“I would lay down in front of a Mack truck before I let Hollywood defame or desecrate ‘Pac’s legacy. There is no monetary supplement you can give me to not do this story justice. It’s too big of a message.”
LT Hutton is a man on a mission. The Chicago-born, Los Angeles-based music executive turned Hollywood producer has spent the past four years working on bringing his major passion project, the Tupac biopic, to life. Last month it was finally announced Hutton’s Program Pictures would enter a first-look deal with Morgan Creek Films in conjunction with Open Road Films to have Tupac ready for a 2015 release, directed by John Singleton (who worked with ‘Pac on 1993’s Poetic Justice).
We caught up with Hutton as he prepares for the film’s final casting call and gears up for production on the long-anticipated movie to start later this summer across New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta.
Life+Times: This film is significant to millions of diehard ‘Pac fans worldwide, myself included. No pressure, of course.
LT Hutton: It really is no pressure. Everything is flowing naturally because my life has been ‘Pac’s life. We had very similar upbringings, very similar desires and wants out of the world. I tell people most of us are here because ‘Pac paved the way. He was a revolutionary and pioneer, forcing our culture down a lot of people’s throats that didn’t want to accept it at the time. He cleared out a lot of rubbish in the streets, so to speak, to make it where people wanted to just stop and hear his voice. You had the President of the United States, plus the Vice President, both speaking about this guy adamantly at the time. Through all that controversy, people had to stop and see exactly what he was saying. And when they started listening and stopped bashing him, they realized he wasn’t as bad as they thought he was. He ultimately engaged them. When ‘Pac said, ‘I’m not saying I’m gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world,’ he’s talking about JAY Z. He’s talking about men like myself. He’s talking about the young leaders of the Arab Spring. He touched so many lives with what he did and he gave us that sense of okay, we need to be these types of people in order to survive. He lost his life at 25! He was that spark; the spark that sent the ultimate message. Not to sound Biblical, but he gave his life so that we may see and have a better future because if he hadn’t died that way, his message may not be as big as it is.
L+T: Quincy Jones wrote about it in the foreword for the Tupac Shakur book by VIBE, marveling at ‘Pac only being 25 when he was killed and the legacy he left us at such a young age.
LT Hutton: President Obama would still be in school! You follow what I’m saying? That’s what people don’t understand. When you talk about this film, what it is and what it means, for me to be able to take a project like this that happens to be so close to my heart and from our world and our culture, I can’t explain enough that it feels like ‘Pac knew it would be this way. The film has been around a long time and it wasn’t getting made. When we went after it we had a bunch of setbacks but from day one, Morgan Creek believed in me and they’ve been fully supportive. We could have shot the first script, but it would have just been good. We’re not looking for good! We don’t get a Tupac, Tupac 2 and Tupac 3. We get one shot. Those two hours and twenty or thirty minutes have to be all meat, no fat. All sustenance. Just one day in Tupac’s life could have been a film. To document all his years and all his relationships—from the Outlawz, to Leila [Steinberg, his first manager], to Mopreme [Shakur, his older step-brother], to even Nas’s relationship with him—is a lot. There could be a whole movie on ‘Pac and Nas, ‘Pac and Biggie, ‘Pac and the Outlawz, ‘Pac and his mother Afeni Shakur, ‘Pac and Geronimo Pratt, etc. To show ‘Pac going through his life, receiving guidance from a legendary activist like Geronimo Pratt—that is heavy!”
L+T: Are all these people featured in the movie? You also have additional names like Mickey Rourke, Madonna, Tony Danza, etc that appeared in his life.
LT Hutton: Tupac is America’s son. He’s definitely Afeni’s son, but he’s a product of America. He always felt he was the voice for the downtrodden, the forgotten, the misunderstood and the less fortunate. He spoke volumes to the world for a certain people. He always carried the banner for a bigger vision than himself. He would want this story to be told with that bigger vision in mind, to make it a cautionary tale and also an informatory scenario where you receive information along with entertainment. It won’t be preachy and it won’t be boring. We’ll give you the highlights, but you will receive the message that I feel and all the people around him felt he was trying to convey. That’s half the reason that drove him crazy when he was in prison. He lost his voice! He couldn’t be heard. And everyone that knew him or researched him enough knows ‘Pac always had to have the crowd. He had to have the audience. He was talking at all times. His voice was the loudest thing in the room at all times. And in prison, he lost that voice. In this movie we’re dealing with all of this, with the making of this man. What made him tick, what drove him, what was that fire burning inside of him to make him work like an animal. The timeframe he was on. I asked him one time, ‘What are you racing?’ He simply said, ‘I have to get the work done.’ So when everything happened, it made sense. He knew he was on limited time here. With this movie, we’re on the same time clock. We want people on the edge of their seats enjoying every moment. It will be a huge rush, believe me.
