Mark Christopher Lawrence
The art of debate was what took Mark Christopher Lawrence from an inner-city childhood in Compton, where he and his two siblings where raised by a single mom to steady work as a character actor/stand-up comedian/voiceover artist. Born in Los Angeles, Lawrence joined his high school's debate team when he was in 10th grade. After competing on the state and national levels with the Cerritos Community College forensics squad and winning the Bovero-Tabor Award--given to the top junior college speaker in the country--Lawrence caught the attention of USC's debate team coaches and wound up with a full college scholarship. As an undergraduate, he started taking acting classes and after graduation worked with the San Francisco Mime Troupe and started performing stand-up comedy, eventually traveling overseas and opening for the likes of Jerry Seinfeld and Rodney Dangerfield. Lawrence's first major film and television roles were of a supporting nature--he played construction workers ("Caddyshack II"), a "burly attendant" ("Terminator 2: Judgment Day"), and a security guard ("Martin"). His big break came when he was cast as D.J. Tone Def in the 1994 Rusty Cundieff hip-hop documentary, "Fear of a Black Hat." Other motion picture roles landed him screen time alongside Will Smith ("The Pursuit of Happyness"), Kevin Spacey ("K-PAX"), Denzel Washington ("Crimson Tide"), and Tim Allen ("Christmas with the Kranks"). Lawrence fared better on television, where he became best known for playing Big Mike on the 2007 NBC action dramedy "Chuck."