Actor Leon Explains Why Tupac 'Bowed' to Him on Movie Set

Fans have fond memories of watching Leon Robinson turn up on the big screen in movies such as The Five Heartbeats, The Temptations, Waiting to Exhale, and Little Richard. Early on, he established that people need only to refer to him as Leon.

With a career in film and television that spans more than three decades, he’s worked alongside some of the entertainment industry’s most talented in music and acting.

Among them is the late Tupac Shakur, who starred in Above the Rim with Leon. One of his on-set stories is about a moment between him and the late rapper that involved showing respect.

Fans loved Tupac in ‘Above the Rim’

There was a set of years when Tupac was seen everywhere. In addition to filming his own music videos, he appeared in six movies during the ’90s. Above the Rim was released in 1994 and he played Birdie, the drug-dealing younger brother to Leon’s character, Shep.

The gritty, sports-themed drama centered on a rising high school basketball star and featured plenty of hot music (including Tupac songs), scenes of young men playing street ball, and brawls.

Duane Martin played Kyle, and Marlon Wayans, Wood Harris, and Bernie Mac were also in the film. As much as the movie focused on Kyle, it was also about the relationship between Birdie and Shep.

Leon recalls Tupac bowing

Occasionally, Leon is asked about his experience working with Tupac. Above the Rim is the only movie they were in together, and one of his memories is about the rapper bowing to him when they met.

DJ Vlad recently asked the actor about the story and Leon shrugged it off by saying Tupac did it as a sign of respect. In 2014, he spoke to the Knicks’ SNY blog and shared the tale.

“When we first met, Tupac came over to me and he basically bowed,” Leon explained and gestured. “He says, ‘Let me tell you something—you’re not gonna have one problem from me because you were in The Five Heartbeats’.” He said Tupac told him that was his favorite movie of “all time.”

Leon added that when they did their scenes, the rapper was serious, always on time, and knew his lines; there were no issues. “When he wasn’t working with me, he was wild.” he said. There were blunts being passed around, threats to beat folks up, and a famous incident with two off-duty cops.

For Leon however, his one-on-one interaction with Tupac was great.

Tupac said he liked being the villain

When Above the Rim came out, Tupac did an interview with MTV to discuss the film and his role. “I like playing the bad guy, but I want to play a bad guy that’s for real like a Robert DeNiro or Harvey Keitel with some substance and character. And not just a crazy fool with guns,” he told host Alison Stewart.

For fans who want to see the late artist in the film and hear the soundtrack, Above the Rim just became available for streaming on HBO Max on Nov. 1.

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