July 7, 1968
New York City, New York, United States
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This young, thoughtful African-American player turned down a chance for lucrative steady work in TV to pursue a career in features. Saved from the perils of the streets of NYC's Harlem by attending acting classes in his youth, Payne received his first wide exposure playing a recurring role during the last seasons (1990-92) of the NBC sitcom "The Cosby Show." He was one of the wisecracking friends of Pam Tucker (Erika Alexander), Claire Huxtable's young cousin from the inner-city. Though he passed on a regular gig on "A Different World," Payne shared Mr. Cosby's concern about providing role models for black youth.Payne embodied a cautionary tale in Mario Van Peebles' "New Jack City" (1991) as Gee Money, lieutenant to Wesley Snipes' ascendant cocaine king Nino Brown. The young actor claimed to know his character from his old 'hood. Similarly for "CB4" (1993), an unsuccessful spoof of the hip-hop scene, Payne was able to call upon his experiences in the suburbs--where his parents relocated to escape the ghetto--to play a middle-class Black man who adopts a tough "gangsta" persona to perform rap music. He received better notices and more attention as a straight arrow romantic lead in "Jason's Lyric" (1994) as a young man anguished by his wayward younger brother (Bokeem Woodbine) and inspired by a dreamy young woman (Jada Pinkett). Payne's next film, the well-meaning but underwhelming black-oriented Vietnam drama "The Walking Dead" (also 1994), hardly made a ripple, but the actor remained true to form playing a dedicated Dad who enlisted to provide base housing for his young family.Payne received his most high profile film assignment in the critically lambasted Eddie Murphy horror vehicle "Vampire in Brooklyn" (1995). Here he was Justice, a homicide cop partnered with Angela Bassett with whom he develops an increasingly strong emotional bond. That year, Payne also appeared amid an impressive ensemble of young Black Hollywood (including Laurence Fishburne, Cuba Gooding Jr, Malcolm Jamal Warner and Courtney B Vance) in the HBO made-for-cable movie "The Tuskegee Airmen."