Family & Companions
With his athletic build and masculine good looks, Omar Epps was frequently cast as sports heroes and troubled teenagers in his early film career. It was on television, however, where the actor demonstrated his range to a larger audience, largely through his work on two celebrated medical dramas. While still in his teens, Epps made his feature film debut in the urban crime drama "Juice" (1991). Receiving strong notices for his role, Epps moved on to playing various athletic types in movies such as "The Program" (1993), "Major League II" (1994), and the John Singleton-directed "Higher Learning" (1995). In 1996, Epps joined the cast of the hugely popular medical series "ER" (1994-2009), starring as a talented intern who became overwhelmed by the stress and politics at the busy Chicago hospital, leading to tragic results. Although only on the show for less than a season, Epps made a lasting impression, furthering his already promising career. At the end of the decade, Epps was busier than ever with a full slate of projects - some of merit; others less so - with features like the sequel "Scream 2" (1997), the embarrassing "The Mod Squad" (1999), and the thriller "In Too Deep" (1999). He returned to the urban sports milieu - and the good graces of critics - with "Love & Basketball" (2000). Future efforts ranged from the interesting but little-seen "Brother" (2001), to the sappy and uninspired "Against the Ropes" (2004). Fortune smiled on Epps when he was cast on yet another immensely popular hospital drama, "House" (Fox, 2004-12), starring as series regular Dr. Eric Foreman. Hardworking and talented, Epps had skillfully managed to crossover from initially playing troubled urban athletes, to essaying highly-complex, educated professionals, all of which demonstrated the actor's impressive range.
Born on July, 20, 1973 in Brooklyn, NY, Epps and his younger sister, Aisha, were raised by their mother, Bonnie, a single mother and school principal. The young Epps became interested in the arts at an early age, writing stories and poetry by the age of 10. As a teen he attended the legendary Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music, Art and Performing Arts - made famous in the musical drama feature "Fame" (1980). Fellow classmates included future stars Marlon and Shawn Wayans, who would remain close friends with Epps well into adulthood and their respective Hollywood careers. The young actor made his debut with the topical "ABC Afterschool Special: In the Shadow of Love" (ABC, 1991), in which he was credited as Omar Hashim Epps. The following year, Epps landed a two-episode guest spot on the short-lived series "Here and Now" (NBC, 1992-93), starring Malcolm Jamal-Warner. It was not long before Epps booked his big break, starring alongside the rapper-turned-actor Tupac Shakur in cinematographer Ernest Dickerson's directorial debut, "Juice" (1992). An urban coming-of-age drama, "Juice" told the story of four Harlem teens whose friendship is torn apart in the aftermath of a tragic turn of events. Although not a breakout hit, the film was well received by critics, with both Epps and Shakur garnering favorable notices for their performances. At the age of 19, Omar Epps was officially on the Hollywood map.
In 1993, Epps made his cable debut with a co-starring role in "Daybreak" (HBO, 1993), a fatalistic look at a future America, marked by invasive government, domestic warfare and a deadly epidemic. He followed with the college football melodrama "The Program" (1993), a film remembered solely for the controversy stirred up when several teens imitated a scene in the movie where drunken athletes lay in the middle of a busy highway to prove their mettle. After three people died, the scene was deleted from the film. Epps then switched to baseball, co-starring in another sports-themed flop, the onerous "Major League II" (1994), taking over the role of Willie Mays Hayes from originator Wesley Snipes. The trend of playing athletes continued when Epps next appeared in John Singleton's "Higher Learning" (1995), an unflinching look at the often brutal politics of college life. Epps' character, a track star on a sports scholarship, soon discovers that his academic performance matters little to an administration that sees him merely as an asset in its athletic portfolio. Epps returned to cable as sole survivor Kingsley Osofu in "Deadly Voyage" (HBO, 1996), the shocking true tale recounting the senseless slaughter of eight out of nine African stowaways on a Ukrainian ship bound for the United States in 1992. After several respectable roles in little-seen films, Epps made a name for himself with his first recurring television series role of Dr. Dennis Gant on the long-running medical drama "ER" (NBC, 1994-2009). As the sincere, overly-stressed intern, Epps made an impact on the show during his brief tenure (1996-97), departing in dramatic - and heartbreaking - fashion, when the despondent Dr. Gant threw himself in front of an oncoming train before the season's end.
In addition to a prolific acting career, the ambitious and creative Epps also worked as a songwriter, producer and performer with the hip-hop group Wolfpack, as well as co-writing with childhood pals Marlon and Shawn Wayans the main title theme song for their series "The Wayans Bros." (The WB, 1996-99). Epps also returned to HBO as the star of the fact-based "First Time Felon" (1997), playing a small-time criminal who goes through Chicago's boot camp reform system and participates in a heroic flood rescue, only to then be faced with the harsh realities of re-entering society bearing the mark of ex-con. Fresh off his acclaimed work on "ER," Epps returned to the big screen with a brief turn as a giddy moviegoer who ends up an early victim of the Halloween-masked psycho in the inevitable horror-comedy sequel "Scream 2" (1997). Working furiously over the next year, Epps reappeared in a multitude of film projects, although not all would be particularly well regarded. In a remake of the late-1960s hip crime series, Epps recreated the role of super-cool, undercover cop Linc Hayes in the misguided feature bomb "The Mod Squad" (1999). A more respectable effort came in the romantic-comedy "The Wood" (1999). Co-starring Taye Diggs, the story followed a group of friends reminiscing about their youth, growing up as middle-class African-American kids in Los Angeles. Also that year, Epps was featured alongside Stanley Tucci and LL Cool J, playing an undercover detective who finds himself dangerously caught up in the illegal goings-on he is investigating in "In Too Deep" (1999). Epps closed out the millennium with a supporting role in the adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s subversive classic, "Breakfast of Champions" (1999). Starring Bruce Willis and Albert Finney, the film left audiences scratching their heads.
