By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Comedian/actor Mike Epps is on a roll. The Indianapolis-born performer is signed to play legendary comedian Richard Pryor in an upcoming biopic. He also is set to star in ABC’s “Uncle Buck,” a sitcom based on the 1989 comedy that starred legendary comedian John Candy.
Epps’ performance as Uncle Julius on Starz’s urban comedy “Survivor’s Remorse” earned him an NAACP Image Award. On the big screen, Epps starred alongside Marlon Wayans in the urban parody “Fifty Shades of Black.” In February, he played to a sold out crowd at Madison Square Garden as part of his ongoing stand up comedy tour.
The 45-year-old married father of two now makes his feature film starring debut in “Meet the Blacks,” a comedy-horror hybrid in which he plays Carl Black, the patriarch of a struggling Chicago family who moves his brood to tony Beverly Hills in hopes of bettering their lives when he comes into some unexpected cash. Unfortunately, the Blacks’ arrival in the upscale neighborhood coincidences with an annual ritual in which crime goes unchecked for 12 hours, and old enemies turn up as well as some new ones to terrorize the recent arrivals. Carl has to use his street smarts to deal with a wide variety of antagonists that are out to destroy his already estranged family.
Directed, co-produced and co-written by Deon Taylor (“Supremacy,” “Chain Letter”), “Meet the Blacks” spoofs the 2013 sci-fi horror hit “The Purge,” which starred Ethan Hawke, who played a suburbanite trying to protect his family from attackers on the frightening free-for-all night. Although a comedy, “Meet the Blacks” addresses hot-button social issues—racism, in particular—while also serving up a helping of laughs.
Taylor said he sought out Epps for the role because of he regards him as one of today’s top-notch actors and an influential comedian. He also acknowledged that Epps is well connected to other hot talent he wanted to cast in his film, including stand up comedian and actor Lil Duval, Snoop Dogg and George Lopez, who plays President El Bama, who encourages a night of criminal mischief from the Oval Office.
Epps co-stars with Zulay Henao (“True Memoirs of an International Assassin”), Bresha Webb (NBC’s “Truth Be Told”), Alex Henderson (“Supremacy,” Fox’s “Empire”) and Lil Duval, who plays his ex-con cousin Cronut. During an interview, they uncensored comedian explained what a delight making the comedy with underlying social commentary and weighed in on his thoughts on a current GOP frontrunner.
Q: How did you get involved in this project?
Epps: Deon Taylor came to me and presented it to me. He said, “Hey, Mike, I’ve got a great opportunity for you.” I said, “Oh, yeah?” He said, “Yeah, this will be your first time starring in a movie. I’ve seen you in so many films and stuff like that. This will be the first you’ll be able to star in a movie.” He said, “Have you ever see the movie ‘The Purge?’” and I said, “Yeah, I did see it.” And he said, “Well, I’ve got a spoof of ‘The Purge.’” And immediately when he said that I started laughing. I said, “Now ****, that would be funny.” I got to talking to Deon. He got me the script. When he started telling me about what the story’s about, I was like, “I’m in.” He started telling me about the possibility of other cast members that could be in the movie and I said, “I’m in.”
Q: Speaking of that, were you the one who made the call to Mike Tyson?
Epps: We collectively did it. Most of these guys that are in the business with us are already our friends. We already know these guys previously. Deon’s done directing work and I’ve been an actor in movies. So we knew these guys anyway. But I just thought it was such a great idea to have so many different types of comedians all together, different types of entertainers together, in a movie that is so colorful, that is so fun that people are familiar with from “The Purge.” I am just thrilled and honored to work with someone like Deon, and I will always have to pat Dion on the shoulder because for somebody to be able to pull all that talent and make it work is a talent in itself.
Q: How fun was it making this film?
Epps: It was like a barbecue. (It was like) summer school, or something.
Q: How do you see the timing of this film’s release with the social and political upheavals going on in this country?
Epps: I don’t know if Deon’s psychic but he wrote this pre-Donald Trump and all this madness that’s going on almost like he saw it coming. It couldn’t be a (more) perfect time for this movie to come out. Had it come out at another time it might have a whole lot of controversy behind it and a whole bunch of whys. But I think this movie speaks volumes in a lot of ways as a really cool message with a lot of underlying messages in the movie itself. But it’s funny. People are coming to laugh. There are some moments in it where if you’re a certain type of person you’re going to say, “Uh oh, why that?” but like Deon said, for the most this is a celebration of a bunch of different actors coming together and making light of something that is really horrible in the world right now.
Q: You mentioned Trump. What a showman, huh?
Epps: (He laughs.) Is that what he is?
Q: As a standup comedian and performer yourself, how do you see his on-stage persona?
Epps: I think that’s exactly what he is, and that’s all he is. It’s a joke. It’s a successful joke that’s running a long-*** time, and it’s scaring the **** out of everybody. I don’t think his *** thought he was going to win in the beginning. It’s just (a testament) to how many crazy people out there think like him. They’re not thinking about this as this is our country, this is our lives. This is a dude that’s an entertainer. That’s what’s winning for him. He’s an entertainer. He doesn’t know **** about politics. He’s up there crazy and ************. At the same time, he’s causing a revolution. It’s fun for him but people are dying and all kinds of crazy **** over this so… it’s just tough, man.
Q: You’ve played comedic parts and played dramatic roles, like an abusive husband. You’ve had comedy stand up specials on cable. Which of these characters are you really?
Epps: Every last one of them. (He laughs.) To some degree, to every actor, they had to tap into something. Today I’m Carl Black, and I’m doing a comedy.
Q: How much fun is it working with your buddy Snoop Dogg?
Epps: Snoop is a sweetheart. Snoop is everybody’s cousin. Snoop just fits in with everybody.
Q: What was it like working with him on set?
Epps: I can say this much, when I’m around Snoop, when I leave him, my whole day is a blur. This ************ smokes (marijuana) back to back, and while you’re smoking, he’ll hand you another one. You’re like this. (He mimics smoking one cigarette after the other.) Thank you, Snoop.
Q: It’s medicinal, right?
Epps: Yeah, medicinal. (He laughs.)