Charismatic stage actor Charles S. Dutton first won fame for his acclaimed, Tony-nominated performances in the August Wilson plays "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" in 1985 and "The Piano Lesson" in 1990. When he first burst on the theatrical scene in the mid-1980s, Dutton found that his own back story made for interesting copy with the press. The Baltimore native had a troubled childhood, punctuated with stints in reform school. After dropping out in the seventh grade, he tried his hand as an amateur boxer under his nickname "Roc."
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At age 17, though, he was convicted of manslaughter after stabbing a man to death in a street fight; Dutton maintains that the man attacked and wounded him first. After serving a seven-and-one-half-year prison term, he was paroled only to return to jail less than two years later for possession of a deadly weapon. While incarcerated, he became involved with theater groups and began to turn his life around, the turning point being when he was assaulted by an ice pick-wielding inmate against whom he refused to retaliate. Dutton obtained a high school equivalency and completed a two-year college program. Upon his release, he enrolled as a drama major at Baltimore's Towson State University.
Dutton was accepted at the prestigious Yale School of Drama in 1978 and fell under the tutelage of director Lloyd Richards and playwright Wilson. Cast as the volatile, progressive trumpeter Levee in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," Dutton offered a genuine star turn and critics and audiences responded in kind. He reunited with both 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 did get to work again with both 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 and part thrilled theatergoers and reviewers.
Although Dutton seemed primed to take a place as one of America's foremost stage actors, he had already made the move to the big screen in roles like Paul Hogan's jive-talking friend in "Crocodile Dundee II" and a police officer in Sidney Lumet's cops-and-corruption drama "Q & A." But instead of movie stardom, he opted for a sort of hybrid of theater and film by headlining the Fox sitcom "Roc" from 1991-1994, earning two Image Award nominations and winning the Award for Lead Actor in 1993 for his portrayal of a Baltimore sanitation worker. Despite his series commitment, the actor still found time to squeeze in film roles, like his turn as Sigourney Weaver's ally in "Alien 3" or his appearance in "Menace II Society."
After "Roc" left the airwaves, Dutton recreated his stage role opposite Alfre Woodard in "The Piano Lesson" on television and earned an Emmy nod. He picked up a second nomination for his forceful guest appearance in a 1998 episode of the gritty HBO prison drama "Oz," playing a government official investigating a riot and its aftermath. Dutton garnered rave notices for his work as a stern, righteous policeman whose son is accused of murder in the 1998 Showtime drama "Blind Faith" and went on to portray a civil rights advocate in television movie "The 60's," and delivered an excellent portrayal of a caretaker for a family of Southern eccentrics in the Robert Altman-directed "Cookie's Fortune." "Deadlocked" saw him as a parent who goes to extremes and takes a jury hostage in an effort to prove his son innocent of charges of rape and murder, while in "For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story," Dutton aptly captured jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. He was back on the big screen as Sylvester Stallone's FBI partner in "D-Tox" in 2002 and supported Andre Braugher in the 2002 Showtime drama "10,000 Black Men Named George," about A. Philip Randolph's efforts to form a union for Pullman train workers.
In 1997, Dutton began a second career as a director, stepping behind the cameras to helm the HBO drama "First-Time Felon," which focused on an experimental program meant to rehabilitate inmates. With the acclaimed six-part HBO miniseries "The Corner," he fully came into his own as a director, earning an Emmy for his work on this gritty, moving tale of a dysfunctional Baltimore family coping with drugs and crime. Primed for his big screen debut, Dutton helmed "Against the Ropes," a biopic of female boxing manager Jackie Kallen, played by Meg Ryan, to be released later this year. Dutton also recently revised his role in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" on Broadway alongside Whoopi Goldberg.
Dutton has delivered several keynote addresses at major universities and was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Human Letters from Towson State University. He also serves as an inspiring role model, having implemented the "Safe Schools, Successful Students" program in Baltimore.
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