Don’t expect funnyman Mike Epps to hold his tongue. He’s a comedian for crying out loud! If you can’t handle the truth then you might not want to hear the Indiana native’s opinion. Epps, whose raw comedy has been compared to legends like Richard Pryor, was picked by Pryor and his wife to immortalize his life on screen. For now, Epps is focused on his current role in the dramedy “Next Day Air,” doing what he does best—causing chaos in that special way his loyalists love. ESSENCE.com caught up with Epps to discuss his secret love for firearms, why he’s spending time in children’s hospitals and juvenile detention centers, and whether he or Eddie Murphy is the better man for the Pryor job.
ESSENCE.COM: So “Next Day Air” takes courier service gone awry to the next level. How insane was it on set?
MIKE EPPS: (Laughs.) Well, you know—it’s a nice ensemble cast with Mos Def, Donald Faison and Wood Harris. There’s a lot of different twists and turns. [Video turned film director] Benny Boom really did his homework watching Quentin Tarantino films and other great action films.
ESSENCE.COM: Well, in this film you portray a pretty shady, off-color dude who’s trigger-happy. How liberating was that for you to go buckwild with no consequences.
EPPS: (Laughs.) I enjoyed it like you wouldn’t believe! I wanted to kill somebody, and to be able to shoot the sh– out of somebody, go home and not be charged with murder or not wind up in the coroner’s is what freedom’s all about. Of course to play certain roles you have to be able to relate to it in some way. I won’t go into depth, but, suffice to say, I’ve been there and done that, but thank the Lord when they yelled cut. I was free as a bird. Even when it came to one scene where we were all handling fake cocaine on the set it was easy to tell who used to dabble in it, including myself (laughs).
ESSENCE.COM: Speaking of drugs, you’ve made no qualms about sharing your personal struggle with substance abuse in the past, as well as the hard knock life you endured as a child, and have been actively speaking to youth about the pitfalls of it all during your comedy tour. Why now?
EPPS: I’ve always had difficulties as a kid. I was born prematurely with my umbilical cord wrapped around my neck. They told my mother I wasn’t gonna make it, but she wouldn’t let me go, and I’m glad she didn’t. I know my story isn’t unique, so I wanted to share with other kids that might be struggling. I’m touring and the people in these cities are coming out to see me during the day; the least I can do is go to the hospital and juvenile centers and let them know that I was once in their shoes and once made a mistake and you can still make something out of your life because I did. Growing up in the ghetto, you are tempted by a lot of things; everybody wanted to sell crack cocaine, carry a couple of pistols. I wasn’t’ a bad person, but I didn’t’ have anyone to look up to and show me the right way, so you start doing things that aren’t healthy for you. It was a phase I went through and got out of once I found my talent.
ESSENCE.COM: Nearly four years ago, you were touted to immortalize Richard Pryor for his life story, but now there’s word that Eddie Murphy has been handpicked by “Dreamgirls” director Bill Condon. Do you feel slighted at all?
EPPS: It is what it is. Much respect to Eddie Murphy. Eddie can do whatever he wants to do. What makes me more upset is: can you see anybody else but me playing Richard Pryor? I’ve asked a lot of people and nobody can. But that’s Hollywood for you, they want a big name, and now there’s a new director. Hollywood thinks with a big name the film will do well but that’s bullsh– because if you make a f’d up movie you won’t work again in H-Town.
ESSENCE.COM: Well, no one can block your blessings but you. Do you believe what will be will be?
EPPS: I’m so confident that I’ll go in and read for the sh–. I’m not tooting my own horn, but I am the new Richard Pryor. They don’t know who Mike Epps is but these kids do. If I get the role or if I don’t, I still got three movies coming out this year. All respect to Richard Pryor, but I didn’t get in the business to be Richard Pryor, I got in the business to be Mike Epps and become a legend so that someone else will play me in a film one day.
Check out Mike Epps in “Next Day Air,” in theaters now.
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