Epps redeemed himself the following year with "Love & Basketball" (2000), a heartfelt romantic drama from first time writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood. Starring opposite Sanaa Lathan and Alfre Woodard, Epps played a young hoops hopeful who befriends and then falls in love with a neighborhood girl who shares his passion for the sport. Not so impressive was his involvement in "Wes Craven Presents: Dracula 2000" (2000), an anemic attempt at updating the Count. Much more interesting was the Yakuza/Gangsta hybrid "Brother" (2001), starring Japanese film icon Takeshi "Beat" Kitano as a criminal from the East who unexpectedly finds himself teamed up with Epps' group of young hoods in L.A. In 2002, Epps appeared in the largely improvised ensemble piece "Perfume," a comedy focusing on the world of New York high fashion. That year also saw Epps participate in the ill-fated black comedy "Big Trouble" (2002). Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, the film's initial release had been delayed due to a scene considered too reminiscent of the 9/11 attacks. As a consequence, it suffered from a lack of marketing interest once it finally did premiere. Fairing much better on the small screen that year, Epps took the lead in the impressive biopic "Conviction" (Showtime, 2002), chronicling the life of career criminal Carl Upchurch, who upon release from prison organized the first national gang summit in an effort to bring an end to urban violence across the country.
Back in theaters two years later, Epps found himself not only in another biopic, but once again returning to the world of sports with "Against the Ropes" (2004), starring opposite Meg Ryan. Inspired by a true life story - Ryan played a middle-aged woman who enters the world of professional boxing to manage Epps' struggling fighter from the inner-city - the feel-good fight film was KO'd by indifference at the box office. A few months later, Epps appeared in a supporting role in the Jude Law vehicle "Alfie" (2004), an unnecessary remake of the 1960s Michael Caine classic. While his screen career may have been faltering, that same year Epps returned to television in yet another medical drama, the award-winning breakout hit series "House" (Fox, 2004-12), starring Hugh Laurie in the title role. As Dr. House's beleaguered colleague, Dr. Eric Foreman, Epps helped the brilliant, yet notoriously caustic diagnostician solve medical mysteries too tough for most physicians to crack. In 2009, Epps was rewarded for his work on the show with a NAACP Image Award for Best Supporting Actor. The urban crime drama "A Day in the Life" (2009), written, directed and starring rapper Kirk "Sticky Fingaz" Jones, co-starred Epps as a cohort of Jones' character, a longtime gang-banger who wants out of the thug life.
Cast (Feature Film)
TV acting debut in the "ABC Afterschool Special" entitled "In the Shadow of Love: A Teen AIDS Story"
Guest starred as a neighborhood tough in the short-lived comedy series, "Here and Now" (NBC)
Made feature film debut as star of the Harlem-set coming-of-age drama "Juice"
Featured as a college football player in the controversial sports drama "The Program"
Portrayed baseball player Willie Mays Hayes in the sequel "Major League II"
Appeared as a former track star adjusting to the pressures and uneasy relations of college life in "Higher Learning"
Starred in the HBO movie "Deadly Voyage", the true story of the slaughter of stowaways on a ship bound for America
Played recurring role of Dr. Dennis Gant on the NBC medical drama "ER"
Co-wrote the main title theme song for "The Wayans Bros."
Starred as a reformed small-time criminal struggling to re-enter society after an heroic act in HBO's "First Time Felon"
Played a moviegoer who came to an early end in the horror blockbuster "Scream 2"
Took supporting role to Bruce Willis, Nick Nolte and Albert Finney in "Breakfast of Champions"; film screened at the Berlin and Seattle film festivals and released in Europe
Starred in "The Wood", a drama following a group of middle-class African-Americans from youth to adulthood
Was featured alongside Stanley Tucci and LL Cool J in the crime drama "In Too Deep"
Essayed the role of Lincoln Hayes in the big screen version of "The Mod Squad"
Acted in "Wes Craven Presents Dracula 2000"
Co-starred with Japanese actor-director Takeshi Kitano in "Brother"; released theatrically in 2001
Appeared in the sports-themed romance "Love & Basketball"
Portrayed Carl Upchurch in "Conviction," Based on a true story
Cast as Dr. Eric Foreman on Fox's medical drama "House"
Portrayed the best friend opposite Jude Law in "Alfie," a remake of the 1960's movie that starred Michael Caine
Had leading role opposite Meg Ryan in "Against the Ropes"
Played J. Martin Bellamy on the fantasy drama series "Resurrection"
Joined the cast of the series "Shooter"