is not lost on Santana as he spoke with me over the phone a little more than a week before Eyez is set to hit theaters.

“There’s always pressure when you’re playing somebody who’s alive and that people can reference just from their own personality,” Santana, a Fayetteville, North Carolina native said of the iconic role he portrays in the film. Santana landed the role after his agent submitted him for it through the standard channels. From there, he read for the previous director before reading again for the final director Benny Boom, and later with Shipp to test out the chemistry.

Still, even with the pressure of playing someone as well known as Suge, Santanta took the challenge head on. “As an actor, that’s always kind of the coup de grâce for us is to get to that point,” he said. “Where we get the opportunity, because that’s where you’re going to be challenged the most, because you can’t cheat it,” he said. “When you’re playing real people, (fans) already have their ideas and assumptions, and they’re like, ‘are you going to live up to them?’ So you already start catching it before the movie even comes out. When we started filming, and the press started going out and people started finding out one by one who was playing who, the opinions already started. So there’s that pressure.”

Morgan Creek

But for Santana, there’s also another type of pressure that he says is even more impactful than the pressure from the fans anticipating the movie. “Even deeper, with living people, is they have family. They have children,” he said. “[They] are going to be even tougher critics. Because a lot of the fans, they’re just going to say, in their opinion, from what they know about Suge Knight… they may be like, well, I think you did great playing Suge. But [that’s] from what they know. They don’t know as deep as like the family and the ex and the children and all that that really know the person.”

So to make sure his Suge would appease even the harshest critics — Suge himself was famously upset with the portrayal of his likeliness in Straight Outta Compton — Santana underwent a physical transformation and a crash course on Suge Knight to fully become the man. “I wasn’t big enough, so I had to put on about another 30 pounds, which sounds like a lot, but on somebody my frame, it doesn’t cover as much as you would think,” said the massive, 6’5 actor, with a laugh. “Putting on those extra pounds was just to get a little more belly and stuff like that. So that was actually the fun part. That was just eating pizza and ice cream and stuff.”

Beyond looking the part — and Santana clearly fits that criteria, especially in character with the beard and cigar in tow — he dove into the ticks that made Marion Knight Suge Knight, and made him such a dominating and intimidating presence. “I did my regular due diligence as an actor, pulling up interviews, finding obscure interviews that you don’t see often, just really studying Suge’s face and mannerisms and his dialect and how he said the kind of slang words he uses, things he doesn’t use, how he walks, stand, all of that,” he recalled.

Luckily for Santana, he also had some of the best help possible when it came to getting the act down perfect. “We had people involved that were at Death Row that knew or still know Suge Knight” he said. “L.T. Hutton started out at Death Row and he spent years there with those guys. So that’s how he knew ‘Pac, how we knows Suge, and all the others. He had the Outlawz there, Edi and Noble, Daz Dillinger was on set at times, and others. We even had somebody in wardrobe who actually worked at Death Row, doing wardrobe for their music videos, and she was the person that had to put me in my suits and see if it’s looking right, if I’m looking like Suge.”

But the help didn’t stop there. “We had a lot of people that really were around Suge, who knew him or at least spent enough time around him to say, hey, this is like this, or nah, he wasn’t like that,” he added. “So fortunately, I had multiple people I could ask and some of the guys, I would just listen to some of their stories when they would sit on set, reminisce about the Death Row days and just listen to some of their stories about ‘Pac and Suge and some of the other guys and situations. So I had a really good, well-rounded staff around the step, that just could help out in any way with that.”

Morgan Creek

Santana, much like the rest of the cast, crew and everybody else who grew up on and consumed rap in the ’90s is an avid, lifelong fan of Pac, which made the entire process surreal at times. “It was surreal in multiple different ways, just because like I said, as a lifelong fan, hell, I would have been just a waiter on set if that’s all I could have got, just to have been a part of this movie, you know what I mean?” he said.

In Santana’s estimation, it was the affinity and respect for Pac and his legacy that lead to amazing performances, and it all began with Shipp playing the man himself. “The first scene I did was me and Demetrius filming together,” he said, adding it was their first time around each other since the initial auditions months before. “I was like, ‘please, let this dude be good. Let him really be taking it super serious and be on point and let him be a good choice.’ So once we got on set and he was in ‘Pac mode and we got to working, I calmed down a lot because I was like, ‘okay, all right, cool, we got a good ‘Pac. Anything else, I know we got a good ‘Pac, we can get past a lot of other stuff if there is any other issues.'”

