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Omar Epps in
'In Too Deep'

Actors say 'In Too Deep'was a pleasure to make
By Emily Lo

When an urban underworld's drug king goes by the name "God," there's bound to be trouble. When God is played by rap star LL Cool J, there's also going to be one interesting picture.

"In Too Deep" brings together LL ("Deep Blue Sea," "Halloween H2O"), Omar Epps ("The Wood," "The Mod Squad"), Nia Long ("Soul Food," "Love Jones"), Stanley Tucci ("The Imposters," "Big Night"), Pam Grier ("Jackie Brown"), Hill Harper ("He Got Game"), and Jake Weber ("Meet Joe Black," "Amistad") in the truth-inspired story of Jeffrey Cole, the only undercover cop tough enough to put God's Cincinnati cocaine empire to an end.

As Cole (Epps) delves deeper into the swift and brutal world of urban crime, he is closer to gaining the drug lord's acceptance to his elite group and shutting down the entire operation. But loyalty, community, and justice take a new meaning on the other side, and Cole must find a way out, or place in jeopardy his assignment, the woman he cares about and his identity as a cop.

LL, Epps, Long and Tucci gathered in New York recently to talk about the film.

"As an entertainer, I thought it was a good opportunity to stretch," said LL, who played a hero in "Deep Blue Sea." God was a deliberate departure from previous roles to avoid type-casting, he said.

This time around, LL projects a deceiving and disturbing innocence as Dwayne Gittens, a.k.a. "God," who can cuddle a child and flash warm smiles then cold-bloodedly torture a man.

"I allowed him to just be a normal person who happens to believe that he's right," he explained. "I looked at Morgan Freeman in "Street Smarts." I looked at how charming Robert Deniro was in 'The Untouchables.'"

"He's one of those [false] gods who exists in our communities," LL explained of his character's name and place in poor neighborhoods. "Our kids pray to him, and they look up to him when they shouldn't."

Epps described playing Jeffrey Cole as a groundbreaking role for any actor and an opportunity to introduce an original character to Hollywood. Cole transforms subtly on the screen as the gang culture and daily pressures of the street begin to consume him.

"There are so many levels, and many different ways of playing this guy," Epps said. "I tried to play the nuances of it all."

As Epps took on the role of Cole's alter ego J. Reid, he and Australian director Michael Rymer tried to be as creative and spontaneous as possible.

"We didn't want to rehearse, because we didn't know what J. Reid would do in a circumstance, so that was fun," Epps said. In fact, Rymer let his cast ad lib freely to make the script feel more authentic.

Long, who plays Myra, Cole's girlfriend, said she appreciated Rymer for that reason. "There were times when we had to stick to things on the page, but what makes it tangible to the audience is that we were able to ad lib. I kind of insist," she said.

Myra is a ballet instructor who returns Cole to reality after he is forced to take time off.

"I chose the role partly because of the director, partly the story, and partly because Myra was not as sophisticated as some of the other characters that I've played," Long said. "She's a little bit more Midwestern, and I liked her peacefulness. She took you out of the madness."

Cole's police captain (Tucci), a former undercover cop himself, understands the risks of Cole's work better than he does. While he lets Cole go undercover, he becomes a paternal, "tough love" figure who would rather call the entire sting off then risk losing his man.

Tucci said that Epps made the role easy. "I became instantly fond of him," he said. "My concern for him came out of my genuine caring for him. Now imagine if he was not a nice guy -- I'd have to earn my money," Tucci joked.

All four actors currently have projects on the way. LL appears in "Any Given Sunday" around Christmas and an album called "The Greatest of All Times" is next to be released. For the moment he sees music and acting working in tandem in his career.

"I see no reason to forget where I came from or not do what I've always been doing," said the rapper, who has eight consecutive platinum albums to his credit. "I feel like people are embracing my films as an actor." Joining LL in the film were R&B artists Nas and Mya.

Meanwhile, Epps is expanding into music, pursuing a hip-hop recording. He will appear in "Breakfast of Champions" based on the Kurt Vonnegut novel in September. Look for Nia Long in "The Best Man," opening Oct. 1, and Stanley Tucci in "Joe Gould," which he also directs, next year.


8/27/99

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