KSU student lands role in Tupac Shakur biopic
KENNESAW, Ga. (Jun 15, 2017) — When the biopic on controversial and prolific rapper Tupac Shakur opens in theaters on Friday, Rayven Ferrell, a Kennesaw State University communication major, will play on the biggest stage of her life.
In her role as Sekyiwa Shakur in “All Eyez on Me,” the diminutive, 21-year-old actress plays the adolescent youngest sister of the hip hop icon, a role she says she was destined to play. It’s also a role she has been preparing for since she enrolled in kindergarten at a performing arts school in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Ferrell played a mouse in “The Nutcracker” every year starting in the fourth grade and a bee in a stage play of “Jungle Book” in the sixth grade. Before concentrating on theater in middle school, she also studied violin, ballet and creative writing.
Since then, Ferrell has pursued her passion for acting professionally, negotiating the world of auditions, acting lessons, talent agents and publicists.
Her role in “All Eyez on Me” is one she feels a special connection to because it underscores the special bond siblings develop when they are raised in difficult circumstances by a single mom. As one of six siblings — three of them younger — she brings authentic experience to the role. It’s one she feels “honored” to play, she said.
“About a month after the audition, I had a dream that I booked the part,” Ferrell said, even though she got a tepid response to her audition. “They didn’t even tape me. The whole vibe was just off. So I kind of felt awkward. They just thanked me and said ‘alright, bye.’”
But when she had the dream, Ferrell immediately texted talent agent Tay Smith, to find out if they had cast the movie. Since so much time had passed, her agent was skeptical. But Raven said she felt the role was hers.
“A few weeks later, my agent called to let me know I got a callback,” Ferrell said. “I started right away researching the role. When I went for the callback, I walked in smiling. I did the scenes and I felt I had the part. I found out I had booked it the night before they were scheduled to start shooting. It was a 6 a.m. call time.”
Rayven Ferrell, right, on the set of "All Eyez on Me" with Demetrius Shipp, Jr. (Set photo by Quantrell Colbert)
For Ferrell, a senior concentrating in media studies in KSU’s School of Communication and Media, acting for television and film was her first calling. She was pursuing that dream when at 17, she and her mother moved to Kennesaw to be near Atlanta, so she could take acting lessons and go on auditions while attending Kell High School. As a result of her focus on theatrical performance since the sixth grade, she had been advised that she needed retraining to act for the camera.
“I was going back and forth (between Ohio and Atlanta), hoping to sign with J. Pervis, the agency I have now, but the transition from doing theater all those years and trying to move into TV and film wasn’t working out,” Ferrell said. “Coaches told me I was way too dramatic. So I went two years straight just training for camera four or five days a week. The agency eventually signed me, and I would do about five auditions a month.”
As a result, the roles came — a Netflix film “One and Two,” a TV show “Complications” on USA Network and a role on the Oprah Winfrey-produced TV series “Greenleaf” on OWN. Since she shot “All Eyez on Me” in Atlanta, Ferrell has also been featured in the Fox TV series “Star” alongside Queen Latifah.
As her star power has grown, Ferrell is struggling to maintain focus on her education, which she says is a is an important value in her family, reinforced by her mother, Crystal Jefferson, and her two older sisters – one of whom graduated from Ohio State and another who is currently studying abroad as a student there.
“It [the conflict between school and career] didn’t really become an issue until last semester,” said Ferrell, who came to KSU in spring 2014 after hearing good things about it from friends she met in Kennesaw. “I had to withdraw from some classes because I was finding it difficult to meet class deadlines across time zones. It hurt my GPA. I should have taken the semester off, but I Iearned a lesson.”
“I majored in communications because it matched my personality, and I originally thought I might like to get into hosting a show on TV,” she said.
With her most recent acting success, including the breakout role in “All Eyez on Me,” it’s hard to know what opportunities may come her way.
Two things, however, are certain. First, this week is a whirlwind of promotional appearances and advanced screenings, starting in Columbus, Ohio, back to Atlanta, then to Los Angeles, back to Cincinnati on the 16th so she can watch the movie with her family on opening day, and then on to Miami on the 17th for a closing premiere.
And when KSU’s classes start for fall 2017, Ferrell will resume her studies in media and video production. “I’ll have a boatload of classes in order to catch up.”
— Sabbaye McGriff
Cover photo by Lauren Lopez
Set photo by Quantrell Colbert