L+T: It’s overwhelming to think how much content needs to be covered.
LT Hutton: “When I pitched the film to John Singleton about what we wanted covered in his re-write, I called it ‘the trilogy.’ It’s who Tupac was, who Tupac had to be (for the world he was brought into) and who Tupac wanted to be. That was the fight in him. He had to be all these people and still try to be who he was, who he had to be, and who he wanted to become. All those spirits were fighting inside him. If you asked 10 people who knew ‘Pac about him, you’d get 10 different stories. Were those stories wrong? Not at all; it just means he was all those people.”
L+T: When Tupac: Resurrection came out, I interviewed Afeni Shakur and it was an extremely emotional conversation. Afeni is directly involved in this project, correct?
LT Hutton: She has full say over most of everything that goes into it. If it were random executives doing this movie simply for monetary gains then you’d have something to worry about here. There is no way I would let this film go out without doing the greatest service that I possibly could do for the respect of the culture and this man. He spent his life fighting for this and now I fight for him. I’ve stood on conference room tables and fought to make sure certain things won’t happen. We’ve spoken extensively to everyone in ‘Pac’s life, over and over again, to make sure we are as clear as possible. Remember, this is Hollywood, so some biopics just rape the history and pull out the integrity of the artist. That is the last thing we want.
L+T: Which brings me to my next question. Many Notorious B.I.G. fans (including those close to him, like Lil Kim) were disappointed in his biopic, which definitely adds to the anxiety surrounding Tupac.
LT Hutton: Here’s the thing. This is not a knock to those who made that movie or the studio that was involved, but I personally feel from knowing Big, and knowing Puff, that movie was watered down. Puff is a branding genius, and that movie made it seem much less than what it was. Biggie is one of the greatest lyricists of all time, and they stole those moments and turned them into goofball stuff! For hip-hop, and for what Biggie deserved, I just feel they could have done a better service. And if that meant slowing the process down, and taking the proper time to do it, then so be it. That wasn’t Biggie on the screen, to me. I didn’t feel, ‘It Was All A Dream.’ It wasn’t captured. They went for T&A moments when it should have been something else! There was no reason for me to see him having sex with Lil Kim; I didn’t need to see that. You could have spent those minutes giving me an in-depth reason on why he didn’t go all the way into mending his situation with ‘Pac. Him and ‘Pac drinking, standing there taking pictures: that wasn’t their relationship. They had a deeper relationship. I would rather have seen them both sitting on a couch, talking about how things were being twisted and how the media is playing them against each other, because these conversations really happened. I’d rather they flushed out their friendship. They didn’t get into the reason why ‘Pac was so hurt over what he saw as Big’s betrayal, because he really considered this guy a friend.”
L+T: So how are you covering this in Tupac? Obviously it will bring up old and new emotions, once again.
LT Hutton: I don’t want to give it all away, but we’re not watering it down. You’re going to either love it for its honesty or hate it. But we have to speak the truth! Emotions are good. We’re not going to start any beef. We have to give a deeper insight on that scenario between ‘Pac and Big, a scenario that could have been worked out. You have to understand the pain before you can get over the pain. You can’t just mull over it, because it will never heal correctly. With some of the scenarios we’re talking about, the proper information will help you finally digest it all.”
L+T: Did you know ‘Pac closely?
LT Hutton: Yes. Plus I know Jimmy Henchmen, and I know Haitian Jack, and other players in the story. As a Hollywood producer, there aren’t many people with my background. I am rooted in this world. We have a real point of reference to pull from and therefore you’re going to get duality in this film. This will not be a one-sided story. At the end of the day, and please quote me on this, this is not the LT Hutton story. This is not the Morgan Creek story. This is not the John Singleton story. It is the Tupac Shakur story. His voice has to be heard, and only his voice. Tupac wrote this movie.
