Interview: Evolution key to Mike Epps' next moves

Mike Epps considers himself a “crossover” artist of sorts these days.

The star of 2000's “Next Friday” and 2002's “Friday After Next,” who noted he has been popular with black audiences since he began his career as a stand-up comedian 20 years ago, believes he transitioned into the mainstream when he played “Black Doug” in the 2009 box-office juggernaut “The Hangover.”

“The mainstream got to know who I am,” said Epps, 42, over the phone last week. “I was shocked at first when I'd run into an entire Caucasian family, and the father, son and daughter knew me. I was like, ‘Wow, that's amazing.'”

Epps will perform two shows Saturday at the Arie Crown Theater, and May 2 you can catch him in “The Hangover Part III.” (Epps said he didn't appear in 2011's “The Hangover Part II” because it didn't make sense for the storyline, which took place in Thailand, unlike the original, which, like the third movie, is set in Las Vegas.)

How did shooting a sequel of that magnitude compare with his other filming experiences?

“I wasn't as big of a star on the (‘Hangover') set as I was on the ‘Friday' set,” Epps said. “I was standing there with Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms. These guys are huge stars. On ‘Friday,' I had a big trailer, and we would have a barbecue going and music playing. It was a fun set. There was too much involved for ‘The Hangover' to be a fun set. They're trying to get money.”

The premise for “The Hangover Part III' has yet to be revealed other than what appears in the trailer, but Epps said the film is a prequel, before catching himself.

“I don't want to say too much,” he said. “They're pretty sensitive. I took a picture with Zach on the set, and as soon as I took it, four people walked up to me and said, ‘You're not going to tweet that or put that on Instagram, are you?' They told me, ‘Don't do it.'”

Just as Epps has tweaked his stand-up routine since he first started to reflect on fatherhood and his maturation, he's also changed his approach to the business aspect of his career. He believes his “I'm just happy to be here” approach early on cost him financially. Now he looks at himself as a brand, more than just an entertainer. He is pursuing producing opportunities, which he acknowledged he couldn't yet discuss, and hopes to continue marketing himself to other audiences.

The Indianapolis native will appear with Forest Whitaker in the upcoming horror-thriller “Vipaka” and with Zoe Saldana in “Nina,” which is based on the life of singer Nina Simone.

Epps, who will play comedian Richard Pryor in the latter film, mostly has appeared in comedies during his career, often playing goofy supporting roles, but has dabbled outside the genre before. He appeared in the 2004 action-horror film “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” and played an abusive husband in the 2012 musical-drama “Sparkle.”

“To have longevity in this business, you have to reinvent yourself,” Epps said. “You can't keep doing the same stuff. Sometimes I've turned down stuff and lost money. But I'm at a certain age where I don't feel like tap dancing anymore.”

Epps isn't, however, above picking fights with fellow comedians.

He recently tweeted, “Man if Katt Williams wouldn't have flipped out (there) would be no Kevin Hart,” in reference to Williams' recent legal troubles. He followed that up with personal and homophobic attacks on Hart and his BET show “Real Husbands of Hollywood.” Hart responded with several personal attacks of his own, including “I (Googled) @TheRealMikeEpps just now & my computer said not relevant anymore should of tried this search in 2006.”

Asked about the back-and-forth barbs, Epps said fans shouldn't expect a raplike feud.

“Nobody got shot; nobody got beat up,” Epps said. “We don't walk around with hundreds of bodyguards. He said I was one movie away from doing school plays. That was funny. Me and Kevin Hart? We're partners. It was all in good fun.”

lgomez@tribune.com

Mike Epps
When: 7 and 10:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Arie Crown Theater, 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive
Tickets: $43-$125 at ticketmaster.com

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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