Actor Allen Maldonado Dishes On Growing Up In Compton, Meeting Dr. Dre, And His Philanthropic Efforts With Foster Kids And At-Risk Youth
If you look at Allen Maldonado’s Instagram, you’ll see that all of his pictures are fittingly hashtagged “Summer of Maldonado.” Making quite a name for himself in the Hollywood hills, this California native has been part of some of the hottest movies and TV shows of 2015, including black-ish, Dope, and this summer’s blockbuster hit, Straight Outta Compton. In the film, he plays Tone, who is influential in helping Eazy-E discover his passion for music.
Raised in the city of Compton himself, Maldonado grew up seeing individuals like MC Ren and Suge Knight around the neighborhood as well as the struggles that people living there were subjected to on a daily basis, which is why landing the role in Straight Outta Compton was such a blessing to him. “To be a part of an iconic film that represents a place where I grew up is a total honor, and that was one of the main reasons I wanted to fight for a role. Also, working with F. Gary Gray [was another reason]. He is very detailed and a very special director as far as how he works with his actors,” he tells us.
Much like the people who he has encountered, Maldonado (who is a self-proclaimed workaholic) is a successful entrepreneur. He owns a record company called Get It Done Records as well as production company Only Son Productions and a t-shirt line named Vineyards Phinest. But that’s not all! Showcasing his philanthropic and artistic spirit, he is also the founder of Demo Nerds, an acting and film camp that provides free acting classes, tools and services to foster kids and at-risk youth.
“Through the program, we teach them acting exercises — and in the process, they get to create their own short film. At the end of the program, we do a red carpet and gala awards ceremony and a private screening of the film for the kids; we give them that real Hollywood experience,” he says.
GALO had the chance to talk with Maldonado about being a black actor in Hollywood, meeting Dr. Dre and his roles in Dope and Straight Outta Compton, among other things.
GALO: I’m going to jump right into the interview, if that’s OK with you?
Allen Maldonado: That’s fine. Let’s go!
GALO: Dope highlights a lot of the challenges that young men growing up in tough neighborhoods face. For instance, we see the main character go from a student to a drug dealer in a matter of hours. From what I’ve read, you’re also from a rough neighborhood. Were you faced with similar challenges in your own life? And did you draw inspiration for this film from your past experiences and observations?
AM: Well, yeah, I definitely had those temptations, options or obstacles — however you want to phrase it. Growing up in those types of neighborhoods, you don’t see doctors. You don’t see other successful individuals that make it in a more positive manner. You see these individuals that are drug dealers; that are gangbangers. They have the fancy cars. They have all the jewelry. They have the girls. And you see that as a reality rather than seeing your parents who are struggling to make ends meet [and] doing what’s right. It’s hard to make the decision to do what’s right when you have people that are struggling in comparison to those who are “making it” the quick way. That’s how a lot of individuals get caught up in that cycle — because it’s hard to believe that you could make it any other way when the people telling you [to do it right] are struggling to keep the lights on.
I was blessed because [of] the individuals that were involved [in my life] and that I was surrounded by. They had been drug dealers and gangbangers, and they may have been the underbelly of society, but they were the ones that kept me from doing it. They were the ones that [had] seen that I was special and helped me and such, and made sure that I wasn’t involved in any of that stuff. I was very, very fortunate with the individuals that I grew up around and the film definitely gives a great example of that. To be a part of a film that gives these young kids an outlook that they have options and that your environment doesn’t dictate who you become, it only allows you to become a stronger individual and a stronger person about your individuality rather than [having] to follow the mold of everyone else.
GALO: And I see that your life is definitely a testimony to all of that.
AM: Yes, definitely, man. I’ve got many, many stories I can share that are an example of a testimony to my faith in God, and that God has truly blessed me and put me on a path to inspire and to continue to help the youth.
GALO: In his admissions essay to Harvard, Malcolm lists all of his accomplishments and then ends it by inquiring whether or not he’d be asked the question of why he should be given the chance to get into Harvard if he were white. Do you feel as a black actor, even with all the roles you have gotten, that you still have a tough time in Hollywood?
