Eriq La Salle
La Salle, Eriq 1962—
Eriq La Salle 1962—
Becoming an overnight sensation as part of the ensemble of actors on television’s top-rated ER series, which premiered in the fall of 1994, Eriq La Salle has received high praise for his portrayal of a driven, uncompromising surgical resident. He earned an Emmy nomination for his role during the first season, and has attracted legions of fans in his role as Dr. Peter Benton. “Much more than a pretty face, he [La Salle] is helping to redefine the face of prime time television and is determined to create more opportunities for African Americans in film,” noted Rochelle Watson in about...time magazine. La Salle has admitted to sharing some traits with his character, notably the attitude of an overachiever. “We are a society of underachievers, so I think it’s necessary to be an over-achiever,” he told USA Weekend.
Being black has had a major effect on La Salle’s life and career. He grew up in an area of Hartford, Connecticut, that he said was “99.99 percent minority,” according to the New York Times. La Salle was raised by Ada Haynes, a foster mother who had to work several jobs to support her brood. Haynes made it clear to her foster son that he would have to work harder than whites just to be considered equal. “What my mother said empowered me; it didn’t victimize me,” La Salle confided in USA Weekend. “That advice instills in you that life ain’t fair—get over it and get on with it. I’m not a cynic. I just say, ’OK, I can’t sit on my a—and do ABC. I have to do XYZ to get noticed for ABC.’
As a child watching his cousin perform at a dance at his school, La Salle was very impressed by the attention that his fellow schoolmates gave his cousin. “There was something about that experience I wanted to know more about,” he told NBC. He decided that acting would be his career after joining a local youth theater group at age 14.
La Salle earned acceptance into the prestigious Juilliard school in New York City. While there he and other black students pressured the school to hire a black stage director. In the New York Times La Salle claimed that the director hired by the school was incompetent and had to be let go. When another group of black students later tried to get another black director into the school,
At a Glance…
Born July 23, 1962, in Hartford, CT, one of four children. Education: Juilliard; New York University, B,FA, 1984.
Joined local youth theater group at age 14; entered the Juilliard school, New York, NY, 1982; appeared in numerous plays, New York, NY, 1980s; landed role in daytime soap opera (One Life to Live); moved to Los Angeles, CA, 1991; cast in prime-time dramatic series (The Human Factor), 1992; appeared as guest star on various television series, 1990s; received star billing for role in a feature film (D.KQ.P. Squad), 1994; wrote, directed, and starred in a short film (Psalms (from the Underground); cast in top-rated television series (ER), 1994; earned an Emmy nomination for his role on ER, 1995; directed a movie for HBO on cable television (Anget of Harlem),
Addresses: Home —Los Angeles, CA.
the administration claimed that they had tried that already, and it had not worked out. “I’m not the kind of person to blame everything on racism,” La Salle noted in the New York Times. “But I think it’s so intertwined in our society that it’s a factor intentionally or unintentionally.”
Although La Salle had entered Juilliard for a four-year program, he was asked to leave after two years because his instructors did not think he would be able to suppress his inner city speech patterns. “I didn’t see it coming,” said La Salle in the New York Times. “I was training privately with speech teachers, and the word I was getting back was that I was improving. And then at my evaluation, they told me of their decision. “Training after Juilliard continued for the actor in New York University’s graduate theater program. After graduating he found steady work in several productions for Joseph Papp’s Shakespeare in the Park Theater company in New York City. A few weeks later he was cast in a low-budget Italian feature, and from there he landed a series of roles in plays in New York City.
Entry into television came for La Salle in the role of reporter Mike Rivers on the daytime soap opera, One Life to Live. After moving to Los Angeles in 1991, he then played a doctor on the series The Human Factor, but the series was canceled after less than a full season. He also made frequent guest appearances on shows such as L.A. Law, Quantum Leap, and A Different World, and on cable television he appeared in HBO’s Vietnam War Stories. His made-for-television movie credits include Empty Cradle, Circumstantial Evidence, What Price Victory, and Leg Work. On the big screen La Salle was seen in the feature films Coming to America, Five Corners, Jacob’s Ladder, and The Color of Night, and he received star billing in 1994 for his role as a high-powered advertising executive in D.R.O.P. Squad.
