Cali-born actor Allen Maldonado is aiming for his career to closely mimic the career of Leonardo DiCaprio – who he is a huge fan of. The only difference, he says with a laugh, is he’d like to win more Oscars than his favourite actor.
Whether you recognize his name or not, you’re bound to recognize his face as it is seen regularly on the controversial television sitcom “Black-ish”, and he’s shared the screen time with the likes of Denzel Washington (The Equalizer) and Jennifer Aniston (CAKE). Although Maldonado is aware of Hollywood’s penchant for pigeon holing, he doesn’t allow it to affect his choice of roles.
In fact, Maldonado even keeps it versatile off-screen as well – launching businesses like Get It Done Records, Only Son Productions and t-shirt line Vineyards Phinest and giving back to the community through his foundation, Demo Nerds, which provides free acting classes for youth in underserved LA communities.
Now, he gets to put his Californian upbringing to use, playing Tone in the highly anticipated biopic Straight Outta Compton directed by F. Gary Gray – an experience he says has had “an amazing effect” on his life.
Compton was going through a lot and what N.W.A represented was the voice of what was going on. People weren’t happy to hear that this was happening in America and they really wanted to shun the idea of someone talking about it.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT ACTING THAT YOU LOVE? It’s creating something from nothing man. I’m the Rubik’s Cube guy. I’m the guy that loves to play with things and figure it out until I have it down pat. Acting is the perfect world for me to live in. Each character has deep emotions, deep things that you have to figure out. Not what they are saying, but why they are saying it. There are so many reasons and so many directions on how a life can change in a moment.
HOW DO YOU MAKE THE SWITCH FROM ROLE TO ROLE? I try my best to make everything in life simple. I was once told if you know something you should be able to explain it in one word. When it comes to acting, for me, that word is perspective. We all could have been different individuals. But the way we perceive things in life have moulded us into who we are. So with each character I don’t have to figure out how to be a human. It’s not like I’m playing something I have no relatability to. All I need is to understand the perspective of the character or individual that I need to portray. I don’t have to be a killer to try and understand the perspective of a killer. It’s easy to become a serial killer if our life up to this point was different.
To work with the icon Dr. Dre was just an amazing experience and to have him come up to me and say he was a fan of my work was just humbling for a young kid coming from Rialto.
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON IS GOING TO BE BIG IN THE HIP-HOP WORLD. WERE YOU A FAN OF N.W.A GROWING UP? My sister went to high school with MC Ren, man. The first six years of my life I grew up in Compton and then we moved to Rialto. My sister’s best friend was neighbours with Suge Knight’s mom. It was like I was surrounded by these individuals (from N.W.A). That lifestyle and what they were talking about, I’ve seen it all. (I saw) the violence and I saw the community lashing out at the police at the time. That’s why we moved. My neighbour was killed, her home was ransacked. It was a home invasion and they killed her – an elderly lady.
Compton was going through a lot and what N.W.A represented was the voice of what was going on. People weren’t happy to hear that this was happening in America and they really wanted to shun the idea of someone talking about it. They were simply prophesying, as in a year or two after the album dropped there were the riots and all this backlash and different things like that. To be a part of the film and be a part of that culture and that area during the actual event means the world to me.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE WORKING ON THIS FILM WITH INDIVIDUALS LIKE ICE CUBE, DR. DRE AND EVEN DIRECTOR F. GARY GRAY? The first film I ever did was Friday After Next so it was kinda like full circle to work with Ice Cube again and to work with the icon Dr. Dre was just an amazing experience and to have him come up to me and say he was a fan of my work was just humbling for a young kid coming from Rialto … Ice Cube and Dr. Dre were more on the production side of things and they made sure things were in line with the authenticity of the film. The crazy thing about it was that everyone who was a part of N.W.A was there. Not Eazy-E, of course, but DJ Yella was there, MC Ren, everybody was there and they would put their two cents in as far as what was really happening. But F. Gary Gray was a phenomenal director. He is so meticulous as far as what he wants and what he needs, but allows you the freedom as an actor.
I was surrounded by what most people say was the underbelly of society. My testimony is always that those rough individuals were the ones telling me not to sell drugs and not to get involved with gang banging.
WHAT CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT TONE, YOUR CHARACTER IN STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON? Tone is more or less like the individuals I grew up around. He plays a large part in influencing Eazy-E to stop selling drugs. He’s at the end of his rope as far as the life choices he’s made and wondering how long he can stand being a part of this gang. Tone is inspired by the individuals that I grew up around [who] were involved in drug dealing and different things. So I was able to pull from that.
WHAT DRIVES YOUR PASSION FOR PHILANTHROPY WORK? Again, where I’m from and where I grew up. I was surrounded by what most people say was the underbelly of society. My testimony is always that those rough individuals were the ones telling me not to sell drugs and not to get involved with gang banging. They kept me away from a lot of stuff and they prevented and protected me. So for me, it’s me giving that back. They chose to save me and give me a direction, some knowledge and some wisdom. I hope to help some kid in the same position that I was in that needed some type of direction. An individual that would say, ‘You know what you’re special.’ Those things go a long way in a child’s life. So I plan and look forward to doing more and more philanthropic work. And letting that grow and expand as my career blossoms.