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Jan 30, 2018   Leave a Comment Interviews

Josh Duhamel and Jimmi Simpson are taking on a couple of notorious roles for the latest in a string recent shows tackling famously true crimes.

Duhamel will play Detective Greg Kading and Simpson will play Detective Russell Poole in the USA Network’s upcoming series, “Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G,” which tells the story of the controversial investigations into the murders of both rappers — murders that are still shrouded in mystery amid lingering conspiracy theories about what really happened.

Following a panel for the show hosted at The Black House during the 2018 Sundance Film Festival over the weekend, I sat down with Josh Duhamel and Jimmi Simpson to discuss their involvement in “Unsolved,” what they really thought about the murders of Tupac and Biggie and the “honor” of being able to unveil their latest project at Sundance.

Check out my conversation with Josh Duhamel and Jimmi Simpson below:

Throughout the panel, the conversation kept coming back to the idea that the audience’s perception of these two rap icons will change after watching this show. How did your own perceptions change?

Jimmi Simpson: I didn’t know much about the cases, so everything was new information to me. The depth of how opaque everything that was happening made you realize how much corruption was happening at different levels. Who knows how deep it really was?

Josh Duhamel: To piggyback on that, I knew what the general public knows, which was that I thought Tupac was still alive. I knew about the conspiracies, the suspicions of foul play in the police department and the fact that they were never really able to solve it. The biggest thing for me was — as Jimmi said — is that it was so complicated.

What I loved about this [show] was that it wasn’t so much about the complications within the case; it was really about the human stories behind what these guys meant to not only the whole generation but also to their families and how this reverberated throughout these families and the police department. There really were a lot of cops that were looking for justice and really wanting to do the right thing. Our characters and the task force around me lived and breathed this case and really just wanted to bring justice.

Both of your characters are trying to bring justice and figure out what happened, but how do they relate to one another?

Simpson: They’re divided by time, so they know each other through department — literally being told that they couldn’t talk to each other. So, the relation is all, “I heard this” or “I heard that.” It’s all a big mystery.

Duhamel: When [my character and his team] picked up the case in 2006, so much of Russell Poole was legendary. We couldn’t talk to him; we had boxes and boxes and boxes of case files to go through, and at first we thought he was crazy. But, as we got further along, [we began to think,] “Was Russell Poole maybe right?” There was so much about what he was in search of that might have had some truth to it.

But, at the same time, we truly believe we know who did it. We know who shot Tupac and we know who shot Biggie. The problem is, it’s not what you know — it’s what you can prove. That’s really where this case came to a stalling point. The LAPD knew they weren’t on the hook for $4 million anymore, and they knew how hard it was going to be to prosecute this because it’s so hard to get anybody to talk. Whether it’s police or the gangs, nobody wanted to say anything.

How did you ensure that you were approaching these stories and characters from an objective standpoint, without inserting your own personal beliefs or natural biases?

Duhamel: I had the privilege to have Greg Kading on set with me, so I could ask him questions. I wasn’t so much interested in what really happened as much as how it affected him and Russell Poole. They became so obsessed with finding the truth and bringing justice to these families, that I wanted to know how he felt and how it affected him when he found these things out. That’s what I really think people are going to find interesting — what happened behind closed doors?

Simpson: I’m not a method actor. I’m more exploratory and about empathizing with whoever I’m playing. I’ve played a lot of villains, and it’s always about, “Why are they doing this?” So, when I dropped into Russell, I could see the breadth of similarities. To have his truth shattered, it was just so relatable. He lost everything. I’m lucky that I got to be an actor, because I really am most comfortable trying to empathize with another person. Rather than being a singer, who’s like “I’m cool and this is me!” I would never be able to do that.

There are a lot of true crime shows out there right now. How is “Unsolved” different? Which other true crime shows have interested you the most?

Simpson: The true-crime stuff that gets me the most is the stuff like Sarah Koenig’s “Serial” — something investigative. I feel like this is different — it’s more filmic — and it turns the dial to 11 for true crime shows, because it’s more pertinent than anything I’ve ever seen. It’s one of the best-hour long cop shows [out there], but then you have two icons whose music you’ve heard and brings you to such an emotional state — and you’re like, “Oh my, God!” [Laughs] It’s a lovely experience.

Duhamel: I grew up a long way away from this, but I still listened to Tupac and Biggie in North Dakota, which is about as far from either of these two places as you can be. Geographically it’s [literally] as far as you can be. So, for these guys to have such an impact on a generation and be such a cultural force and affect a kid like me in North Dakota, it was an opportunity for me to get a different perspective.

TV shows haven’t always been part of the Sundance experience, but are becoming more and more part of the landscape here. What’s the value of showing a TV show at Sundance, in front of key players and people who are passionate about the art form?

Simpson: That’s exactly what it is. I was just talking to my representation about how Sundance — not like TIFF — was started with low million dollar movies that have been built with passion and dreams and to tell a story and often not to get a financial return, which is a large part of the business, if not most of it. So, for them to say that they think our show is about telling the story — and not about just collecting a return — I think it’s a hell of an honor, and I’m flattered that they’ve embraced us in this way.

Duhamel: There’s a prestige about Sundance that I think helps bring attention to a show. It’s an honor for them to let us come. Honestly, the best benefit that we can get from Sundance — they gave us their stamp [of approval]. It’s not an easy place to come — believe me, there are a lot of movies that try to get here [and don’t] — so for them to say, “Yeah, come on over, and we believe in it,” is an honor.

How do you hope people react to “Unsolved” and what do you want them to take from it?

Duhamel: This is what I hope for it: That people get a chance to see Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls as human beings and not just as hip-hop icons. I want people to take away from this the idea that many people were affected by these murders, including the police department and the people that gave everything to finding justice. It’s all about perception, and the fact that there’s good and bad in all walks of life. This is an opportunity for people to go, “You know what? It’s not as black and white as we thought it was.”

Simpson: I agree, it’s about communication. We are coming off of 20 years of the “East Coast/West Coast” thing and having “good cops” and “bad cops” — no one is good or bad or this or that. These were human beings, and this is the truth of what happened. Nobody has gotten that because our nation has been oppressive. The media has served up this “East Coast/West Coast” thing as the easiest thing to cling to. The majority just [blindly] agree.

Duhamel: A lot of men lost their lives because of this “East Coast/West Coast” thing.

Simpson: Exactly, so let’s shake it out. [The show] clarifies things by being honest.

Duhamel: It’s about money. Sadly, that’s one of the truths that comes from this, but I think there’s also a lot of human story here.

“Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G.” premieres on February 27 on the USA Network. [Source]

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