Oscar-nominated screenwriters Stephen J. Rivele and Chris Wilkinson (Ali, Nixon) have just been hired to write the Tupac Shakur biopic, which means the Antoine Fuqua-directed film could begin shooting by mid-November. (No cast yet; Fuqua is looking for an unknown to play the late rapper.) While the writing partners are known for adapting true lives and stories — they also worked on the Moneyball script, and an upcoming Jackie Robinson story — Wilkinson tells Vulture that the key to this script is an approach that “is not in any way biopic-y.”
A previous version of the script was largely documentary in style, simply laying out the facts of the slain rapper-poet-actor’s brief 25-year life. But Wilkinson says that their new version will instead center on the last day of Tupac’s life, flashing back to show the final four years leading up to it.
Rivele admits that “I knew nothing about [Shakur]” before diving into research, but upon immersing himself in just about everything ever written about the rapper, “it became clear that he was essentially a 19th century Romantic poet who found himself in the 21st century.” To the best of our knowledge, neither John Keats nor Samuel Coleridge did prison time for sex abuse or shot an off-duty cop in the buttocks, so we asked Rivele to clarify. “This is the story of an artist whose character is at odds with his medium,” explains Rivele, “He was a really sensitive, very romantic, talented young poet who also could sing, dance, and act. But the realities [of the hip-hop record business] were that he had to create this persona of the gangster.”
Having been killed in a 1996 Las Vegas drive-by shooting, Shakur’s murder remains unsolved. But Rivele says their goal is not to show who killed Shakur, but rather why anyone would want to. “He was obviously very angry, and had been subjected to a great deal of violence at home, in the streets and in prison,” says Rivele, “But he was just beginning to shed that anger and look for a purer voice…He was in the process of changing himself, and entering a new phase of his life — essentially a Romantic vision — and had set up a new label, and a new production company to create it. He saw the contradiction between the musical persona of ‘Thug Life,’ and his essential nature as a gentle, sensitive person. And that was partly responsible for his murder: He was not a gangster, but the people around him were. They saw he was going to leave, that they were going to lose him, and so I think they decided to kill him.”