Omar Epps is in a very elite fraternity of Hollywood actors who can say they’ve worked consistently for almost two decades but not look like it. Whether you know him for his breakout role as a DJ name Q in Juice or for his eight seasons on the Fox medical drama House, you are familiar with the piercing stare that marks his every role.
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True to his “booked and busy” ethos, in 2019 Epps stars in two recent films, Trick and 3022, and has guest starred on NBC’s This Is Us, bringing his signature intensity to a diverse mix of characters.
IN 3022 he is John Laine, an astronaut who is halfway through a 10-year mission when his crew becomes unstable and overcome by the isolation of deep space. Just as they are preparing to return to Earth, they find out there is no Earth to return to, and the race for their survival begins in an unexpected way.
BET.com talked to Epps about his new sci-fi thriller and paused to celebrate some of his career milestones.
BET: Black folks are in the future, congratulations! There was a strong message of hope in the film. Is that what attracted you to the role?
Omar Epps: That’s one of the things that attracted me. This idea of connectivity. Love. Those are sort of grand themes but I think the film explores those themes in a unique way.
So, tell us about your character John. What keeps him focused in the expanse of space?
John is an astronaut. An accomplished man with a lot of pride in what he does. So they’re headed out to this space mission, and things go awry. And I think he’s trying to keep everyone’s heads in the game, and then they venture off into the unknown. They’re on the spaceship and look in the rearview and something cataclysmic has happened to Earth. It doesn’t explore things necessarily from a spiritual aspect, but it just explores those forever human questions: Why are we here? How did we get here? And that sort of stuff.
Since you’re playing a Black man in space, I have to put you on the spot. Star Wars or Star Trek?
I’m a Star Wars guy. I grew up on it. Star Trek is cool, but I’m more of a Star Wars guy. It was Billy Dee, Chewbacca, Light Sabers, Darth Vader, all of it. It’s some genius stuff, and we locked in when we were little when it first came out. It took you to a different world for real. Star Trek was dope in terms of the cast and the acting, but the look of it looked more like a set. So I was more drawn to Star Wars.
Very recently you were on This Is Us playing Malik’s dad, Darnell, and you wrote an entire book, From Fatherless to Fatherhood. How much of your real-life experience do you bring to on-screen dads like Darnell?
I think you bring your entire toolbox. The thing that attracted me to the role on This Is Us is that you had a teenage pregnancy from an African-American kid, and what I thought they did very eloquently is how the family is supportive of him. He’s not this eyesore, they rally around him, challenging him to step up to the plate and his own responsibilities as a father. For me, that was unique, and once you’re a parent, life sort of shifts for you in a very real way. Me being able to pull from that is a blessing.
When Darnell takes off his shirt and squares up with Randall, I wanted to clap for the way he stood up for his son. What did you channel for that moment?
It was about self-worth and respect. There is so much classicism in this country right now, and money doesn’t bring respect in the real world. Just because someone has less than you doesn’t mean they don’t have life experience to offer you. And that moment was really fun to play with because the tension was real. Especially with the women going at it. We laughed about it afterward, but the men were trying to stay out of their way and things started to escalate. Kay Oyegun, who wrote the script, did a wonderful job of allowing a moment like that. And I’m excited about that moving forward.
I thought maybe you channeled your character O.E. from Def Jam Fight for New York. You know that classic fighting game turned 15 this year?
What was your favorite part of being in that game?
Def Jam is an iconic brand in our culture, and just the fact that I was even considered for something like that along with everyone else, it was fun doing the voice overs. And once social media came about, people saying, “Yo, I just whooped your ass!”
I used to run a magazine for DJs and producers, and you know how many DJs cite your character Q from Juice as their inspiration for wanting to DJ?
That’s super dope, and that’s a testament to the power of filmmaking and the power of imagery. Outside of the older films like Breakin and the first-generation hip-hop films, that was the first time you saw a young kid from the block with his turntables in the crib, and it’s a beautiful thing. I’ve run into a bunch of DJs through the years who are doing their thing, and they’re like, “GQ is the reason I became a DJ.”
You have two films turning 20 this year, In Too Deep and The Wood. Looking back, what would you tell your 25-year-old self about filming those two movies?
I wouldn’t tell ‘em anything different. Just buckle down and get busy. I’m proud of both of those pieces. They stood the test of time in their own right. I think the only thing I’d tell my younger self is to enjoy the moment. Immerse yourself in the moment. Because sometimes when I was younger, things were happening so fast that I would miss the actual moment because I was thinking ahead.
Bringing it back to 3022, you had some moments where John had some deep moments of reflection in solitude. What did you pull from for those scenes?
I pulled from the unknown. That’s a major thing about the film in my interpretation. What happens in the film is something the mind can’t fathom. At all. For me, there are certain things in my life, the safety of my children and things of that nature, where my mind can’t even entertain a certain scenario. Which is a very uncomfortable space to be in. And that’s where I put myself in to be there for John.
3022 is available on VOD.