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Though he seemed destined to spend his life going in and out of prison, actor Charles S. Dutton managed to turn himself around to become an acclaimed and award-winning performer who excelled both on stage and on screen. Dutton first won fame for his Tony-nominated performance in August Wilson's "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" (1985) while broadening his appeal with a memorable supporting turn in "Crocodile Dundee II" (1988). But it was his starring role on the sitcom "Roc" (Fox, 1991-94) that propelled him to stardom. Critically acclaimed because of its shift from sitcom to more dramatic themes, "Roc" entered television history as being the first show since the late 1950s to air an entire season live. Meanwhile, Dutton had a major supporting role in the much maligned "Alien3" (1992) before settling into a series of guest appearances and made-for-television movies following the cancelation of "Roc" in 1994. He also stepped into the director's chair to helm the widely hailed social drama, "The Corner" (HBO, 2000), a six-part miniseries that chronicled the lives of people affected by drugs and gang violence in West Baltimore. Sutton added the feature "Against the Ropes" (2004) to his directing résumé while...
Though he seemed destined to spend his life going in and out of prison, actor Charles S. Dutton managed to turn himself around to become an acclaimed and award-winning performer who excelled both on stage and on screen. Dutton first won fame for his Tony-nominated performance in August Wilson's "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" (1985) while broadening his appeal with a memorable supporting turn in "Crocodile Dundee II" (1988). But it was his starring role on the sitcom "Roc" (Fox, 1991-94) that propelled him to stardom. Critically acclaimed because of its shift from sitcom to more dramatic themes, "Roc" entered television history as being the first show since the late 1950s to air an entire season live. Meanwhile, Dutton had a major supporting role in the much maligned "Alien3" (1992) before settling into a series of guest appearances and made-for-television movies following the cancelation of "Roc" in 1994. He also stepped into the director's chair to helm the widely hailed social drama, "The Corner" (HBO, 2000), a six-part miniseries that chronicled the lives of people affected by drugs and gang violence in West Baltimore. Sutton added the feature "Against the Ropes" (2004) to his directing résumé while appearing in a variety of screen projects like the independent "Honeydripper" (2007) and the special effects-laden "Legion" (2010), proving that Sutton was as versatile as he was talented.
Born on Jan. 30, 1951 in Baltimore, MD, Dutton was raised by his truck driver father after his parents divorced when he was five years old. His troubled youth continued with punctuated stints in reform school before dropping out altogether in the seventh grade. Dutton tried his hand as an amateur boxer under the nickname Roc, only to find his youth cut short at 17 following a conviction for manslaughter after stabbing a man to death in a street fight - an incident Dutton maintained was an act of self-defense. After serving a seven and half-year prison term, he was granted parole, only to return to be incarcerated again less than two years later for possession of a deadly weapon. This time Dutton sought to better his life while behind bars and became involved with theater groups. He hit a profound turning point during an assault by an ice pick-wielding inmate against whom he refused to retaliate. Meanwhile, Dutton obtained his high school equivalency diploma and completed a two-year college program. Upon his release, Dutton enrolled as a drama major at Baltimore's Towson State University and later earned his master's in performing arts from Yale University's renowned School of Drama, where he fell under the tutelage of director Lloyd Richards and playwright August Wilson.
In 1984, Dutton made his professional acting debut as the volatile, progressive trumpeter Levee in a Broadway production of "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," a genuine start turn that earned the actor a Tony Award nomination. He reunited with Richards and Wilson to originate the role of Herald Loomis in "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" at Yale, but was unavailable to recreate the role on Broadway. Dutton soon made his film debut in the gangster drama "No Mercy" (1986), starring Richard Gere and Kim Basinger, before playing a killer in the two-part miniseries "The Murder of Mary Phagan" (NBC, 1988) opposite Jack Lemmon and Kevin Spacey. Although he seemed primed to take a place as one of America's foremost stage actors, Dutton continued nabbing screen roles like Paul Hogan's jive-talking friend in "Crocodile Dundee II" (1988) and a police officer in Sidney Lumet's cops-and-corruption drama "Q&A" (1990). Back on stage, he collaborated once again with Richards and Wilson on the Pulitzer-winning "The Piano Lesson" in 1990, playing Boy Willie, a man determined to sell a piano in order to realize his dream. Once again, actor's performance thrilled both theatergoers and reviewers alike.
Though his stage pedigree pointed towards a career as a dramatic screen performer, Dutton instead took a surprising turn to sitcoms as the star of "Roc" (Fox, 1991-94), portraying a Baltimore sanitation worker who tries to please his free-spirited wife (Ella Joyce) while dealing with his womanizing younger brother (Rocky Carroll) and opinionated father (Carl Gordon). Initially a traditional comedy, "Roc" segued into more dramatic territory while adding social commentary on topics affecting the African-American community like drugs and gang violence. At the same time, the series - which featured a core cast of accomplished stage performers - began airing live episodes following a successful one-off during its first season. In fact, the entire second season was aired live and often incorporated an event that occurred that day in order to prove its validity. "Roc" became the first series since the late 1950s to air an entire season's worth of episodes live. Meanwhile, it struggled to attract an audience despite its critical acclaim and was eventually canceled after its third season. Despite his series commitment, Dutton found time to squeeze in film roles during the show's run, including supporting turns opposite Sigourney Weaver in the colossal David Fincher misfire "Alien3" (1992) and an extended cameo in "Menace II Society" (1993).
