Actor Allen Maldonado Dishes On Growing Up In Compton, Meeting Dr. Dre, And His Philanthropic Efforts With Foster Kids And At-Risk Youth
GALO: You’ve worked with Tracee Ellis Ross, Anthony Anderson and Denzel Washington. What are some of the most important things you’ve learned while being on set with them, or perhaps in terms of something that they’ve said that stands out in your mind and helps you in your career or life?
AM: [With] each individual, I’ve watched and I’ve kind of borrowed, or whatever you want to call it, from their work ethic. Denzel is important to me. Being on a film for three and a half months, he taught me pace. He taught me to be grounded in the simple things about life and maneuvering my way through the business. He left me with a lot of information through conversation.
Anthony Anderson and Tracee, they’re fun on set. They keep it comfortable. I study and watch how you’re supposed to set the tone as the lead of the show and how to make everyone else feel comfortable on set, how you establish a relationship with them early. It shows on screen. They’re a family on TV, but they’re also a family in real life, and I’m happy to be a part of that as well.
I worked with Ben Kingsley not too long ago and he was very influential. Just being able to talk to him about movies such as Gandhi and just how deep and how connected with the people in the country he was, and how your work has a lasting effect, not just on your audience but also on society, that was great — a great note and great information that he shared with me.
GALO: So congratulations on landing a role in Straight Outta Compton! That film is certainly causing waves in the industry. Can you share what your character, Tone, is like in the movie?
AM: Well, Tone is a character that is, I guess, very influential in helping Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) make the decision in starting to do music and in leaving drugs alone. There’s a big incident that happens in the house, a huge action sequence that kind of results in him being at that fork in the road where he’s like, “you know what? I need to do something different.” The film is very special to me [having grown] up in Compton myself, the earlier years of my life. My sister went to school with MC Ren. Her best friend was neighbors to Suge Knight’s grandma. So I remember seeing a lot of these individuals as a kid, kind of before it all happened. So to see how they, as a group, changed society and changed the landscape of hip-hop is very special to me [in being] a part of the film. And then [there’s also] working with Ice Cube again. My first film that I did was Friday After Next (2002). To work with him again, to kind of grow up from then to now, was very special to me as well.
GALO: N.W.A. made a very big impact in the rap community by introducing what is known as “gangsta rap.” I’m curious, was there something in particular that initially attracted you to the script?
AM: Like I mentioned before, 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. It was a long process because they were searching for all of the lead characters and various characters for a long time, so I went in several times to audition for different roles and I wound up getting the character of Tone. But it was a great process.
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. There are some directors who only say two words and let you do your thing, and then there are others that are involved [and] that push you and push more out of you. He’s one of those directors that really understand what he wants out of a scene and he puts you in the perfect position to execute that.
GALO: We recently did an interview with Keith Powers, who told us that he was stunned when he met Dr. Dre. Did you have a chance to meet the hip-hop legend?
AM: Man, I’ll tell you what. I met him on set and it was real casual. You know, I kept my cool. I seen [Ice] Cube again, I said, “What up, Cube?” I seen Dr. Dre, kept it cool. But what was fantastic is [that] at the wrap party, I’m standing in a circle, having a conversation, when all of sudden, somebody walks up behind me, taps me on my shoulder, and [I turn around to find that] it’s Dr. Dre. He came up to me and was like, “I love your work. You did [a] fantastic [job] in the film. I’m a big fan of what you’re doing.” And my boy, who was with me, [his] jaw just dropped, like his mouth was open [laughter]. He couldn’t believe it. And again, I’m keeping my cool. I’m like, “Man, thanks!” So we talked for about five, ten minutes or whatever, and it was one of the best moments [for me] as an artist — as another individual coming from Compton — to have someone of his stature and his level, as we’re standing in this ridiculous mansion [laughter], to walk up and be like, “I’m a fan of yours.” It was an unbelievable and humbling experience, and I was definitely honored by it.
GALO: I understand that aside from acting you run a record company. Plus, you’ve got your own production company and a t-shirt line. As an entrepreneur, it seems you’ve got a bit in common with Dr. Dre there. Given your creative and business flair, I was wondering what else you’d like to create or do in the future as far as potential business ideas or dreams?
AM: Well, there’s a lot of stuff I’m going to continue to add onto my portfolio, businesswise. I’m trying to grow the music company and the t-shirt company.
What’s special about our t-shirt company is that we donate a portion of our proceeds to foster kids and at-risk youth in the community. The way we do that, I’ve established another company called Demo Nerds, an acting and film arts camp for kids. We provide free acting classes for 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 gala awards ceremony and a private screening of the film for the kids; we give them that real Hollywood experience. I’ve been doing that for three years and that’s by far the most gratifying thing that I do in any of my businesses and I’ll continue to grow that. I’m going to establish a kids’ film festival through the program as well and kind of build it from there.
Real estate is another thing I’m getting into next year. There are so many things that I’m going to dive into and that God has planned for me. You know, I don’t even see, I just know that the future is bright and we’re going to continue to build and continue to grow. But working with kids and giving back to the youth is something that I’m going to be heavily involved with as my career grows.
GALO: Do a lot of people participate in this program?
AM: It all depends. We collaborate with a lot of companies: the boys and girls club, various private schools and charter schools — a special one is the New Village Charter High School, an all-girls school — and McKinney high school. That’s very special, very close to my heart, [just being able to] work with them. We work with about 20 to 30 kids [during] each camp.
GALO: Finally, I was wondering what you do in your down time when you’re trying to relax or get away from the Hollywood-esque lifestyle?
AM: I mean, I’m working all the time — I’m in the lab, I’m in production. And, for me, that’s not the Hollywood world for me. Being involved in projects and working on set isn’t really Hollywood. It’s the stuff outside of it that you get caught up in. The partying and different things like that — that is what I think is a distraction. I’m a workaholic, but outside of just being in the lab and working, there is spending time with the family.
I’ve been helping in raising my nieces and my nephews since they were born. I’m heavily involved with them. I’m their influence; I’m their father figure — that whole nine [yards thing]. And I’m totally honored with that responsibility and it’s something that I take very seriously. So I spend a lot of time with them. I mean, I currently got my nephew in Kobe camp. I’m so proud of him and he’s eight. So outside of work, it’s spending time with my family. Anything short of that, it doesn’t bring me happiness.
GALO: Do you have anything coming up next?
AM: Well, yeah. Did you mention The Start Up? It’s a movie we did with BET starring me and Diggy Simmons. We have that coming out in September. And my other show, You’re the Worst, on FX comes out in September as well.
And just again to touch on [the camp], I did lot of stuff for the kids. I did a show called Kirby Buckets because it’s one of my nephew’s favorite shows. I was able to bring him to set. We met the cast and they gave him an autograph. I did the show just for him, basically, because he loved it. So, that’s coming out as well in the next couple of months, I believe. I’m not sure. But yeah, there’s a bunch of stuff.
I [also] have the first show from my production company called Who the Fuck is Uncle Joe? It’s an action-comedy that’s going to be an online series. So yeah, I’m very excited about that as well.
GALO: You are not lying. You are extremely, extremely busy.
AM: [Laughter] Yeah, team no sleep over here.
GALO: Seriously! Well, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure. I wish you nothing but success.
AM: Thank you!
For more information about Allen Maldonado and his endeavors, you can follow him on Twitter @allen_maldonado. || Featured image: Allen Maldonado. Photo: Joseph Rene Briscoe.