Actor. Omar Hashim Epps was born on July 20, 1973 in Brooklyn, New York. An only child, he was raised by his mother, Bonnie Epps, a lifelong educator who advanced from teacher to principal to school superintendent. Epps proved a multi-talented child whose first love was writing. “I’ve been writing since I was a kid,” he says. “Short stories, poetry, and all of that, and acting is just an extension of that. It just came naturally.” Epps attended the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts, where he studied theatre. In addition to writing and acting, Epps also excelled in music and dance. At age 17, he toured briefly with Queen Latifah as a backup singer and dancer, and a year later, in 1991, he formed a rap group called Wolfpack.
In 1992, shortly after graduating from high school, Epps landed a starring role opposite the late hip-hop superstar Tupac Shakur in the film Juice, a tragic and violent story about four young men growing up in Harlem. A year later, Epps was cast as a star running back in the college football movie The Program. From that time on, despite standing only 5-foot 10-inches and preferring the arts to sports in real life, Epps was frequently typecast in athlete roles. He played baseball star Willie Mays Hays in Major League II (1994) and turned in a well-reviewed performance as a collegiate track star Higher Learning (1995). “It was always sort of a mystery to me,” Epps says, “why I was always cast as some athlete.”
Epps gained the attention of a huge national audience when he joined the cast of NBC’s popular medical drama ER for the 1996-97 season. Epps portrayed Dr. Dennis Gant, a surgical resident overwhelmed by the pressures of the emergency room. In one of the show’s most intense scenes ever, Dr. Gant tragically dies after either jumping or falling onto train tracks. Epps credits his role on ER with helping him break through to national fame. “They had 40 million viewers,” he said. “People started putting the name with the face.”
After leaving ER, Epps returned to the big screen with a small but memorable role as a murder victim in the 1997 blockbuster sequel Scream 2. Epps’ career then rocketed into high gear as he starred in four different films in 1999 alone: Breakfast of Champions, The Mod Squad, The Wood and In Too Deep. Again playing an athlete, Epps then turned in one of his most noted performances as an aspiring basketball player in Love & Basketball (2000). He also starred opposite Meg Ryan as a boxer in the 2004 film Against the Ropes. That same year, Epps returned to the role of TV doctor on another popular medical drama, Fox’s House M.D. Epps continues to portray Dr. Eric Foreman, an ambitious young doctor who is one of the very few characters willing to challenge Dr. House. House remains wildly popular after six years on the air, and his role on the show won Epps the 2007 and 2008 NAACP Image Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.
Omar Epps married singer Keisha Spivey (formerly of the all-female R&B trio Total) in 2006. The pair met and briefly dated in 1992. But their relationship didn’t last, and Epps says that for years he thought of Spivey as “the one who got away.” Epps then dated Love & Basketball co-star Sanaa Lathan before reuniting with Spivey in 2004. He and Spivey have one daughter, K’mari Mae (b. 2004). Epps also has a daughter from a previous relationship, Alyanna Yasmine (b. 1999).
An actor with such remarkable range that he has been typecast as both a troubled athlete and an intelligent doctor, Epps is one of the most successful African-American actors of his generation. “I don’t feel like I’m carrying the torch for anyone,” he says, “but at the same time I recognize the relevance of a black face on television because when I grew up, there weren’t that many black faces on television.” Epps recently formed his own production company, Brooklyn Works Films, through which he hopes to expand into writing, directing and producing. Epps sets no limits for himself when imagining the future direction of his career, and has even suggested that he could become President of the United States. “If Ronald Reagan can do it,” he says, “I know I can.”