Dominic Santana

By Janice Malone

NASHVILLE, TN — All Eyez on Me is the highly anticipated upcoming American biographical drama film about hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur. The film, which opens this week, chronicles the life and legacy of Tupac Shakur, including his rise to superstardom, as well as his imprisonment and prolific, controversial time at Death Row Records.

The two leading roles feature actors who are not household names yet but this film could change all of that. Demetrius Shipp, Jr. stars as the iconic Tupac Shakur, with Dominic Santana starring as Marion “Suge” Knight–record producer and former CEO of Death Jam Records, who became famous for also becoming quite a menacing character. In February 2015, Knight was charged with murder and attempted murder following a fatal hit-and-run in Compton, California. He remains behind bars.

Dominic Santana’s journey to land the role of a lifetime as Suge Knight, began here in Nashville. Two years ago, Dominic’s agent was Terrance A. Hurd, founder of The Hurd Agency. Terrance recalls his experience of working with the young actor. “Dominic and I met in 2006 on the set of “Furnace” which starred Michael Pare’ JaRule, and Tom Sizemore. Dominic was a featured actor in the film. Over the years I’ve submitted him for various roles, but when I saw they were looking for someone to play Suge Knight, he immediately came to mind.  He was a little hesitant at first, and didn’t know if he was right for the role. But three auditions, a shaved head, and a new beard later, he became Suge! I’m very proud to have been a part of what is sure to be an epic motion picture.  I’m even more proud of Dominic.  He is an actor who has worked hard over the years honing his craft.  This role will take his career to new heights.” Dominic is equally as thankful for Terrance’s belief in his talents. He says:  I’m a life time Tupac fan but I never even thought about playing Suge Knight in my whole life. So, when Terrance told me that he submitted me for the role, I was super excited, just as a fan, but then it dawned on me, ‘Wait a minute, he submitted me for Suge Knight? Could I play Suge Knight?’ But after shaving my hair off and adding some weight, I started to think I could really ace the part. I want to thank Terrance for submitting me and believing in my talents.”

Dominic’s appeared in roles on BET’s “The Game,” “One Tree Hill,” “Love for Sale” and others. We had a chance to chat with him earlier this week, while he was on a promotional tour. Here, he gives plenty of insight into some of the behind-the-scenes happenings in the making of All Eyez on Me.

TRIBUNE: I understand that you underwent a pretty serious physical transformation for the role of Suge Knight. D. SANTANA: “Yeah, I put on about 30 pounds. But I wasn’t small in the first place, I just had to get a little bigger, and a little more belly and stuff. I mostly ate a lot of pizza and ice cream. That seemed to do the trick. Way too much ice cream, way too much pizza, and it’s funny because now I hardly eat ice cream. I used to love it, but now it’s just, eh. Stopped working out, ate a lot of ice cream and pizza.”

TRIBUNE: Have you since lost the weight or what? Respondent: “I actually dropped about 30, 40 pounds, and I’m kind of coasting right now, because the traveling and the press has just started for the film, so I can’t eat all the stuff like normal. So, I’m not small, but I did drop off a good portion of that extra weight I put on, and then I’ll keep going down about another 50, 60 pounds.”

TRIBUNE: Did you get to meet Suge, since he’s still in jail? D. SANTANA: “There was going to be a phone call to him but right when we started to shoot the film, that’s when court took away Suge’s visitation and phone privileges. So, we weren’t allowed to speak to him or do anything. But I’ve heard his lawyers say that after they saw the early screening and describing what’s going on with the film to Suge, it’s been said that he’s happy about the film.”

TRIBUNE: Being around former Death Row employees you must have heard and listened to lots of stories and memories. Do you have one particular story about Tupac, or Suge, or both, that really sticks in your mind? D. SANTANA: “There were a lot of stories for sure. But most of, many of the stories were about a lot of fun. One of the big surprise were stories about how Pac and Suge liked to pull pranks on people. They were big pranksters and would pull a lot of pranks in the Death Row office and mess with people, just for laughs.”

TRIBUNE: Pranksters? That’s totally unexpected. Any details about one particular prank? D. SANTANA: “This story was told by Demetrius Shipp Sr., who used to work at Death Row. He’s also the father of the actor (Demetrius Jr.) who stars as Tupac in this film. He said Suge had this big fish tank with fish in his office at Death Row. Suge would offer guys $50 or $100 to stick their hand in the fish tank for like ten seconds. Only problem is the fish in the tank were Piranha fish!”

TRIBUNE: What! That’s crazy. D. SANTANA: “Yeah, I know!” (he laughs)

TRIBUNE: It’s hard to imagine Tupac and Suge being practical jokesters. That’s a new revelation. I heard that it was a challenge for many of the cast members to shoot the final Las Vegas scenes of when Pac was gunned down. D. SANTANA: “It was tough. We shot part of the scene on a sound stage, then we went to actual Vegas at Flamingo and Koval where Tupac was shot in real life. We filmed there in the same exact type of BMW from that year model. It was tough, because I don’t care who you are, when you hear a gunshot, it gives you a certain kind of chill anyway. And to hear eight shots ringing off two feet away from you, with a gun pointed at you, even though it’s blank, you’re still getting chills. There were not real bullets, but to even just have a glimpse into that night, and into that car at that very moment, sends chills down your spine, to know that’s one of the last things Tupac heard and felt. I think another thing that was tough was, E.D.I. Mean and Noble are actually in the film playing themselves. Somehow, they don’t look much different. One of the things that really made my stomach turn from emotion was seeing E.D.I. in that scene reacting to Pac being shot. This was one of their really good friends that they were having this great adventure with. And to see EDI in that moment was tough.”

TRIBUNE:  Dominic, thanks for the chat and the inside scoop. We all can’t wait to see the film. D. SANTANA: “And thank you as well. If anyone out there is a fan of Tupac, this is the movie that you must see!