Trained as a dancer from early childhood, Essence Atkins made the switch to acting as a teenager when she was cast in a guest role on "The Cosby Show" (NBC, 1984-1992). She went on to small parts on other television shows before landing a starring role on the drama "Under One Roof" (CBS, 1995), which lasted a mere six weeks. Atkins continued undaunted in her career, however, winning a number of roles in feature films and starring on several more television series including "Smart Guy" (The WB, 1997-99), "Half & Half" (UPN, 2002-06), and "Are We There Yet?" (TBS, 2010-13), as well as working alongside Marlon Wayans in the spoof of found-footage horror films, "A Haunted House" (2013).
Born Essence Uhura Atkins in New York City - the "Uhura" a nod to the groundbreaking role played by African-American actress Nichelle Nichols on "Star Trek" (NBC, 1966-1969) - Atkins trained as a dancer while attending the Professional Children's School in Manhattan. An opportunity to appear on "The Cosby Show" and a realistic assessment of the sacrifice needed for the short career of a dancer led her to shift her focus to acting. Soon enough, Atkins was guest-starring on several television shows throughout the early 1990s. However, her first opportunity as a series cast member was short-lived, as the show, "Under One Roof," a mid-season replacement about an African-American family living in Seattle, was cancelled after less than two months. Atkins' second outing as a regular cast member was almost as disappointing as the first, with the Aaron Spelling teen soap opera "Malibu Shores" (CBS, 1996) lasting a mere ten episodes.
Atkins found her groove soon after, however, and went on to successful runs of several years in various series, first as the older sister of a child prodigy on the sitcom "Smart Guy" and then in one of her best-known rules as Dee Dee on the sitcom "Half & Half." Her first feature film was a starring role in "Nikita Blues" (2001), and from there she went on to work in other films, including the comedy "Deliver Us from Eva" (2003), alongside LL Cool J. Atkins surprised both friends and the public by meeting former college football player Jaime Mendez on the dating site Match.com and marrying him, but she had expressed a desire to date outside of closed Hollywood circles. Steady television work continued as well including starring roles on "Are We There Yet?" and "Mr. Box Office" (Syndication, 2012-15). In 2013, Atkins starred with Marlon Wayans in the comedy "A Haunted House," a send-up of found-footage horror films.
Cast (Feature Film)
Made TV acting debut on "The Cosby Show" (NBC)
Co-starred on short lived drama "Under One Roof" (CBS)
Joined Keri Russell on NBC series "Malibu Shores"
Landed breakout role on Disney Channel sitcom "Smart Guy"
Co-starred with singer Monica in MTV's romantic comedy "Love Song"
Made feature debut opposite Redman and Method Man in hit comedy "How High"
Co-starred with Rachel True as half sisters on UPN sitcom "Half & Half"
Cast alongside Gabrielle Union and LL Cool J in romantic comedy "Deliver Us From Eva"
Featured in ABC movie "Football Wives"
Cast in "Dance Flick" opposite Marlon Wayans and Damon Wayans Jr.
Co-starred with Terry Crews on TBS family sitcom "Are We There Yet?"
Reteamed with Marlon Wayans in paranormal genre spoof "A Haunted House"