Like scores of other Tupac Shakur fans, Rich Garcia of Jersey City would jump at the opportunity to portray Shakur in the Hollywood biopic about the late rapper that is scheduled to begin filming later this year.
Unlike scores of others, Garcia says he has two key advantages that make him perfect for the part: he’s a dead ringer for Shakur, and he has the same birthday as the influential rap artist. Almost.
Shakur was born in Harlem on June 16, 1971. Four years later, Garcia was born on June 16 in Newark, and, like Shakur, was raised by a single mother, a serendipitous if not eerie detail given his physical similarities to Shakur.
Though Garcia became an instant fan of Shakur’s contributions to the alt-rap group Digital Underground, he didn’t recognize his uncanny resemblance to the popular rapper until, in 1992, a friend suggested that if he shaved his head the likeness would be noticeable to everyone, says Garcia.
Turns out his friend was right.
Since then, Garcia has refined his Tupac look, adding to his flesh some facsimiles of the tattoos that the late rapper was famous for having donned, and accessorizing with a headband and diamond stud in his nose, just like those worn by Shakur.
Celebrity perks Garcia’s resemblance to Shakur is so spot-on that he has become known as “The Pathmark Tupac” at the Jersey City supermarket where he works as a utility man stocking shelves or operating the cash register. Garcia says people on the street are constantly doing double-takes and stopping him to pose for pictures and there are certain other perks he enjoys from resembling Shakur.
According to Garcia, he and his wife are often given free rides around town, complimentary concessions when they go to the movies and even free admission to “Beach G,” his preferred nude beach in Sandy Hook.
“It’s ridiculous,” he says of the star-like treatment he receives. Garcia is hoping to parlay his local notoriety into a Hollywood role, playing his idol on the big screen in a movie directed by renowned filmmaker Antoine Fuqua.
In addition to his work at Pathmark, Garcia, who has seven children with three women, is a floating substitute teacher in the Jersey City school district. He dropped out of high school and says he dabbled with drugs during his youth. But his mother inspired him to go back to school so he could be a better example to and provide for his children.
A non-gangsta role model
“My mother used to say to me that my father would start something and never finish it,” Garcia recalls. “In my earlier years, before I had kids, I would start things and not finish them.”
He says his mother pointed out the similar personality trait and told him, “Finish what you start. Don’t get sidetracked.” He kept his mother’s words in mind while he worked his way through Hudson County Community College and then New Jersey City University, from which he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in biology.
As a substitute teacher, he strives to be a positive force in the lives of disadvantaged inner-city youths, an adult who steers them away from the treacherous lure of drugs and street violence and holds himself as an example to motivate students to see their educations through.
Garcia says he tells his students, “Do you think anybody would’ve hired me if I hadn’t gone to school, if I was just smokin’ blunts on the corner and drinking beer? I used to do that, but I wasn’t going anywhere.”
But his calling, he says, is to land the role starring as Shakur in the biopic Tupac being produced by Morgan Creek Productions. Garcia has a fan page on Facebook, which, as of publication, has over 2,800 fans. However, one individual who champions Garcia’s push to play Shakur has an opinion that carries a little more weight than that of the average person.
Tupac’s parents are supporters
Bill Garland, Shakur’s father, who lives in Elizabeth, says he met Garcia two years ago and the two have struck up a friendship in the time since their initial meeting. “He calls me Uncle Bill,” Garland says with a chuckle.
Garland remembers Garcia’s resemblance to his late son was so striking that it was a little “spooky” when they first met, but says that he’s honored by Garcia’s reverence for his son’s work.
Garland thinks that Garcia has the right look to portray Shakur on film and that he possesses a genuine understanding of his son’s persona and artistic motivation. “He would be better than the actor that played my son in Notorious [the 2009 biopic about rapper Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace],” Garland declares.
“I’m honored,” Garland says of Garcia’s homage to Shakur, adding, “It’s a tribute to my son’s legacy.” Garland says he wishes Garcia luck and that if Garcia manages to land the role in Tupac, he’ll be the first in line to buy a ticket to see the movie.
On June 16, Garcia met the late rapper’s mother, Afeni Shakur, at a memorial event in Atlanta. He says Shakur’s mother was moved to tears when she saw Garcia’s resemblance to her late son. Garcia says that Afeni Shakur plans to have her contacts in the movie industry help him land the starring role.
An ‘uncanny resemblance’
According to producers at Morgan Creek Productions in Santa Monica, Calif., principal filming on Tupac is set to begin in September. It has been reported that Fuqua has said he’s looking for a relatively unknown actor to depict Shakur, but the director couldn’t be reached for comment.
However, Morgan Creek executive Greg Mielcraz reviewed Garcia’s Facebook page and said, “Mr. Garcia does show an uncanny resemblance to Tupac Shakur. If he thinks he’s got what it takes to play the role,” Mielcraz continued, “we encourage him to send us his headshot, resume and demo reel for our consideration.”
Garcia is resolute not only that was he born for the role, but that he feels a spiritual duty to immortalize Shakur on film. He’s already begun researching the part, getting to know what Shakur was like off-stage from the rapper’s friends and relatives, who, he says, tell him the similarities between himself and Shakur go beyond the physical traits.
“There’s a correlation between his life and my life, in our upbringing and the way we think,” Garcia says. “‘Pac wasn’t a thug. ‘Pac was more like a poet. ‘Pac was more into children and art, and that’s how I am.”
Garcia adds that he doesn’t covet the role for money and fame (though he’d take both). He says he’s content with his notoriety in Jersey City and feels blessed to have a roof over his head.
“What’s a crumb to some,” says Garcia, “is riches to me.”