The great performances kept going from there, in part because according to Santana, there was a desire to live up to the legacy of Tupac. “Everybody came in, whether they had a large role or a small role, everybody was so gung-ho about making this movie the best it could be that everybody, if they had three lines, they were delivering it like they were trying to win a Oscar,” he said. “So that whole thing just made me super comfortable and more and more excited.”

Santana says the process was eased by the fact that Pac’s life was, for lack of a better term, a movie already and needed no embellishment. “One thing L.T. said — and he still says to this day — he was saying from the very beginning, ‘we don’t have to add no Hollywood extra stuff. Tupac wrote his own movie,'” Santana explained. “We don’t have to add anything extra. His life was entertaining enough, aside from the things that were true and all that. So he said, we want that to come across. We want other people who have really been there and saw some of these things happen, and be like, damn, they really went for accuracy.”

Morgan Creek

That realism is also tragic, and in playing such a crucial role in the film, a character that figures into major events of Pac’s life and death, Santana had the privilege of reliving and recreating those events. At times, heartbreakingly so, he got to do so with some people who were actually there for the event they were recreating for the big screen, which made for a bizarre experience.

“The hardest (scene) to (film) was the Vegas scene, unfortunately when ‘Pac dies, because that was a little too real,” Santana confessed. “That was a hard day for everybody, especially because the Outlawz, Edi and Noble, who were there in real life, watching them in Vegas on that same corner, doing that same thing, that was tough. Just knowing that, we’re acting but you’re looking at this dude like, he’s really actually been here and been through this already before. And I don’t even know how he was able to even do that again. I had to talk to him. That was tough.”

For Santana, the recreation of those moments was cathartic, but in those moments he was worried about not only those reliving the moment but those people who knew Pac throughout his life. “We had people that really were around ‘Pac and knew ‘Pac on set, so we’re filming ‘Pac getting murdered basically. Some of these people really went through this and lived, if they weren’t there they still were connected to ‘Pac somehow, and had to go through that. So the whole time we were doing it, I was like, God, I can only imagine what so-and-so’s feeling right now.”

Morgan Creek

But those emotions work two ways, as those same friends of Pac were also able to relive happier moments of his short life as well. “The most fun (scene to shoot) was the House of Blues scene, and I didn’t even have one line that whole day,” Santana proclaimed. “They built like a VIP in the middle of the crowd for Death Row, and basically getting our reactions and stuff to us partying to ‘Pac performing. And Demetrius, he came out and he was moving so much like ‘Pac, and all over the stage, and looking like ‘Pac and the whole nine, and it was like, yo, this is really like the closest you’ll get to a Tupac Shakur concert, now that he’s gone.”

So now, with one iconic role under his belt, Santana is off to a new sort of life, where he’s being recognized at coffee shops and recorded with cell phones at air ports. “That’s when I was like, ‘oh, this is serious,'” he said, almost shocked at the newfound fame. “I was like, ‘wow, so we’re at that stage, damn,” he continued before adding with a laugh: “I notice everybody picks up their phone now. My calls always get answered now, so that’s good.”

With just a week to go before the biggest movie of his life thus far is released to the public, Santana sounds cool on the phone, but admits his emotions are all over the place. “I’m nervous and excited, just because going into this project, man, it was nerve-wracking,” he recalled. “I was excited to get hired, but then it’s like the reality set in. Like all right, as soon as we’re getting ready to get started, it was like, ‘Dom, you’re doing the Tupac movie.'”

But Santana says any reservations he had were quelled once the filming began as he was in awe of what he saw on set from the rest of the cast. “There’s a lot of great performances in this, man. There’s going to be a lot of people that really break out and there’s going to be some people you recognize that you didn’t even know they were that damn good,” he said excitedly. “But it’s a lot of people like that, a lot of actors and actresses and a lot of moments that, (you’re) just gonna be like, ‘Damn.’ I don’t know which one is going to be the most unforgettable. The fans have no idea how hard everybody worked on this great thing that they’re bringing them. ”

All Eyez On Me hits theaters on June 16th. Advanced tickets can be purchased here.



This post first appeared on Meet The Cast Of The ‘Game Of Thrones’ Porn Pa, please read the originial post: here

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How Dominic Santana Transformed Into Suge Knight For The Tupac Biopic ‘All Eyez On Me’

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