Mike Epps is a comedian at heart and one of the funniest comic actors to emerge into the Hollywood scene, but in his latest film, Repentance, he undertakes a serious role as Ben, the loyal brother of Tommy Carter (Anthony Mackie), a spiritual therapist whose successful book attracts the attention of a profoundly disturbed man (Forest Whitaker). Opening in select theaters on February 28th, the horror-thriller directed by Philippe Caland also stars Sanaa Lathan, Nicole Ari Parker, and Ariana Neal.
I recently landed an exclusive interview with Epps who talked about how the project came together, what drew him to the role, why the spiritual undertone of the film appealed to him, the easy directing process with Caland, how he stepped up his acting game opposite Mackie, what it was like shooting on location in New Orleans, and how he escapes boredom by pursuing a multi-faceted career. He also discussed his upcoming live comedy show, Mike Epps: After Dark Tour, which hits the road in March, and playing Richard Pryor in the Nina Simone biopic, Nina, starring Zoe Saldana. Check out the interview after the jump.
MIKE EPPS: The script was sent to me, and I read it, and I really enjoyed my character, Ben, after I read it. It was something that really appealed to me because it was so different from anything I have ever done. I’m a comedian at heart. I tell jokes, do stand-up. I’ve played in a lot of comedic films, but this definitely stood out.
What was it that first struck you when you read the script and made you say I definitely want to do this?
EPPS: I loved the fact that the character was very, very loyal and very sacrificial when it came to his brother. He was weak and strong at the same time. Sometimes when you read characters that are very vulnerable, as Ben was, it’s really appealing to you.
Can you talk a little bit about your character and story arc?
EPPS: Ben is the brother of Tommy. Tommy is a motivational book writer. Ben definitely came from the hard knocks of life. He’s been to prison and he’s sort of a deadbeat kind of a guy. He does odd jobs and he’s trying to make ends meet. But he’s definitely a fan of his brother’s work. He didn’t mind taking a back seat to what his brother was and who he was.
Was the spiritual undertone of the film part of what you found appealing about the story?
EPPS: It was. I mean, everybody deals with their secrets in some sort of a way. I don’t think there’s any human being walking around on this earth that doesn’t keep something to himself, whether it’s good or bad. I think there are levels of keeping secrets. In this movie, it was really rough. It was a tough secret, but I think people are going to relate to this film on the strength of that alone.
EPPS: Philippe was great, first and foremost. Philippe was such a great aspect to us as the actors, because he had previously shot this film before and played the character that Forest Whitaker played. It was easy for him to convey to us what was done and what was said and what was needed. The most challenging part of this film for me were the torture scenes which were really heavy, because sometimes I couldn’t channel what feeling to have and what really made me tick. I didn’t know whether I was scared or angry or upset.
You had some intense scenes with Anthony Mackie. How did the two of you work together to strike the right tone?
EPPS: Anthony Mackie is definitely a great actor, and to work with him, you definitely have to step your game up. He alone gave me an incentive to really work hard and want to do good in this film because he’s such a great actor.
How was it shooting on location in New Orleans?
EPPS: It was really good. I’ve shot movies down there before like Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins. People are very warm and receptive. Food is good. Oh man, I ate so much gumbo down there! I was gumbo-ed out! Etouffee-ed out! The environment can be kind of rough sometimes because it’s so real. After Hurricane Katrina, people are a little different. The streets are different.
In this film, you have African American actors in all the lead roles but it’s a universal story that can appeal to a diversity of people. Do you think it’s becoming less and less important today who is playing what because content is more and more reflecting our diversity?
EPPS: Like I said, this film here is a remake of a European film in which Philippe played the starring role. I think sometimes when you get certain actors and certain artists together, they tend to take away the color line of it. When the story is good and the performances are good, you lose sight of the color. You just really enjoy it and you walk away with a neutral feeling about it.
You have a very diverse career. What do you enjoy doing the most: your stand-up comedy, acting, producing, writing, rapping or all of it?
EPPS: I do it all. You can get really bored in this business, and I think that’s one of the reasons why I’ve challenged myself so many times in different areas because you can get really bored and stagnated in one area. So, I do a lot of different things to keep myself occupied. As we know in this business, it’s a ‘hurry up and wait’ business and you have to really wait sometimes in some areas. I just keep myself busy. When one thing stops, the other one is rolling.
What do you have coming up next that you’re excited for audiences to see?
EPPS: I have a tour coming out, Mike Epps: After Dark Tour, which starts in March by Live Nation that will be in every major city in every B and C market. I also have a movie coming out called The Nina Simone Story (Nina). I played a little bit of Richard Pryor in it. It’s starring Zoe Saldana. So, I got a couple of things down the chute.