*As a Rialto, California native, Allen Maldonado is a new rising star that has landed some of the hottest and biggest films and TV projects this year. Allen juggles many hats has an actor, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. He can be seen in his recurring role as ‘Curtis,’ assistant to ‘Dre’ (Athony Anderson) on ABC’s hit comedy “Black-ish,” with the second season premiering tonight.
Allen scored a role in this summer’s breakout hit “Dope,” as well as, the critically acclaimed “Straight Outta Compton.” He also shared the screen in ” with Denzel Washington and Cake with Jennifer Aniston. Also, he “The Equalizer” co-stars in LeBron James’ Starz series “Survivor’s Remorse,” BET’s new original film “The Start Up,” and FXX’s “You’re the Worst.”
While balancing his numerous acting roles, Allen still finds the time to manage his multiple businesses and lend his time to mentoring the next generation. We had a chance to speak with him about his career, charity, and what we can expect from him in the future.
How did you break into acting? Where did you go to get training?
My first major role was Friday After Next with Ice Cube which feels amazing now that it comes full circle working on the iconic and legendary film Straight Outta Compton with him again. I trained with acting coach Bobby Shaw Chance, I call her my second mother, she birthed me as an actor, and she’s been my acting coach for ten years. We [spent endless time] working together, going on this emotional rollercoaster to make me into the actor I am today.
At a very young age you lost your father, and you were raised by your mother? How did your upbringing contribute to your drive and success?
It played a large part in it. My mother is my superhero. Her example is everything to me. She would wake up 4 o’clock in the morning and not return home until 8 pm. She would have to get up extremely early to catch the train in Rialto to go to work in Los Angeles because we didn’t have a car. To watch a woman do that just to provide for her family gave me the energy and the foresight to know that it takes hard work to succeed. Even now with everything that I am doing I still feel lazy in comparison to her. She still goes back to college to learn and it is just a constant motivation that she gives me through her hard work to continue to do my hard work on this side.
You worked on two breakout films this year,”Dope” and “Straight Outta Compton?” Tell me about your experience working on both those films.
“Dope” was amazing. It was an indie film that we started off with some great talents like Forest Whitaker and Pharrell Williams who both produced the film and the incredible director Rick Famuyiwa, but it was predominantly a cast of unknowns. It was a breakout film at Sundance. The ride just continued after Sony and Open Road bought it; we went to Cannes, and then we were released in theaters in less than seven months I believe. It was an amazing and surprising roller coaster. We knew had something special, but no one expected it to go as fast as it did and change the lives of everyone that participated in the film. People will look back at this film as a [classic].
The same is being said of “Straight Outta Compton.”
This film was another surprise. I don’t believe anyone knew that this film was going to have this impact. We knew we had a great film with F. Gary Gray, Ice Cube, and Dr. Dre involved. We knew we had something great but to have the world respond to it and the box office numbers to go along with it, was amazing. I grew up my first 7 years of my life in Compton, and my sister went to high school with MC Ren, one of the rappers in the group. So I lived in that world during that time, so it definitely held a special place in my heart to be a part of my film.
Did you get a chance to interact with Forest and Pharrell while working on “Dope“?
Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to meet Forest who came to set one time but I was working. I spoke to Pharrell and he now follows me on Instagram, which is exciting. He did invite me to his Grammy party but that [night] crazy he was getting pulled by everyone. But we definitely know each other.
Dope was shot in 25 days; do you feel that enhanced the creative process of creating a film?
I believe so when your back is against the wall, as a director and producer myself, I know when the pressure is on and [dealing with] a lack of finances and time. You easily find yourself in a space where creativity has to overwhelm those disadvantages. So I believe that played a large part in it because a lack of resources forces you to be more creative and to explore, which added to the edge of the film and really connected with the millennials.
“Straight Outta Compton” is now the highest grossing music biopic in history. Do you feel that with the success of this movie, films that feature an all-black cast will find it easier to be given the greenlight?
I would hope so. Films that have a predominately black cast get the bad rap of not having box office power. This film totally changed that. It represents that we do have box office power and if you give us the opportunity we can show those numbers and people will go out and support these films. And not because they are predominately a black cast, this film [should not be seen as just as] a black film, it’s a great film bottom line.
What are your thoughts on the changing landscape for black actors on television and other platforms like Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon, considering the recent Emmy wins of Viola Davis, Regina King, and Uzo Abuda?
[Viola] had the perfect speech for that moment in representing not just black individuals but women as well. I am really happy the way things are going there are more opportunities for people of color to have certain types of roles. I think we have grown socially, and we have become more aware of the adversity [faced by] people of color and [viewers] want a change, and that is finally spilling over in the entertainment business. I think these studios and networks are seeing that they might miss an opportunity to expand on their brand if they don’t make a change in giving consumers what they want.
How was it working with F. Gary Gray? What kind of environment was it like on set?
It was fantastic, along with F. Gary Gray, Dr. Dre was on the set every day, and Ice Cube was in and out because he was shooting “Ride Along“ at the same time. Gray’s direction is in the trenches with you, he is very detailed, he knows what he wants, and he allows the actor to play in his world. It was amazing to see his focus, determination, and passion to make a great film like and that transferred onscreen.
You play Deshauwn May on “Survivor’s Remorse.” Do you encounter individuals like your character in the industry?
