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'Love and Basketball' hits theaters Friday
Fast-breaking Omar Epps
ATLANTA (CNN) -- Omar Epps is a busy man.
When the 26-year-old actor isn't promoting his latest movie, he's filming two new productions, negotiating deals for two scripts he co-wrote and working out details of a new recording contract.
Epps isn't complaining, because it's all part of his career plan. As he puts it, the next two years of his life as actor-writer-singer are going to be "interesting."
The interesting times tip off this Friday with the nationwide release of "Love and Basketball" (New Line Cinema). The movie is a coming-of-age tale set in the world of hoop dreams.
Quincy McCall (Epps) and Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan, "The Best Man," 1999) are next-door neighbors and star basketball players. As they grow from rival 11-year-olds to stars of their respective basketball teams at the University of Southern California, they experience the growing pains of life and realize their connection to each other is deeper than a love for the game.
His character is like many young-gun athletes shooting for stardom, Epps says.
"He's young and he's cocky, and then he grows up," Epps says. "My character learns a lot about life, that basketball isn't everything. I think this film touches upon how much you are willing to sacrifice for your desires, and as you grow older, how your desires and needs and wants change."
Epps knows about this firsthand. He grew up in Brooklyn, New York, in a family that emphasized a love for the arts, and he's been writing since he can remember. But as he grew, Epps realized he wanted more than the printed page could offer; he wanted to see that page come to life. He gravitated toward the stage.
"Acting just became a natural extension of my writing," he says. "The first play I ever did was 'Romeo and Juliet.' I played Balthasar. I had my little wooden sword. It was cool."
The stage made way for the screen, and Epps so far has some respectable film stats. He's starred in "Major League II," (1994) the John Singleton drama "Higher Learning" (1995) and "The Wood," (1999) among other movies.
In "Love and Basketball," he trades lines with a strong cast of veteran actors, including Alfre Woodard and Dennis Haysbert.
Lathan, a relative unknown, is "a wonderful new talent to watch," he says.
Both actors supplement their characters' appeal with their on-the-court skills. Writer-director Gina Prince required each to shoot basketball scenes without help from stand-ins -- they had to have game, in other words.
Epps says he spent two hours a day for two months working with UCLA Bruins assistant coach Steve Spencer.
"He made it a lot of fun," Epps says. "That was the fun part."
Re-creating the life of a teen was not as enjoyable, he says. "It was hard going back and trying to be 17, 18 again and being vulnerable and open and innocent."
Acting and sports share similarities, Epps says.
"Acting is the same thing as basketball or football," he says. "It brings the same satisfaction, diving into a character and just trying to go, just living in the moment."
And Epps' moment as an actor is right now, though he's not one to be complacent. Like a professional athlete, Epps says he's not thinking about yesterday's game, but is instead focusing on those ahead -- the championships to claim, the goals to achieve.
"Twenty years from now, I see myself being at the helm of a multimedia conglomerate, a powerful company with a solid film division, a budding music division, a solid television division," Epps says. "And I want to get into advertising as well."
For Epps, the season is just getting started.
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