AM: For me, it’s always bigger than just work. As a society, you know, being a black individual is tough, period. So it translates in work only as society continues to grow. We’re getting better, but we still have a long way to go as we see with Ferguson and various incidents like that. And it only trickles into Hollywood as far as [financial matters go], where, I think, [with] films such as Dope, we need big support — and, you know, shows such as black-ish that I’m blessed to be on. These shows are not just well done, they represent black people in a positive manner, but we’re getting great support from it and that’s what Hollywood needs to see more of.
Rather than to focus on the negatives of “why this” and “why that,” I like to focus on the fact that it’s changing and that I just urge more [people] — not just the black community, not just the urban community, but everyone outside of that — to support these shows, because they’re great shows and that’s how we [can] make a change. We [can] make a change by supporting black-ish and Survivor’s Remorse and all these shows, these films that are coming out that have more black roles than ever before. So I’m excited [that] Hollywood is really transforming and really allowing more diversity.
GALO: In the movie, we see your character get jumped by Dom (played by A$AP Rocky) and his crew.
AM: [Laughter] Yeah, yeah, yeah, he put them hands on me!
GALO: How was it shooting that part, especially on an emotional level?
AM: For me, I’ve always played, like, strong characters, so it was different. I won’t say it was a challenge — it was just different being on the other side of it. I’ve mostly laid the violence; I’ve implied the violence in most films and somewhat in life [laughter]. So being on the other side of it — it was vulnerable. It was very vulnerable. Even while shooting it, I would catch myself, because, you know, it could get real sometimes and you want to defend yourself. So yeah, it’s definitely a vulnerable position, you have to just bow down to this other individual. But it was different, man. It’s acting and it’s a part of the job, and sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. It was a good, fun scene, man.
GALO: Do you think such a scene will bring awareness to teens and young adults and help in minimizing violence, while also promoting communication?
AM: I hope the film in its entirety says that. I think there are a lot of moments in the film, violent moments, that could have gone differently. We showed the results of them, from the gunshot in the hamburger stand, to the police arriving, to the part at the end where he punched the guy to kind of say “this is who I am.” And how that kind of proved his manhood, to the point where he was vulnerable holding a gun — and it was a sign of respect, not because he could kill him, it was because of the desperation in his eyes. He saw the place that he was coming from and identified with it.
A lot of the individuals in the neighborhood, we don’t do violent acts because we want to, it’s out of desperation. It’s out of hunger, out of wanting something that we feel we can’t get any other way. And I feel that’s what this film represents. It gives you identity; it gives you an option to say, “You know what? There are better ways to do it.” And college is an option, even though they may tell you different.
GALO: It seems like 2015 is your year. Black-ish, Dope, Straight Outta Compton and You’re the Worst are just a few of the things you have going on. When you’ve got so much on your plate at one time, do you ever find the transition hard from one character to the other without much of a break in-between?
AM: No, not really. I’m working every day. I’m constantly — my mind is locked in, so going from one role to the next, I’m at peace. I’m at peace when I’m on set. And when I’m outside of it, I’m a maniac. I’m a workaholic and I’m fighting to make sure that I’m back on set. So switching from role to role is like a fish in water. It’s natural to me. It’s what I want to do, it’s what I love. I mean, just quote Big Sean, you know, “Forget a vacation. I feel better at work.” That’s me in a nutshell. I’m comfortable when I’m at peace — whenever I’m on set, whenever I’m in a role. So to jump from one to another is the ideal position to be in.
GALO: Out of all these projects, which one was the most exciting or fun for you to film?
AM: Oh man, they all have their — not even to sound cliché — moments. But, I guess, at this moment, I would say Survivor’s Remorse. I think, probably to this day, [it] has the most excitement. And when people see the show and see my character, they’ll know why. I play the sports agent that plays by no rules. He’s wild. He’s a drug dealer, so he’s the total opposite of RonReaco [Lee’s] character, and we have a great chain of events that can happen due to my actions. So, for me, that role was fun. I mean, the first scene that we shot was in a strip club [laughter], so that just kind of gives you an idea of how crazy this character is.