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Our Leading Men

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We love to watch them because they're strong. We love to watch them because they're charismatic, with a radiance that fills up the screen. We love to watch them because-well, frankly, they're real brothermen: Hard-working Black men holding it down.

Giancarlo Esposito, Mykelti Williamson, Jeffrey D. Sams and Russell Hornsby. You probably remember them from some of your favorite movies, like Do The Right Thing, Soul Food and Waiting to Exhale. But this fall you will get to watch them every week from the comfort of your living room. They will, once again, command our attention with their convincing portrayals: the hard-nosed attorney, the unconventional street cop, the dedicated reporter and the straight-laced undercover officer.

These brothers give a new meaning to "must-see" TV. And ESSENCE.com previewed the networks' fall line-ups to take you give up close and personal with our leading men of the small screen.

Giancarlo Esposito

At work, Giancarlo Esposito oversees three lithesome attorneys as law partner Nicholas Hahn in Fox's legal drama Girls Club  (premieres Oct. 21, 9 p.m. EST). Then he goes home to wife, Joy, and three more lovelies-daughters Shayne Lyra, 6, Kale Lynn, 4, and Syr Lucia, 2.  On the series, Esposito's Hahn is no push over when it comes to laying down the law to his wet-behind-the-ears legal trio, but when it comes to daddies' little girls, it's a different story.

"Each one has me wrapped around her finger in different ways at different times," says Esposito, 44, with a laugh.  "I don't want to say no. But if I allow them to get away with whatever they want, they'll remember that."

Just as memorable is Esposito's impressive body of work from Broadway to television and in more than 50 films, with distinguishable roles in Twilight, The Usual Suspects, Smoke, and several movies with writer-director Spike Lee: School Daze, Mo' Better Blues, Malcolm X, and most notably, Do The Right Thing, as the shrill, self-styled activist who instigates an neighborhood uprising. "Spike has a heightened reality to his work that's different from any other director I've worked with," says Esposito, a native of Denmark whose swirling black hair, seductive almond eyes and toffee-colored skin are a rich blend of his African-American and Italian heritage -- his mother, a Black opera singer and his father, a set carpenter from Naples. "He really represents a very important part of our culture, specifically because he does work with African-Americans and he tells that story."

And after appearing on the screen for 22 years, Esposito is a little anxious to get behind the camera and tell his own stories. "We're missing projects that are more deeply engaging," says Esposito. "My passion is for acting right now, but I want to do more because I don't want to be locked.  I've got to move myself forward and I've got to figure out how to do that every day. Waiting for the next acting gig is not enough."
 

Mykelti Williamson

"Eventually I will come into the leading man thing-I'm really in no hurry," says Mykelti Williamson, known for his memorable portrayal of the slow-witted shrimp farmer, Bubba Blue, in the Oscar-winning film Forrest Gump. Without the mouth prosthetic, the coolly handsome, 6'3," chocolate-eyed Williamson, is more than ready for his feature film close-up. But for now, he has chosen to put off the allure of marquee "hunkdom" to play Bobby "Fearless" Smith. In NBC's Boomtown  (Sundays at 10 p.m. EST), he plays a Los Angeles street detective in a crime and justice saga narrated by the cops, paramedics, reporters, officials and victims. 

"I feel I made the right choice," Williamson says of the small screen role that allows him to be in L.A. at home with his second wife Sandra, and two of his three daughters. And the role provides him with the creative freedom he craves. "I'm able to be a chameleon {in my work} and I'll be able to do that as 'Fearless' Bobby Smith, I'll be able to pull from different things. This is what I got in this {business } to do. I had no idea that it would come in the guise of television."

Around Hollywood, Williamson, 44, has quietly built a reputation as one of the most consistently proven actors in the business, delivering stirring and honest performances that always capture audiences in everything from his dead-on portrayal of Don King in Ali to films like Con Air, Heat, Free Willy and numerous television movies and series roles. "I knew that character acting and versatility would guarantee me a career because nobody can deny me as an actor - my body of work speaks for itself," says the St. Louis native who began acting when he was 9.  "Denzel opened doors so that it will be a lot easier for me when I fully come into my time.  This is my moon and I know it."

Jeffrey D. Sams

Perhaps it is divine providence that has cast Jeffrey D. Sams in his role Mel Thomas, special assignment reporter on Breaking News  (Wednesdays at 8 p.m. EST). It is Bravo's sharp-witted, behind-the-scenes drama of a 24-hour news channel where reporters grapple with issues of journalistic integrity while trying to best the other guys for the hottest stories. 

"I've always admired journalists," says Sams who went on assignment with a network news reporter in Los Angeles where the actor lives with his wife Lisa their two toddlers Jackson and Kaela. "They have to show both sides of the story. And just how they get their information and get it out to people-the art of doing that is amazing to me."

Sams, 34, admits being pretty amazed by his own career. Although he's made a name for himself in films like Soul Food, as Vivica A. Fox's loving hubby Kenny and in Waiting to Exhale as Whitney Houston's would-be suitor, the baby-faced actor expected much of his career to be onstage as "a song and dance man."  But in 1993, he caught the industry's eye as Rich, a young subway clerk who leaves his family to pursue a rap career in the 1993 independent film, Fly By Night.  "I came to California and started doing film and television and things started changing for me."

Albeit not always for the better.  Despite a handful of film successes, Sams has struggled to latch on to a promising television series, popping up in numerous single season shows like Wasteland, Cupid, Courthouse and Medicine Ball.  But with critical raves for Breaking News {TV Guide cheers it as "powerful"} Sams just might have a shot at the break he's been looking for.

"If I can get four or five years on a hit show, man, that would be great.  Three years.  Two years!  I'll take one full season," he laughs.  "But I'll take it one day at a time, that's what I'll do."

Russell Hornsby

Russell Hornsby first caught our eye two years ago as Dr. Aaron Boies, the young, steely head resident in ABC's Gideon's Crossing. Although wildly provocative, deftly sophisticated, critically acclaimed-and starring Emmy winner Andre Braugher-the show was canceled after its first season. Bad news for fans, but welcome news to Hornsby. Well, sort of. 

"I'm conflicted honestly," he says. "I wanted it to keep running, but I was very, very tired. I'd jumped from doing a play {August Wilson's Jitney } for two years into doing 16- to 18-hour days on the set and it got to the point where Russell the actor had no more to give," says Hornsby, who, after leaving the series, did a co-starring turn in Universal's Big Fat Liar and Showtime's Adam Clayton Powell biopic Keep The Faith, Baby.

After a European vacation earlier this year, Hornsby, is refreshed and ready to hit the ground running on his latest television project, UPN's science fiction crime thriller, Haunted (Tuesdays at 9 p.m. EST).  In it, he plays Detective Marcus Bradshaw, an unwitting cohort to his former partner who now solves crimes by communicating with the dead. Sounds a little dicey for a private-eye show, but the Oakland native is ready to roll with it. 

"I want to get to the point where I can have some fun with the role," says the seductively charming and single actor. "I really like the everyday Renaissance Man. There's an easiness about him and I'm trying to find that easiness with the character."

Acting, it seems, has always been easy. "After high school, my boys said, 'Russell, why don't you be an actor?' And I'm like, 'Wow, great, I'm gonna be an actor.'  I go to acting school, I didn't have a clue what it meant. It was fun, it was a joke to me." Nowadays, the Boston University grad takes his work very seriously, and expects that Hollywood will take notice. "At the end of the day, if I'm doing quality work, people are going to talk. The right people are going to talk. That's all you need."

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