Before landing his role in ER, La Salle wrote a screenplay about a female black militant called Psalms from the Underground. When he couldn’t find anyone to produce it, he spent $140,000 of his own money to make it into a 35-minute film. La Salle both directed and starred in the film, whose rights were later bought by actor/director Mel Gibson. The film is planned to be developed into a full-length feature.
ER’s producers had still not cast the role of Dr. Peter Benton two days into the filming of the show. “When casting waits that long, they’re basically waiting for someone to come in and take the role,” La Salle was quoted as saying in Essence. “So I came into the office with a stethoscope and surgical greens I had left over from another series I did, The Human Factor. “Three days later La Salle received the news that he had won the role. “We looked at a lot of people for the Benton role,” said ER executive producer John Wells in the New York Times. “The others either played him as totally arrogant, or they shied away from playing his arrogance. Eriq walks the high wire.”
La Salle claims that he draws considerably on his own experience to play the role of Dr. Benton. “Where I grew up, the philosophy in my community was that you can’t be as good as your white counterparts; you have to be better,” said La Salle according to the New York Times. “And Benton, my character, I think, embodies what I’ve learned. He’s not out to win a popularity contest.” “He’s confident and competent,” he told NBC about his character. “He’s a tough guy on the surface, but underneath, there’s something else going on.” He added in the Detroit Free Press, “My character is not just an overachiever, he’s got that God complex that surgeons have—that feeling that they’re the highest of the high. Dr. Benton is strong, arrogant, intelligent, stubborn. But most of all he’s a blackman on TV who has the guts to be offensive.”
On the ER set, fellow actors have noted similarities between La Salle and his character. He has been very adamant about what his character would and would not do, and he has balked at scenes where Dr. Benton submits to others. As he told Entertainment Weekly, “Benton does not acquiesce.” His fellow actors have commented on his mischievous sense of humor, according to Ebony, and they’ve also acknowledged a sensitive side in the actor. “He comes off as this macho, good-looking man, but he’s like honey,” confided co-star Julianna Margulies to Entertainment Weekly.
The significance of race to his role in ER has been emphasized by La Salle. As he stated in about...time magazine, “I am an African American who gives orders. I’m sure there are [some] who do have problems seeing me telling others what to do and doing it with the type of arrogance and confidence that I portray. “He considers ER a breakthrough show in its serious treatment of black characters, who have mostly been relegated to situation comedies. “As long as America is laughing with us, they’re comfortable,” he continued in about... time. “Sitcoms are silly situations, so it’s not so much that [the situations] are true or even possible. [They are] palatable and digestible for white America... and not threatening.”
La Salle has given a lot of credit for his and the show’s success to the producer, John Wells, and pilot director, Rod Holcomb, as well as to series creator Michael Crichton’s overall vision and the quality of the scripts. “What is not known is that Michael Crichton wrote the script [for ER] 20 years ago, and even 20 years ago, he had an African American in mind [for the role of Dr. Benton],” La Salle told about... time. “It’s unbelievable that [even back then] he tapped into the intensity of being a doctor who happens to be African American, who happens to be female, who happens to be Jewish, who happens to be whatever.”
La Salle has written, directed, and produced two short films that won awards at the Worldfest Houston Film Competition and the USA Film Festival. During a break from his ER work, he directed a movie for HBO called Angel of Harlem. His goal is to direct a feature film, and use that opportunity “to help break down some of the barriers in the business that minorities face,” according to about... time. The actor is passionate about billiards, table tennis, and weightlifting, and is highly skilled in the martial arts. He also has a deep religious faith that he credits with helping him through the rough times in his life. In USA Weekend, he offered the following advice for doctors who have God complexes like his character on ER: ”Yes, you’re doing amazing things. But know that all amazing things come from God.”
about...time, April 30, 1995, p. 10.
