From Love and Basketball to House, Omar Epps has entertained us for years with characters that have been nothing short of memorable. With his new film, The Devil You Know, he serves as actor and executive producer. It’s a crime-thriller drama about a recovering alcoholic trying to piece his life together after being incarcerated. He is faced with a difficult decision to either tip off a detective (Michael Ealy) or keep quiet after discovering his brother, Drew (Will Catlett), was part of a horrific robbery. Omar Epps was able to sit down with Taji Mag to talk about his new project.
Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): What made you want to be a part of this film?
Omar Epps (OE): Charles and I were having lunch eight years ago. He just pitches me what I thought was a great idea. I’m like, ”Yeah, let me read the script!” and he’s like, “I haven’t started writing yet.” I’m pissed off thinking “Why did you get me all riled up with ideas?” But you know, it’s been living with me and him for years. It took us eight years to actually get it made, which is a whole other conversation.
DDF: What else did you love about this film?
OE: I also loved the idea selfishly, as far as just the artists, to try to unpack this fractured human. The character I play in this film, Marcus, always looked like, if you can visualize it, a picture on the wall that’s ripped up, but then it has a bunch of tape on it.
So it’s still on the wall to me… Here’s a guy the audience meets and he’s newly sober, he’s just gotten a new job after a few years. He’s just growing and having enough confidence to maybe open himself up… He’s in a very emotionally precarious position, then you throw a grenade on top of that and let’s see what happens. That’s just really what drew me to it.
DDF: What makes this film stand out?
OE: You know, we (as a Black community) don’t get the chance to make films similar to like a Mystic River or The Town. You know, films that just have certain pacing to them. And that’s what really got me excited.
DDF: I noticed in the film that Drew and Marcus both struggled with adversities in life and dealt with periods of hardship. Where do you think that came from? It seemed like the other two brothers in the family were doing fairly well.
OE: I think it’s a true depiction of a real family, right? The more people there are in a family, the better chance that everybody ain’t gonna be able to stay on the straight and narrow. That’s just the nature of things, but we support the ones who may struggle more than others because it’s a struggle either way. It’s like King Richard [who] looked out for his girls who went on to become legends. With all due respect (and God bless them), the Williams sisters also have other sisters who are not sports icons. Do you know what I’m saying? No telling how things would be if they went a different way. To me, it’s a true depiction of life.
Sometimes you’ve got to love hard and sometimes you’ve got to love soft. It’s a push and pull in that way. It’s really a film for everyone because everyone comes from a family that is similar to the one in this film. Everyone knows what it’s like to sit around a table, the food’s being cooked, and your cousins are playing cards over here. Uncle such and such just cracked open a bottle of you know what and talks about social stuff [for] about a half an hour. We all know that feeling. We wanted to try to capture that feeling so that people could examine themselves in a sense, I guess, and live vicariously through Marcus.
DDF: Speaking of which, did you learn anything about yourself while doing this film that made you look at things differently? Perhaps anything you could turn into a book seeing as you’ve published books before?
OE: Well, that’s an interesting question. From a creative standpoint, I think if I do the job right, it’s up to the audience to try to learn about themselves in some way, shape, or form, you know?
DDF: Your wife is making her acting debut in this film, how did that happen?
OE: Well, you know, that’s really all Charles. We would talk about funny things about my wife. She’s been under the tutelage of the great Tasha Smith for a few years now… Art is art is art. You know, it’s just the different formats, but she took it seriously. So, we threw around different names and one day he calls and says “You know who would be great to play this role?” And I’m like, “ Who?” He says “Your wife!” And I was like, “I should have thought of that. Well, I can’t be the one to tell her (lol).”
DDF: If you could describe The Devil You Know using music, what song would you pick?
OE: No one’s asked me that question, so my mind just went blank. That is a great question. Let me go seventies, “What’s Going On?” by Marvin Gaye.
DDF: You are widely known for your role in Love and Basketball. The film was about love. My question to you is how do you define love?
OE: Love itself? Honestly, I think that it is a verb. We can say it all day. You could have whatever [written] on tank tops, t-shirts, or whatever, but it has to be an action for it to actually be real, you know? I’m from Brooklyn, New York and I grew up around a lot of different people from a lot of different walks of life. I’ve seen various forms of love. If love is sort of the roots of a tree, you have compassion, empathy, and all of these other things that come along with that type of feeling that forms the trunk and branches of the tree.
I’ve been fortunate enough to see both sides of love and see the effects that it has on people. I choose the side of light. I choose the side of love because you just never know what someone’s going through.
DDF: Are there any moments in life where you learned about love?
OE: One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned so far on this life journey is from my mother. She was an educator [with] the Board of Education for 30 something years. She basically taught half of New York City. When Juice first came out, I was about 17 years old. I didn’t know enough. People would come up to me on the street and I’m like “They might recognize me from the movie” and they would say “You are Bonnie Epps’ son? She used to teach me in eighth grade”. You know, it didn’t matter if they become a doctor or a bus driver. They would tell me to thank her for the conversations she had with them when they were young. The crazy part is, I would always go back to my mom and tell her these things and she would remember exactly who I was talking about. She would say “Oh, big head Craig? Oh, yeah. He used to give me trouble”. What that taught me was the power of giving and if we’re not giving, we ain’t doing enough. And you don’t give to receive, you give simply for the act of giving. Whether that’s if someone is homeless and you give whatever you got in your pocket or whatever you can spend. You see a homeless person outside a restaurant and you go in. If you can afford it, don’t just give them the scraps. Maybe get them a small little plate of something. Whatever you can do, you know?
I’m just saying that to say, going back to my definition of love, it was instilled in me at a very early age. A big part of this cycle is all about giving because when you are giving for the sake of giving, the universe gives it back to you in some way, shape, or form. You just don’t know what that may be. And I’m not talking about material, I’m just talking about happenings, you know. So I know that was a long-winded answer, but it all kind of comes back to that.
Epps made a valid comparison when he mentioned movies like The Town and Mystic River because The Devil You Know is in par with the pacing of those movies. The film explores the dynamics of a blue-collar family and the lead character, Marcus, has to make choices that may jeopardize his relationships but also provide him an avenue for forgiveness and peace.
The Devil You Know will serve as a great conversational piece in regards to what we would do in Marcus’ or Drew’s shoes, how the actions of one person in the family can affect others, and how we should deal with the sins of our past. The film’s finale is filled with surprises and twists that I am personally not ready for but could see how these things could happen in real life. As Omar Epps mentioned in the interview, we all have that family member who suffers and struggles with temptation, but how do we deal with those individuals?
See how things turn out for Marcus and his family in The Devil You Know.
Synopsis: Boundaries and bonds are tested in this gritty crime-thriller drama about family, morality, and redemption. Once incarcerated Marcus Cowans (Omar Epps) is trying to turn over a new leaf with the support of his loving family. Upon discovering that one of his brothers (Will Catlett) may have been involved in a horrific crime, Marcus grapples with the limits of brotherhood and loyalty. He and his family, increasingly weary of the justice system’s failings, end up in the crosshairs of a seasoned but jaded detective (Michael Ealy). Written and directed by Charles Murray, The Devil You Know evokes the question: Am I my brother’s keeper? And at what cost?
Starring: Omar Epps, Will Catlett, Glynn Turman, Curtiss Cook, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Erica Tazel, Vaughn W. Hebron, Michael Beach, Keisha Epps, Ashley A. Williams, with Theo Rossi, and Michael Ealy.
Written and Directed by: Charles Murray
Run Time: 116 minutes
Where to watch: AMC Theaters