Long before the world knew their names, Jada Pinkett Smith and Tupac Shakur were just aspiring artists at the Baltimore School for the Arts in Maryland.
The enduring and tumultuous friendship between actress Pinkett Smith and Shakur will feature prominently in the upcoming biopic about the rapper’s life, death and legacy, All Eyez on Me, which hits theaters on June 16.
As young students in the mid-’80s, Pinkett Smith and Shakur – who is profiled in this week’s issue of PEOPLE – bonded quickly, their initial encounter an instant indication of what was to come.
“It was the first day and he came over to me and introduced himself,” Pinkett Smith recalled in an interview. “And in high school, Pac was a little funny looking. Definitely from looking at him, wasn’t necessarily the type of cat that I would even like, deal with.”
She continued, “But as soon as he approached me, he was like a magnet. Once you paid attention to him he kind of sucked you in. And we hit it off from that moment on… I don’t think either one of us thought we would have made it in the way that we did, but we knew we were gonna do something.”
Soon, Pinkett said, “[Shakur] was one of my best friends, he was like a brother.”
And Shakur’s star-power was evident even then. Pinkett Smith told Howard Stern in a June 2015 interview, “I’ve never in my life met a person like Pac. He had so much charisma.”
Shakur, the son of activist and Black Panther Afeni Shakur Davis, grew up poor, Pinkett Smith said – a fact he brought up “all the time.”
“When I met Pac, he owned two pairs of pants and two sweaters,” shared Pinkett Smith, noting that he didn’t let financial limitations hold back his ambitions.
Though their relationship was close, Pinkett Smith said it never turned romantic.
She told Stern, “You know, it’s so funny because now being older, I have more of an understanding of what that was between us. When you have two young people that have very strong feelings, but there was no physical chemistry between us at all, and it wasn’t even just for me – it was him too.”
“There was a time when I was like, ‘Just kiss me! Let’s just see how this goes,’ ” she said, laughing. “And when I tell you it had to be the most disgusting kiss for us both.”
The Girl’s Trip actress said that she feels “the higher power just did not want that.” She added, “we might have killed each other because we were both so passionate and we love deeply.” Still, their bond was so intense that Pinkett Smith inspired poems by Shakur that were posthumously published in The Rose that Grew from Concrete.
With Hollywood success, though, came strain.
“And he felt as though I had changed,” Pinkett Smith told Stern. “I’d gone Hollywood. I’d gone soft. And looking back now, I totally understand where Pac was at the time. It was a mentality he started to come out of before he was murdered.”
Pinkett Smith said she worried that Shakur – a successful artist just years after they completed high school – was going in “a destructive direction.”
FROM COINAGE: The 7 Most Expensive Music Videos
When Shakur was killed in September 1996, Pinkett Smith hadn’t been speaking to her friend after a “hardcore” argument about their changing lives. “It definitely taught me a lesson, which is life is too short,” she said. “Do not let disagreements stand in between you and people that you love.”
In All Eyez On Me, Pinkett Smith is portrayed by Kat Graham, who told Entertainment Tonight in May of last year that she reached out to the actress about the film.
“She called me a few weeks ago and we talked about the project and I told her what I was doing in it and parts of her life that we’re recreating, and she’s extremely supportive and a loving woman,” Graham said in 2016. “We sound similar, and I’m a sound person… She’s pretty much my idol.”
And Pinkett Smith apparently gave Graham her blessing: “It’s nice to be trusted with something as profound as that, and I just want to do her justice,” the Vampire Diariesalum said.
All Eyez on Me will hit theaters on June 16.