If you came of age in the ‘90s, Omar Epps may eternally be Quincy McCall playing Monica for her heart, or Malik Williams running to regain his full athletic scholarship, or high school student Q romancing a grown-ass nurse with her own apartment (I’m really stuck on that detail as an adult) and trying to avoid Bishop in project elevators. But over the last two decades, Epps has pretty consistently stayed on-screen - small and big - in roles that run the gamut from DJ to doctor, from ballplayer to police officer. He was even the Black person that gets killed in a horror movie in 1997’s Scream 2 (that franchise was thoroughly committed to maintaining slasher tropes). When Brooklyn native isn’t juggling multiple projects, he’s one-half of ‘90s Black couple goals with his wife of 13 years, Total’s Keisha (and she’s still fine). But I digress.
This Halloween, Epps returns to the slasher film subgenre in Trick, the first installment in a new horror franchise from director Patrick Lussier, whom Epps worked with on Scream 2 and Dracula 2000. Epps plays Mike Denver, a small-town detective fighting to stop a serial killer terrorizing the community every year — even though Denver already shot and killed him.
VIBE talked to Epps about the new movie (carefully, so as to not give it all away), choosing vastly different roles over the years, and predicting the future with John Singleton.
VIBE: Trick is kind of a full-circle moment for you; it’s been just over 20 years since you were in the last big slasher franchise, Scream. Now, you’re the one chasing the bad guy. There’s not that much we can say without giving the plot away, but talk about what attracted you to the movie and the character.
EPPS: For me, it all starts with the script. I thought it was really entertaining, I thought the role was fun, and obviously the chance to work with Patrick again. We have that trust factor there, I know he’s a really solid filmmaker. And I thought it was something unique, you know as it twists and turns you can’t really figure out what’s going to happen.
And this is one of the first new franchises in (the slasher movie) genre, which seems to be making a comeback.
We’re calling it “slasher noir”, so it’s a call back to that old school slasher movie, but a little more elevated in terms of the story and the plot. And it’s touching on some things I think that can make the mind wander in correlation to where we’re at as a society right now.
The killer’s motivations give you pause to think, for sure. In Scream, they got you up out of there pretty quickly (Epps laughs). Now, instead of being one of the “kids,” you’re the adult trying to solve the problem. You play a police officer who’s very grounded, very logical, so the idea of something paranormal and supernatural really disturbs him as he’s trying to put the pieces together. How did you place yourself in that headspace?
The keyword there is “grounded,” and that was both the challenge and the exciting part, for me, to play this character. He’s someone that, to your point, is logic-based, and he’s looking at everything from a linear point of view in that way. But as things progress, he’s basically someone who loses himself over this case; over trying to figure out what’s going on. I think part of the headspace is you have to be in the moment of that process versus having a strategy to attack it. You have to be immersed in the moment. And again, working with Patrick, we have a shorthand, creatively, which allowed me to be malleable in that sense, and I think we pulled it off.
Later this year, you also have the movie 3022 coming, a sci-fi thriller that takes the “lost in space” theme further than usual with an extinction-level event that destroys the Earth and traps a crew of astronauts on a space station just...until.
I really love that project; I think it’s a powerful piece that every human being will be able to relate to because it touches on age-old questions: What would you do? Why are we here? It just hits on so many broad themes. And (director) John Suits, man, he did his thing with that. And I think the cast is magnificent. I’m really excited about that one.
We (Vibe and Vibe readers) think of you first as one of the core young Black actors of the ‘90s, but over the years you’ve done such a variety of work between both TV and movies. You’ve done medical dramas, you’ve done procedurals, you’ve done sci-fi, you’ve done rom-com, you even had a moment as a ‘90s video lead. You really don’t have a box, Omar, which is a beautiful thing as an actor, but how have you made your choices?
It’s been a combination of me making choices of things that I connect to, and the blessings that come down and opportunities that come my way. I think every artist is sort of a blank canvas, and no one’s in a box. You’d be surprised at how many actors can sing or rap or dance or how many musicians can act - we’re artists. I’m just thankful to — knock on wood — continue to get these opportunities, because the next path for me is writing, producing and directing.
You’ve dabbled in that a little bit already. Are you working on anything now?
Oh yeah, I’ve got a few things bubbling. I don’t want to jinx them, but we’ve definitely got some things in the works across all those fronts: as a writer, as a producer, as a director.
My favorite roles of yours are Q (Juice) because of nostalgia, and then Quincy McCall (Love & Basketball), but I really loved you as Dr. Eric Foreman (House). I thought you guys were brilliant as an ensemble. Do you have a favorite?
I honestly don’t. For me, they’re all pieces of a bigger mosaic; of a picture, when it’s all said and done, of what will be my career. But there’s nothing like your first, right? There’s nothing like that first experience. So with Juice, that movie and character will always hold a special place in my heart.
And it was such an iconic moment for the culture. When John Singleton passed, I wrote about his work, and how when Higher Learning came out (in 1995), critics said the various characters were too on the nose and stereotypical. But when you view the film from a 2019 lens, it’s almost prophetic. Have you thought about that?
That’s the thing; great storytellers all tap into that same zeitgeist of eternity in terms of the human story. And when you whittle that down to American culture or to Black culture, it’s just one of those genius things. When we were on set filming, we could feel that this was saying something bigger than our parts in it. Now, when you look back on it in 2019, it seems prophetic because it was. It’s not “seems,” it was. Look at where we are in society right now, it’s crazy, but I think that’s a testament to John Singleton and his genius.
So, you worked with Tupac in his seminal role, you worked with Singleton. Is there a person that you still want to work with that you haven’t yet, or is there a dream role that you haven’t had the opportunity to play yet?
I don’t necessarily have a dream role, although, I would love to play Frederick Douglas. But the person I want to work with is Spike Lee. I’ve never worked with him and I don’t know how that hasn’t happened. We were trying to do something a few years ago that didn’t come together, so I’m going to put that back out in the universe because I have to work with Spike.
'Trick' is now in theaters, on-demand, and on digital streaming platforms now. 3022 is expected to hit theaters, on-demand, and digital platforms on November 22nd.