(laughs) As crazy as it sounds, yes, you meet individuals that are wild, spontaneous and free. Deshauwn is a wild character, and I love playing him just because of that. It gives me the opportunity to say and do things that I would never do, as my mom would kill me. But yes, there are individuals in the industry that act as my character and it’s funny to me. It’s entertaining and educating because these are the individuals that I base my character on as far as their style of speech and their mannerisms they hold, it’s beautiful. I’m a people watcher, so I’m [constantly] observing and studying everyone.
People watching is the best training ground for an actor.
Yes, it is.
Have you had the chance to interact with your Executive Producer LeBron James? How is like having him as a boss?
I haven’t had the opportunity to meet him. Whenever he was in town, I was out because I was shooting my other TV show “You’re the Worst” at the same time. But I’m sure to get meet him for season three as there have been talks of me coming back in various roles on camera and behind the scenes. So I’m excited for the future for Survivor’s Remorse and my great boss LeBron James (laughs).
Can you relate to the main character, Cam Calloway’s life in the series? How do you deal with fame, success, and family?
Yes, not to the extent of the amount success and the financial burden that he goes through with his family. But you have to deal with individuals that you grew up with feeling entitled and that what’s he deals with a lot. Everybody around him feels entitled to his success, and it’s very tough to deal with that especially with people that you love, and you do want to help, but you don’t want to be a crutch. I have been in those situations early on in my success, and I had to talk seriously to them and say ‘I’m here to help, but I can’t do it for you.’ There’s a big difference between the two.
The second season of “Black-ish” premieres tonight? What can we expect this season and with your character Curtis?
You will be seeing more of me this season, of course, I’m happy about that. This season premiere tonight will be talked about for months, and I think it’s one of those episodes that will be Emmy nominated. I’m just going to put it out there since Emmy’s just concluded. I think this episode is epic because we are dealing with the N-word, which is controversial, but we do a good job at not picking a side, we leave it still in the air, and it’s a subject of a great debate. We put a great spin on it, and it will open the minds of those individuals who see it as a positive or negative word. The season is going to be great, Anthony is amazing, Traci is magical, and I think she is underrated, and the kids are just gems, of course, Laurence Fishbourne brings his wisdom.
What are your thoughts about the N-word and how it relates to the African-American community?
I can’t hide from racial discrimination being a black man in America, no matter if I use the word or not, and I think that’s the real problem. The word is what we can hone in on, but the bigger issue is social inequality. I’ve been in many situations growing up where I was harassed by the police, was got looked upon in a certain because of the way I dressed, and the area where I grew up. I graduated from high school at 16, I was on the honor roll, I was an athlete, and I was a Boy Scout. All the things that they thought of me were totally wrong and not who I am and it just because I was black, I grew up in a rough neighborhood, and I would wear certain clothes. I think that is the bigger issue. The word is something we can focus on rather focusing on the bigger picture.
Tell me about your businesses Get It Done Records, Only Son Productions, and your clothing line Vineyards Phinest? How were you inspired to create these businesses?
Again, my mother inspires me to continue to grow and expand my mind and to always go for my dreams. Get It Done Records is my music company we service a lot of TV shows, networks, and films. We have placements all over like Ray Donovan “House of Lies,” “The Next Three Days,” with Russell Crowe, NBA TV; we are on “The Voice” in Australia, “The Next Top Model” in New Zealand, movies in Germany. We are international, and it’s a great company to establish, I do music, and I write, it’s been a great experience to use my talents and be profitable from it, that’s the goal.
Only Son Productions we just finished our first original action comedy series “Who the F is Uncle Joe?” we shot ten episodes, and we are currently in meetings to find our distribution home. We are in pre-production for my first feature film that is slated to begin next year that is called “Drunk Ideas.” I’m very excited to see how all the companies grow.
The clothing company name, Vineyard’s Phinest, was inspired by where I grew up. I want people to know that if you grow up in a particular neighborhood you can still be great. My life is an example of that, and I always want that to be represented. Where I grew up taught me a strong work ethic, morals, and stability to become who I am. As well as, a portion of the proceeds goes to my charity Demo Nerds.
What led you to create your charity Demo Nerds?
We provide free acting classes for foster kids and at-risk youth in the inner city of Los Angeles. I developed this program three years ago. We have a two-week camp where we teach acting exercises and techniques, and in the last week, we allow them to shoot their own short film. They write, produce, direct it and at the end of the program we hold a red-carpet gala and screening of the film. We invite the press, so they get the full Hollywood experience. We screen in front of their friends, family, and the community. We have several kids attending college to study film-making. The program is not for these kids to become actors, it allows them to express themselves and just be honest and find a way to fight through their adversity. I’m very proud of it.
So if an independent artist, aspiring writer, director or fashion designer wants to work with one of your companies, how would advise them to reach out to you?
I would tell them to visit allenmaldonado.com you can reach me there, as well as, they will find the links to my other companies where they can also reach me.
Your involvement with Mother Against Drunk Driving stems from your experience from being hit by a drunk driver at age 21 about to turn 22; thankfully you survived, how does that continue to impact you today?
I understand that every day can be your last. I was young, and I thought I was invincible. That moment changed my perspective, and I decided to work to the max. I always ask myself if I go at this moment today, can I be honest with myself that I gave it everything to pursue my dreams.
What is your favorite phrase?
It’s a quote and a company that I am currently establishing “Be obsessed with success.” We are creating motivational books for teenagers. It’s a phrase that changed my life.