Detroit Free Press, October 15, 1995, p. 4E.
Ebony, April 1995, p. 50.
Essence, July 1995, p. 54.
New York Times, November 6, 1994, p. C30.
USA Weekend, October 27-29, 1995, p. 14.
La Salle, Eriq 1962– (Eric La Salle)
La SALLE, Eriq 1962–
(Eric La Salle)
Original name, Erik Ki La Salle; born July 23, 1962, in Hartford, CT; foster son of Ada Haynes. Education: Studied at Juilliard School, beginning 1982; New York University, B.F.A., theatre, 1984, and graduate study. Avocational Interests: Billiards, table tennis, martial arts, weight lifting, watching boxing matches.
Addresses: Office— Humble Journey Films, 228 South Beverly Dr., 2nd Floor, Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Agent— Stephen Small, Writers and Artists Agency, 8383 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 550, Los Angeles, CA 90211. Manager— Nine Yards Entertainment, 9530 Wilshire Blvd., 6th Floor, Beverly Hills, CA 90211.
Career: Actor, director, producer, and writer. Humble Journey Films, founder and partner, beginning 1997.
Awards, Honors: Actor awards, outstanding performance by an ensemble in a drama series (with others), 1995, 1996, 1997, and 1998, Emmy Award nominations, outstanding supporting actor in a drama series, 1995, 1997, and 1998, Image Award nominations, outstanding actor in a drama series, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1996, 1997, 1998, and 2001, Image awards, 1999, 2000, and 2002, Screen Actors Guild Awards, outstanding performance by an ensemble in a drama series (with others), 1997, 1998, and 1999, and Golden Globe Award nomination, best supporting actor in a series, miniseries, or motion picture, 1998, all for ER; Black Reel Award, best independent actor in a theatrical film, 2003, for Crazy As Hell; awards for short films from Worldfest Houston and the USA Film Festival.
Television Appearances; Series:
Mariah (also known as Equations ), ABC, 1987.
Charles Thompson, Another World (also known as Another World: Bay City ), 1987.
Gideon Oliver, ABC, 1989.
Michael Stoven, The Human Factor, CBS, 1992.
LeBlanc, Under Suspicion, CBS, 1994–1995.
Dr. Peter Benton, ER (also known as Emergency Room ), NBC, 1994–2002.
Appeared as Mike Rivers, One Life to Live, ABC.
Television Appearances; Movies:
Out of the Darkness, CBS, 1985.
Trumayne James, What Price Victory? (also known as Hail Alma Mater and The Price of Victory ), ABC, 1988.
Virgil Hawkins, When We Were Young (also known as That Magic Moment ), NBC, 1989.
Dancing guy, Magic Moments, 1989.
Mchumbo, Eyes of a Witness (also known as Circumstantial Evidence ), CBS, 1991.
Detective Knoll, Empty Cradle, ABC, 1993.
Diego Taylor, Rebound: The Legend of Earl "The Goat " Manigault (also known as Rebound ), HBO, 1996.
Lucas Davenport, Mind Prey (also known as John Sandford's Mind Prey ), ABC, 1999.
Also appeared in Angel of Harlem, HBO; and Leg Work.
Television Appearances; Specials:
Charlie, "Teen Father," ABC Afterschool Special, ABC, 1986.
K. C., "The Mine," Vietnam War Story, HBO, 1987.
Host, Life in the Fat Lane II, NBC, 1995.
Fifty Years of Television: A Celebration of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Golden Anniversary, HBO, 1997.
Himself, Larry King Meets ER, TNT, 1998.
Teen Files: The Truth about Hate, UPN, 1999.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
Jeffrey Miller, "Angel of Desolation," Spenser: For Hire, ABC, 1986.
Derek D., "Codes," Knightwatch, 1988.
Professor Paul Mann, "The Power of the Pen," A Different World, NBC, 1990.
Mark Hastings, Jr., "Winner Takes All," B. L. Stryker, ABC, 1990.