After "Roc" left the airwaves, Dutton recreated his stage role of Boy Willie opposite Alfre Woodard in "The Piano Lesson" (CBS, 1995), for which he earned an Emmy nod. He picked up a second Emmy nomination for his forceful guest appearance in a 1998 episode of the gritty prison drama "Oz" (HBO, 1997-2003), playing a government official investigating a riot and its aftermath. Dutton garnered rave notices for his work as a stern, policeman whose son is accused of murder in the Showtime drama "Blind Faith" (1998), which received a limited theatrical release the following year. He went on to portray a civil rights advocate in "The 60's" (NBC, 1999) and delivered an excellent portrayal of a caretaker for a family of Southern eccentrics in the Robert Altman-directed "Cookie's Fortune" (1999). In the courtroom thriller "Deadlocked" (TNT, 2000), Dutton was a distraught parent who takes a jury hostage in an effort to prove his son innocent of charges of rape and murder charges, while in "For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story" (HBO, 2000), he aptly captured jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie.
Having begun a second career as a director in 1997 after stepping behind the cameras to helm the HBO drama "First-Time Felon," Dutton went on to direct the acclaimed six-part miniseries "The Corner" (HBO, 2000), based on a non-fiction book by "The Wire" creator David Simon. The miniseries focused on the lives of both drug dealers and civilians trying to get by in poverty-stricken West Baltimore. Dutton's work earned him an Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing. Meanwhile, he was back on the big screen as Sylvester Stallone's FBI partner in "D-Tox" (2002) before he supported Andre Braugher in "10,000 Black Men Named George" (Showtime, 2002), an historical drama about A. Phillip Randolph (Braugher), an early champion of the Civil Rights movement who led an effort to form a union for Pullman train workers. Dutton's physical similarity to real-life lawman Charles Moose earned him the lead role in the television movie "D.C. Sniper: 21 Days of Terror" (USA Network, 2003), chronicling the horrific sniper attacks in the Washington, D.C. area in 2002. He next defied convention by being cast as Halle Berry's ill-fated husband in the horror thriller "Gothika" (2003). Primed for his big screen directing debut, Dutton helmed and also had a supporting role in the well-received sports drama "Against the Ropes" (2004), a biopic of female boxing manager Jackie Kallen (Meg Ryan).
After playing a private gumshoe hired by an author (Johnny Depp) being stalked by a stranger (John Turturro) claiming plagiarism in "The Secret Window" (2004), Dutton appeared in "Mayday" (CBS, 2005) as a Navy admiral trying to keep secret the accidental shoot-down of an airliner. He was next cast as the deputy national security advisor in the short-lived "Threshold" (CBS, 2005-06), a sci-fi drama about a female government agent (Carla Gugino) who leads scientific and military forces in response to an alien invasion. Back to directing, he helmed two episodes of the acclaimed crime drama "Sleeper Cell" (Showtime, 2005-07), while also appearing as the father of the show's main character, an FBI agent (Michael Ealy) who infiltrates a Muslim terrorist cell in America. Following a guest appearance as the father of Dr. Eric Forman (Omar Epps) on "House" (Fox, 2004- ), Dutton joined the ensemble cast of "Honeydripper" (2007), director John Sayles' drama about the proprietor of a juke joint (Danny Glover) who tries to revive his failing business. Following a small role as an acting teacher in the retread "Fame" (2009), the actor played a religious one-armed diner cook in the supernatural "Legion" (2010).
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"Several people asked me, how did I make it? How did I change? The only formula I could think of had nothing to do the with rehabilitation. I could have learned 50,000 trades in prison and come right back out and robbed and stole and cheated. But really, the bottom line is discovering one's humanity and realizing we are only on this planet for a couple of seconds in the large scheme of things." --Charles S. Dutton quoted in Los Angeles Times Calendar, August 25, 1991.
"I was doing this play, 'Day of Absence' by Douglas Turner Ward. It was the first play I ever did. I directed and acted in it in prison. There were 1,500 inmates, and we did two shows, 750 guys for each. And I remember that in the middle of a speech I paused for a second and looked out in the audience, at the sea of men, and I said to myself, 'I've got these guys.' It was a real sense of power that hit me. These guys were transfixed, suspended, staring at me on a stage. It was something about the recognition of me that night that made me think that I had what it took to be an actor. I didn't know the craft, I didn't know the technique. But in looking at their eyes, I said: 'Something's going on here. I think I might have found what I was born to do.'" --Charles S. Dutton quoted in The New York Times, April 19, 1990.
"I still have the wild man in me. And by putting out 100 percent, acting is the only way I know to leave this life for three hours every night. So now I live dangerously, but only on the stage. Like any actor, I can get frustated in my work. But sometimes in that frustation, I forget that I'm giving pleasure to the audience. I forget that it's the theater that changed my life." --Charles S. Dutton 7 Days, April 18, 1990.
His nickname 'Roc' comes from childhood rock fights in Baltimore. "A gang of kids would line up on one side of the street and another gang on the other side and we would throw rocks at one another. It was like a snowball fight with rocks. I tried to lead the charge with a whole handful of rocks and I would always get hit in the head. So when I was about 9 or 10, my friends started calling me Rockhead." --Charles S. Dutton in The New York Times, April 19, 1990.
"As he first revealed as Levee, the discordant trumpet player in Mr. Wilson's "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," the burly, broadly smiling Mr. Dutton is a force of nature on stage: a human cyclone. ... Here is that rare actor who can announce that he's on fire and make an audience believe he might actually burn down the theater." --Frank Rich in his review of "The Piano Lesson" in The New York Times, April 17, 1990.
On his role in "Cookie's Fortune", Dutton told the Daily News (April 1, 1999): "I got a role on screen that's completely different from what I'm always being offered. I'm playing a guy who's totally devoid of anger, totally devoid of rage. I can be vulnerable; I can do the kind of acting that I used to do in the theater."
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