A young actress with a seemingly old soul, Shareeka Epps stunned audiences with her honest and intelligent performance as Brooklyn teenager Drey in the gritty independent film, "Half Nelson" (2006). Though the film marked Epps' feature film debut, she exhibited a raw talent for acting that positioned her as one of Hollywood's young talents worth keeping an eye on. Praised by numerous film critics, Epps won the Gotham Award for Breakthrough Performance and was named Best Supporting Actress by the Boston Society of Film Critics for her gritty role in the cautionary film, which co-starred an equally well received Ryan Gosling.<p>Born in New York City, NY in 1989, Epps grew up in Brooklyn, where she attended William Alexander 51 Junior High School in Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood. Though Epps never studied drama, she was active in music and dance, and performed in school productions of "West Side Story" and "Annie" in her early teens. Recommended to aspiring filmmakers Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden by a drama teacher at her junior high, Epps was asked to audition for their short film, "Gowanus, Brooklyn" (2004) - a 19-minute version of a feature script the pair had written together. Though she was up against a number of other teenagers for the part, Epps landed the lead role of Drey, a wise-beyond-her-years 13-year-old girl who stumbles upon her social studies teacher smoking crack in the girls' locker room. Shot on digital video for $1,000, "Brooklyn" went on to win the Grand Jury Prize for short filmmaking at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.<p>Scraping together finances for a feature version of "Brooklyn," Fleck and Boden contacted Epps about reprising her role as Drey in the now re-titled feature version, "Half Nelson" (2006). Though the filmmakers were initially concerned that Epps may have grown up too much to portray the role (Epps was 15 by this time), she still appeared young enough to be re-cast in the role. Starring opposite Ryan Gosling in "Nelson," Epps wowed critics with her earnest and stoic performance of a teenage girl who befriends her crack-addicted teacher and mentor (Gosling). Conveying a mixture of innocence and intelligence through facial expressions rather than dialogue, Epps' performance earned her much-deserved critical acclaim. She was named Best Supporting Actress by the Boston Society of Film Critics and runner-up by the New York Film Critics Society in 2006. She was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress by the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Independent Spirit Awards. There was even Oscar buzz in the air, as <i>USA Today</i> pushed for the Academy to consider her, come nomination time in January of 2007.<p>Still a teenager however, Epps managed to maintain a focus on academics, entering her senior year in high school at New York's Binghamton High School in the fall of 2006. Pursuing acting on the side, Epps went on to land a role in the action sequel "Alien vs. Predator: AVP2" (2007).