L+T: I saw footage of you recently showing pictures in your phone to a reporter of potential actors for the lead role. Has the lead finally been chosen?
LT Hutton: The lead has not been chosen. We have some strong top candidates. Me being fortunate enough to know ‘Pac personally, I know the attributes needed to portray this man. He was a very charming guy with a smile that lit up the room. He was very confident, but also shy at times. He was also a very happy guy, for the most part. When I’m assessing an actor, I’m assessing them from A to B. Even the George Jefferson walk he had, I want to see it! We really do have some very strong candidates, in every essence of the word.”
L+T: How insane has the auditioning process been? Fans would have loved to see it.
LT Hutton: Matter of fact, you just gave me an idea. I think I’ll put a bonus part on the DVD covering the auditions. We have white Tupac’s, we have Spanish Tupac’s, we have Middle Eastern Tupac’s—we have everything. People respect him that much and feel they really embody him; it’s incredible. We’ve seen over a thousand guys and we will see a thousand more, just to be sure we choose the right one.
L+T: What’s the current status of the project?
LT Hutton: Right now we’re moving at lightning speed. We should hopefully start shooting within the next few months, and that process is a 30-35 day shoot. After that it goes in the can and we’re looking at a 2015 release date. Then we’re off to the races. This is not a film—this is a worldwide event. I really believe the world will come together for this and it will be one of the biggest events of 2015. We want it to be glorious. We are celebrating a significant period in history and this will its true time capsule.”
L+T: Speaking of time capsules, the film will cover ‘Pac’s life from birth to death?
LT Hutton: We’re covering everything. You’re going to hear Marvin Gaye, Janis Joplin, Frank Sinatra; the music he was raised on. You will see the first time ‘Pac heard Big Daddy Kane and was hooked on the idea of a chocolate brother with an asymmetric cut and gold chains. You’re getting into nostalgic moments like the first time he got on stage for A Raisin In The Sun, in his birthplace of Harlem. All of that culture was seeping into his soul. Places like Harlem, Baltimore, Oakland; he lived in these hotbeds of cultural activity, and that’s what made him the icon he became.
L+T: How do you balance that positive and culturally rich side of his earlier life with the darker periods that came later?
LT Hutton: We don’t sugarcoat a thing in this picture. He’s really going through life! He eventually makes bad decisions, with no fanfare attached. We’re not making excuses nor are we making him a choirboy. We’re trying to give you understanding that ‘Pac was human and he still made mistakes. He was a kid! At times he wasn’t thinking clear. There’s a fine line between genius and insanity. Those elements are there, and they make for a truly entertaining ride.
L+T: You were born in Chicago, where violence among young people today is at epidemic proportions. What if ‘Pac was around today? Why haven’t we produced another like him?
LT Hutton: Great, great question. Where is ‘Pac now? He is in this film. In this movie we have a debt to making people understand that through all the entertainment, this is a cautionary tale. As responsible people, we have to provide the message that regardless of all the great things he did, there were still decisions he made—in split seconds—that may have caused him to be killed at 25 years old. One second can change your life. If you do not make the right decisions in those moments, you will not live to see a normal life. We have this thing that follows us, from the inner cities and the neighborhoods, we cannot get away from. And now for me to be blessed to get to the age I am, I see what ‘Pac was saying. I see what he was running from, and I see where he made his mistakes. The reason why we had to let him make those mistakes is part of the cautionary tale, because in those split moments, if he had only just made the correct decision, maybe he would still be here today. I can’t personally reach everybody in Chicago, but this film can. This film has to be part of the spark ‘Pac spoke about. I’m fighting every day and waving this flag to make it that way.”
L+T: We need these young people to understand what his “Thug Life” mantra really was, the movement he was putting together.
LT Hutton: And here’s the thing: we will. His symbolism is too strong. Some of these kids, the only form of information and education they will get nowadays is in the theater, or video games, or social media. They’re not cracking open books, they’re not going to school—it’s real out here. It was just good weather for three days straight in Chicago, and you know what that meant? 39 murders. 39 murders in three days! People are acting like this isn’t happening. In this movie, you will see a cautionary tale we have to tell to wake these people up and jolt them into action. Tupac could have been so much more, and so could these kids. It’s a tragedy and a huge loss and we want people to feel that loss. Deeply.
The forthcoming Tupac biopic is slated to hit theaters in 2015. For more information, click here.