Story by Mike James
Images by Phoenix White
Comedian Mike Epps is growing up right before our eyes. It’s hard to see this because we are always wiping the tears from our eyes from laughing at all the funny antics and performances this man has channeled from his funny bone. Epps now wants us to see his serious side in the upcoming thriller Repentance, co-starring Forest Whitaker. Fans have enjoyed Epps’ around-the-way comedy since he first came on the scene doing stand-up on “Def Comedy Jam” and transitioning effortlessly into movie stardom. Now, Epps is getting in touch with his dark side and he is not joking, playing a character that gives a nice moral dimension to the film. Epps promises this movie is going to make audiences really work the “left” and “right” side of their brains in trying to figure out all the film’s mysteries and plot twists.
Epps’ focus in choosing acting roles is no longer about the Benjamins and more about respecting his art. That “respect” could lead to another Hollywood opportunity for Epps, in possibly landing the lead role in playing the legendary comedian Richard Pryor (he already has the blessing to play the role from Richard Pryor’s widow) in an upcoming planned biopic. Although the landscape regarding the definition of being a successful comedian has changed, Epps has not let it faze him. The Indianapolis-born Epps, who first honed his comedic chops in Atlanta, is determined to stay true to the game. His comedy just comes naturally to him and the evolution of his career will not be minimized.
Rolling out sat down with the gifted and talented comedian who reflected on his career and success. Epps looks forward to pushing the boundaries of his acting chops and to getting his GED this year to fulfill a personal goal, and maybe so that he can pronounce the word, “resolutions” better.
Tell us about your role in the movie Repentance.
Repentance is a little bit of a stretch [from] what people actually see me do. Repentance is an action thriller starring Forest Whitaker, Anthony Mackie, Sanaa Lathan and myself. It’s a pretty dark movie, pertaining to family and mystery. You know it’s gonna keep people on their toes. I think people are really, really, really gonna enjoy this movie. It comes out on Feb. 28. I play a character by the name of Ben. Ben is a brother of Tommy, [who is] played by Anthony Mackie. Ben is someone who really loves his brother and is a support factor for him through the good and the bad in the movie. I kinda get dragged in Tommy’s web once he gets in trouble with Whitaker’s character, Angel. I had a past love interest with Sanaa Lathan’s character and Tommy really doesn’t know this. This movie is going to call for you to be a “thinker” and it’s not predictable.
How do you feel you have grown as an actor?
I think I’ve done a great job growing up as an actor. A lot of people don’t realize that comedians come from a dark world. Comedians are really, really great transitional artists. It’s really easy for us to transition into dramatic acting because our world is so dark as comedians. We make people laugh. It’s like the story of the clown. So I think I have really grown as an actor. I started doing Friday movies with Ice Cube. I have worked with a lot of great artists like Whitney Houston, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Don Cheadle. Working with those actors, I have learned how to elevate my craft. I learned how to transition from being a comedian and give people the opportunity to show my versatility in the movie business.
Would you say the roles in Hollywood have evolved?
The last movie I did was Sparkle. I think I wanna say that was the beginning of me evolving as an actor and getting the opportunity to show people I can do those serious roles outside of doing comedy.
What is the one lesson you have learned the hard way pertaining to your success?
Doing movies for money and doing movies for the wrong reasons and not really doing it for the love of the craft. Anything that pertains to entertainment as an artist you have to be really selective to get the good quality out of your career. That’s one of the lessons I have had to learn and I am still learning.
Do you feel your style of comedy has changed or remained the same?
You know comedy has changed quite a bit. I think the social network has changed a lot of stuff. Back in the day, five or 10 years ago comedy artists were judge by film and television roles we do. Now artists are judged by how many followers you have on the Facebook and Twitter. … I think that’s how it’s changed a lot.
When you go on stage, how do you go about constructing yourself?
You know, my process is real simple. I really, really take my life lessons to the stage. I really don’t sit down and strategically write jokes about it. Stuff is just falling off the tree for me. I have a cool memory bank in my mind [where] I store a lotta jokes. I see stuff and it makes me laugh. I don’t pull over and write it down. It’s just when I get on stage it’s like I am standing on the corner talking to some friends or at a restaurant talking to some friends. It just comes back to me.
Take us back to that first time where you know, every comedian has bombed from one time to another — what gave you the courage to get back on the stage?
I am not bragging about it or anything, but I only really had two or three bad sets in my life. I only got booed in my life one time. I was tired and I came on stage and told the crowd [starts to clap] “clap, clap and give it up for my nuts” and the crowd was like, “Awww, boooo!” They booed me off [laughs], so I really got booed because I was disrespectful to the crowd. When you do have a bad set it really makes you reflect on what you had to do to be funny and you always have to give up a 100 percent to your audience … to the craft. … No matter how you feel, you still have to serve the audience. Especially if you want some instant gratification yourself. The audience has instincts like animals, like a dog. … They can sense everything. They can sense if you don’t want to be there. They can sense if you’re scared. They can sense if you’re really about what you’re gonna say. So it’s a true test.
Do you have a mentor?
Yes, I have a couple of mentors. I have a couple of guys. A couple of women that mentor me just through life. A little life coaches that don’t sugarcoat nothing. When I wanna find [out] something real about myself or situation I am going through, I got some straight go-to people who can give it to me straight and raw.
What are your three keys to success?
I think the three keys to success is love the people who love you, pray for the people who don’t, and really, really work hard and treat people right. Treat people as nice as you can really, and really love what you do. Be passionate about whatever you love to do. I think those are the key things to success.
Have you made any New Year’s resolutions?
Yeah, I made a couple of New Year’s revelations [mispronounces resolutions]. Not revelations a couple of “reza … reza …” how do you say it?
Resolutions, yeah, I made a couple. I want to work harder. I want to challenge myself [to accomplish] everything I couldn’t accomplish in the past. I am challenging myself to it this year. No matter what it is. Those are resolutions I am looking forward to. And I gotta go get my GED!