Laz Alonso: Acting on principle
BY KIMBERLY BAILEY-TUREAUD
Now among the stars of the new NBC drama “Deception,” Laz Alonso has long been a familiar face to filmgoers who have enjoyed his work in movies that range from “Stomp the Yard,” “Jump the Broom” and “This Christmas,” to “Fast & Furious” and “Avatar.”
Born to Afro-Cuban parents in Washington, D.C., Alonso’s commitment to his craft has made him one of Hollywood’s most sought-after black actors. His newest project finds him performing opposite actress Meagan Good; the pair portray undercover agents whose personal relationship complicates their quest for the truth in a high-stakes murder case.
“We are trying to find out who killed a socialite from a very wealthy family in the pharmaceutical industry,” said Alonso, 38. “All the characters in the series are deceiving each other — and that includes my character and Meagan Good’s character, who I am desperately in love with. Every episode gives you a new revelation to the deception being played out. You might find yourself falling in love with a particular character in the series, and in the next episode they let you down. Or you might come to hate a character, and then they do something good that makes you love them. The series is so exciting and always keeps viewers on their toes.”
With the success of the ABC series “Scandal” (starring Kerry Washington) and the imminent return of Arsenio Hall to late-night as just two examples, television seems to be on the cusp of a new renaissance in terms of diversity. Alonso welcomes these developments, and sees more opportunities on the horizon for African-American life to be portrayed in a more nuanced fashion.
“It is great that NBC and television as a whole is casting African-Americans as leads at the forefront of shows that they really, really support,” he said. “I love the fact that ‘Deception’ is written so well — and not just written for African-Americans — and deals with real-life issues. My character is madly in love with Meagan Good’s character. We were former lovers in the series, and everyone can relate to that. My character lost her at one point of their relationship, and is now on the verge of getting her back. The more he tries to get her back, at times he pushes her away. These are things that any man who’s been in love can relate to. Women also know that the harder you love, more insecurity comes into play in relationships.”
He added: “It’s a beautiful place where we are now in television, and I think the film industry can use television as a role model to learn from. Black love is displayed in movies like ‘Jumping the Broom’ and other black films, but there is still more that can be shown. It is great that television is leading the way in showing that black love is beautiful, and it is something that can be seen and embraced by the masses. It is the new normal. Once black love is seen, written well, and presented in the media, it’s no longer looked upon as just black love, but just love. Everyone can see and connect with love, and the feelings of the characters and what they are going through at a particular moment.”
When he pursued higher education, Alonso did not venture far from home: He is a graduate of Howard University in Washington, D.C., which gave him a deep appreciation of the historically black college and university (HBCU) experience. Those memories, he said, take on particular resonance during Black History Month.
“It was great going back to Howard University this past year as grand marshal of their homecoming parade,” he said. “I got the chance to hang out with President Obama, other alumni and faculty at the celebration. When I was asked about my HBCU experience, I told them that I can name tangible things — which included being hired for my first substantial job because I [had] Howard University on my resume — and how Howard prepared for the world. I also received many intangibles from Howard, that I believe exist at Spelman, Morehouse and other HBCUs. I would describe the primary intangible as a hunger, an appetite to succeed and to rise in whatever discipline I desired. You can’t quantify it on a piece of paper and you can’t get it in a diploma. During my four years at Howard University, this was something that was embedded into my psyche and DNA. As an HBCU graduate, this is something we all carry proudly. We have a camaraderie, and we can feel it when we cross paths with one another.”
As the conversation turns to the heroes whose accomplishments are celebrated during Black History Month, Alonso acknowledges that one historical figure looms large when he looks for inspiration in his own life.
“Muhammad Ali is someone who gives me inspiration, because he stood on principle,” he said. “I had the opportunity to see him one time while going up an escalator at Hollywood and Highand Avenue in L.A. He was going down the escalator with an entourage while I was going up. I could not hide my face that was full of excitement, and he saw that I was in shock from seeing him. He just smiled and pointed at me and we both slapped each other’s hands. I just said, ‘Thank you man.’ Muhammad Ali is one of those iconic figures who stood on principle, that is very rare to find these days. He loved his people more than he loved himself and his career. He took every sacrifice to stand on principle. He is the definition of courage. I have a huge six-foot-by-five-foot poster of Muhammad Ali in my home. He inspires me to always push hard, be brave and never compromise.”