Mike Epps taps his ghetto soul in Sparkle


BEVERLY HILLS—Mike Epps has dropped in from the wilderness of his I’m Still Standing comedy tour. He’s sitting in a hotel room, wearing a black Nike track jacket and a big diamond stud in one ear and talking about the charismatic yet toxic Motown-era comedian he plays in his new movie, Sparkle. Though he’s not on-stage just now, he’s still, well, on. Really, it’s impossible to imagine him off.

“I just think that comedians are kinda dark anyway,” Epps says in his smoky voice, speaking of his Rat Pack–slick counterpart. The character, called Satin, has a taste for cocaine and beating up women. “I mean, my wife is always like, ‘I wish people knew you wasn’t funny at all,’ ” he says, laughing. “So, you know what I mean, I jus’ kinda like a clown face. You clown…you done, you snatch the wig off.”

In Sparkle (now playing)—a remake of the 1976 original, oh-so-loosely based on the Supremes story—three Detroit sisters form a girl group called, appropriately, Sister and Her Sisters. Big star Satin has a yen for the slinky yet insecure Sister (Carmen Ejogo). Sister’s, uh, mother, Emma, a churchgoing former wannabe singing star herself, disapproves. Emma is played, with much wit and empathy, by Whitney Houston, who died shortly after filming. This morning, Epps is all about the good times.

“She was really, really cool and fun,” he says of Houston. “Every chance I got, I asked her about Dionne Warwick and Stevie Wonder, ’cause it just amazes me that she was a part of that family, you know what I mean? She had me dyin’ laughin’. She was like, ‘Stevie, he was drunk as a motherfucker!’ And I was like, ‘How’s he get drunk? He can’t even see nothin’ to enjoy it!’ And she was like, ‘Oh, he still has a better time than everybody!’ ”

Satin was a Harlem pimp in the first Sparkle. His minor rehabilitation in the second suited Epps. “I’ve always been a ’60s-, ’70s-type person. I just feel like I’ve always connected to my mom and thems Afros and perms. That’s kind of just what my upbringing was, so it wasn’t hard for me to reach back and grab it.”

He adds: “Satin was a big percentage of who I am in real life, you know?” That percentage doesn’t include the character’s violent side. “But I have seen my father whup my mother. I grew up in the ghetto. Most of Satin is what I knew. Whether it was good or bad, it got me the role.”

Other experiences also proved handy. “I wouldn’ta known how to pick the cocaine up or talk to a woman like that, you know?”

Incidentally, how’s the business been treating him? “I been playin’ a black guy in all the movies I’m in,” he says, feigning annoyance about racial stereotyping. “It’s been really, really tough just showin’ up as a black dude.” Soon he’ll film The Hangover Part III. “Playin’ a black guy again,” he says, sighing.

Always the comedian.

Watch the trailer for Sparkle.

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