Few actors possess the range required to craft some of the most colorful villains ever committed to celluloid before turning around to portray such a benevolent and beloved leader as Martin Luther King Jr., and it's a testament to Clifton Powell's skills as a performer that he could be equally believable doing both.
It was during the early '90s that Powell first began to rise to prominence in television and film, with standout roles in Bill Duke's Deep Cover and In the Heat of the Night preceding a pair of memorable supporting roles for the Hughes Brothers in Menace II Society and Dead Presidents. Though Powell would continue to appear in features, it was on the small screen that he gained most of his exposure in the early years. After gradually climbing the credits on such shows as Murder, She Wrote, The Jamie Foxx Show, and NYPD Blue, Powell would leave an indelible mark on viewers with his thoughtful portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr. in director Charles Burnett's Selma, Lord, Selma.
With versatile, everyman looks that were something of a blessing and a curse, Powell quickly established himself as an actor capable of truly disappearing into his characters -- sometimes to a fault. While a slew of roles on screens big and small kept Powell a considerably busy man in the mid-'90s, later roles in such efforts as Lockdown, Civil Brand, and Never Die Alone proved that his persistence, talent, and dedication were beginning to pay off. In 2004, Powell and the cast of the wildly popular biopic Ray would be honored with a Screen Actor's Guild nomination, and though they didn't take home the prize it was obvious Powell was finally on the verge of breaking big.
His dark turn in the T.D. Jakes screen-adaptation Woman Thou Art Loosed was followed by a series of small-screen appearances in House, M.D., CSI, and Day Break, and in 2007 alone Powell's name would be attached to no less than eight films being prepared for the big screen .