Kenny, "Speak, Lawyers, for Me," L.A. Law, NBC, 1991.
(As Eric La Salle) Bobby Lee, "A Song for the Soul—April 7, 1963," Quantum Leap, NBC, 1992.
Voice, Adventures from the Book of Virtues (animated), PBS, 1996.
Guest, Late Show with David Letterman, 1996, 1999.
Himself, "Beverly's Secret," The Larry Sanders Show, HBO, 1998.
Voice, Jazz, PBS, 2001.
Ray Ellison, "Memphis," The Twilight Zone, UPN, 2003.
Appeared in episodes of The More You Know and The Museum of Television and Radio: Influences, Bravo; guest on The Rosie O'Donnell Show, syndicated; also appeared in a talk show broadcast on Black Entertainment Television, 1999.
Television Appearances; Pilots:
Jack Spade, Hammer, Slammer, and Slade, ABC, 1990.
Television Appearances; Awards Presentations:
47th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, Fox, 1995.
Presenter, The 18th Annual CableACE Awards, TNT, 1996.
The 1996 Essence Awards, Fox, 1996.
Presenter, The 53rd Annual Golden Globe Awards, NBC, 1996.
The 49th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, CBS, 1997.
Host, The 1998 Essence Awards, Fox, 1998.
The 31st Annual NAACP Image Awards, Fox, 2000.
The 32nd NAACP Image Awards, Fox, 2001.
Television Work; Movies:
Director, Rebound: The Legend of Earl "The Goat " Manigault (also known as Rebound ), HBO, 1996.
Producer, Mind Prey (also known as John Sandford's Mind Prey ), ABC, 1999.
Also directed Angel of Harlem, HBO.
Television Director; Episodic:
"The More Things Change" (pilot episode), Soul Food, Showtime, 2000.
"Memphis," The Twilight Zone, UPN, 2003.
Ice, Rappin', Cannon, 1985.
Fargas, Inferno in diretta (also known as Amazon: Savage Adventure, Cut and Run, and Straight to Hell ), Racing Pictures, 1985.
Deputy Bernie Miles, Where Are the Children?, Columbia/TriStar, 1986.
Samuel Kemp, Five Corners, Handmade Films, 1987.
Darryl Jenks, Coming to America (also known as Prince in New York ), Paramount, 1988.
Frank, Jacob's Ladder (also known as Dante's Inferno ), TriStar, 1990.
Bruford Jamison, Jr., Drop Squad (also known as DROP Squad ), Gramercy, 1994.
Detective Anderson, Color of Night, Buena Vista, 1994.
Psalms from the Underground (short film), Humble Journey Films, 1996.
Detective James Van Der Zee, One Hour Photo, Twentieth Century–Fox, 2002.
The man, Crazy As Hell, Artistic License/Loose Screw Films, 2002.
(Uncredited) Tariq "Slick Will," Biker Boyz, Dream-Works, 2003.
(And director) Psalms from the Underground (short film), Humble Journey Films, 1996.
(And director) Crazy As Hell, Artistic License/Loose Screw Films, 2002.
The Salton Sea, Warner Bros., 2002.
Producer and director of other short films.
Olunde, Death and the King's Horseman, Vivian Beaumont Theatre, Lincoln Center, New York City, 1987.
Sterling, Two Trains Running, Goodman Theatre, Chicago, IL, 1992–1993.
Narrator, Michael Jordan, Above and Beyond, 1996.
Psalms from the Underground (short film), Humble Journey Films, 1996.
(With others) Crazy As Hell, Artistic License/Loose Screw Films, 2002.
"Memphis," The Twilight Zone, UPN, 2003.
Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 12, Gale, 1996.
Newsmakers 1996, Gale, 1996.
Ebony, August, 1999, p. 52.
Entertainment Weekly, May 16, 1997, p. 94.
Essence, July, 1995, p. 54.
Jet, February 17, 1997, pp. 56–59.
People Weekly, May 20, 1996, p. 78.