Tarrant actress Annie Ilonzeh goes all-in on Tupac film, ‘a story that needs to be told’

Annie Ilonzeh and Demetrius Shipp Jr. star in “All Eyez on Me.”
Annie Ilonzeh and Demetrius Shipp Jr. star in “All Eyez on Me.”

It took only one word — Tupac — for Annie Ilonzeh to get involved.

The North Texas actress is one of the leading ladies in “All Eyez on Me,” a film about the life and times of the late rapper and actor Tupac Shakur.

Kidada Jones, Ilonzeh’s character, was the rap icon’s fiancee at the time of his death.

“Tupac is such a legend,” Ilonzeh says. “The amount of accomplishments that he was able to make in such a short life, 25 years, speaks volumes. He’s still speaking now, two decades later.

“So when I heard that name and I found out it’s the official Tupac movie, I was like, ‘OK, this is a really big deal. This is a story that needs to be told — and I want to be part of it.’ ”

All Eyez on Me,” which stars Demetrius Shipp Jr. as Tupac, opens in theaters Friday on what would have been the influential artist’s 46th birthday.

It is often said after someone’s passing that the person “died too soon.” That certainly was the case with Shakur, whose songs — such as “So Many Tears,” “Dear Mama,” and, of course, “All Eyez on Me,” often addressed violence, racism and social inequity.

He was the victim in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas on Sept. 7, 1996, and died six days later. At age 25, he likely would have had many more meaningful chapters in his career.

“Not just chapters, but whole novels,” Ilonzeh says. “But I like to think about it this way: Isn’t he still accomplishing things? Two decades later, his music is just as alive and vital and relevant as ever.

“You’ve got millennials and preteens who love Tupac and they weren’t even born when he was here. We could speculate about what he could have done, but don’t dismiss what he’s accomplishing now.”

Grapevine roots

Ilonzeh, who grew up in Grapevine and went to Colleyville Heritage High School, was one of the lead actresses of ABC’s short-lived “Charlie’s Angels” reboot in 2011. Since then, she has had recurring roles in such shows as “Arrow,” “Switched at Birth,” “Person of Interest” and “Empire.”

She’s excited about her role in “All Eyez on Me,” because it brings out a lesser-known side of Shakur.

“You mention Pac and a lot of people think ‘ladies man,’ you know?” Ilonzeh says. “But one of the great things about this movie is you see the intimate life that he led, not just the public persona.

“At the time, a lot of people didn’t even know they were engaged. They were both very private. And this was the time when you didn’t have social media and phones with cameras and blogs and comments and likes and all the stuff that’s in a celebrity’s face every moment.

“It’s a tragedy that she lost him the way she did, but at least they were able to have a private and intimate and real relationship that was fully about them without it being out in the media.”

Relating to the character

Ilonzeh was able to relate to her character on many levels, but one connection was especially powerful.

“She’s a mixed child, a biracial child, and so am I,” Ilonzeh says. “We each have a white mom and a black dad. I could understand that side of her, because I’ve lived that life for 33 years.

“People are more accepting and not so close-minded now. But when I was in middle school and high school, there was a stigma and many people were negative and it would hurt my feelings.

“We touch on these issues in the movie and it took me back to those times in my life.”

Ilonzeh hopes moviegoers agree that it’s an important film.

“The movie touches on more than just Tupac the rapper, Tupac the artist and all of the drama,” she says. “It talks about racist society. It talks about the underprivileged and a community that’s not heard very much and people who are underserved.

“These issues unfortunately are just as relevant today as ever. Maybe this movie can spark a conversation that leads to better understanding.”