Eriq La Salle

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Eriq La Salle 1962


Liked Attention Given to Performers

Landed Role in Soap Opera

Drew on Own Background for Role

Directed Award-Winning Films


Becoming an overnight sensation as part of the ensemble of actors on televisions 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 its necessary to be an over-achiever, he told USA Weekend.

Being black has had a major effect on La Salles 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 didnt victimize me, La Salle confided in USA Weekend. That advice instills in you that life aint fairget over it and get on with it. Im not a cynic. I just say, OK, I cant sit on my aand do ABC. I have to do XYZ to get noticed for ABC.

Liked Attention Given to Performers

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. Im not the kind of person to blame everything on racism, La Salle noted in the New York Times. But I think its so intertwined in our society that its 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 didnt 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 Universitys graduate theater program. After graduating he found steady work in several productions for Joseph Papps 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.

Landed Role in Soap Opera

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 HBOs 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, Jacobs 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 couldnt 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.

ERs producers had still not cast the role of Dr. Peter Benton two days into the filming of the show. When casting waits that long, theyre 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.

Drew on Own Background for Role

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 cant 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 Ive learned. Hes not out to win a popularity contest. Hes confident and competent, he told NBC about his character. Hes a tough guy on the surface, but underneath, theres something else going on. He added in the Detroit Free Press, My character is not just an overachiever, hes got that God complex that surgeons havethat feeling that theyre the highest of the high. Dr. Benton is strong, arrogant, intelligent, stubborn. But most of all hes 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 theyve also acknowledged a sensitive side in the actor. He comes off as this macho, good-looking man, but hes 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. Im 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, theyre comfortable, he continued in about... time. Sitcoms are silly situations, so its 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 shows success to the producer, John Wells, and pilot director, Rod Holcomb, as well as to series creator Michael Crichtons 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. Its 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.

Directed Award-Winning Films

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, youre 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.

Further information for this profile was obtained from websites for the National Broadcasting Company Inc., Entertainment Weekly, and People Magazine on the Internet.

Ed Decker

views updated

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, 19941995.

Dr. Peter Benton, ER (also known as Emergency Room ), NBC, 19942002.

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 SoulApril 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.

Film Appearances:

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 CenturyFox, 2002.

The man, Crazy As Hell, Artistic License/Loose Screw Films, 2002.

(Uncredited) Tariq "Slick Will," Biker Boyz, Dream-Works, 2003.

Film Producer:

(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.

Stage Appearances:

Olunde, Death and the King's Horseman, Vivian Beaumont Theatre, Lincoln Center, New York City, 1987.

Sterling, Two Trains Running, Goodman Theatre, Chicago, IL, 19921993.

Appeared in Shakespeare in the Park productions, New York City; also appeared in Broadway and offBroadway productions.



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.

Television Episodes:

"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. 5659.

People Weekly, May 20, 1996, p. 78.