|Lance Gross: The Last Fall & Tyler Perry|
Interview by Briege McGarrity and Nicole Holland
Award-winning actor Lance Gross discovered his talent for acting after graduating on a full track & field scholarship from Howard University. The Oakland, Californian native took acting classes at The Ivana Chubbuck Studio as well as the Tasha Smith Acting Studio, and landed the role of Calvin Payne in “Tyler’s Perry’s House of Payne.” Gross has gone on to snag leading roles in feature films such as “Meet the Browns,” “Our Family Wedding,” “The Last Fall” and most recently “Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor” which hits theaters in March.
IFQ had the pleasure of catching up with Gross, a charismatic, happy, competitive man who is serious about his craft. Gross talks about his love for sports, shares his personal take on the advantages and disadvantages of the NFL, and we get a peek at his transition from athlete to life as an Atlanta-based actor working alongside Tyler Perry and collaborating with a host of A- listers.
Independent Film Quarterly (IFQ): How did you land the role in “The Last Fall”?
Lance Gross (LG): The director Matt Cherry and I happen to have a lot of mutual friends but only knew each other indirectly. He approached me with the script and offered me the role. He told me about it and asked me if I would be interested in reading it. I said I would read it and let him know and that‘s really how it all unfolded.
IFQ: What are your thoughts on your NFL character Kyle Bishop?
LG: I like to call “The Last Fall” a love story that evolves around Kyle Bishop. I believe Kyle is a very passionate person. It’s about his love for football, family and his high school sweetheart.
IFQ: How did you prepare for the role?
LG: I was a track and field athlete with a full scholarship to Howard University and offered a pro contract. I felt like this was something I could do physically; it was a no brainer. My fear was to have somebody from the NFL watch this movie on the screen and not be able to relate to the person and athlete that I was. So I picked a lot of people’s brains - mostly Matt Cherry’s. Really this is Matt’s story, he was in the NFL and got cut so this was a true experience. I spent a lot of time breaking down the script and picking Matt’s brain. I also talked to producer Ellis Hobbs who was also in the NFL. I spoke to anyone who was in the NFL, retired from the NFL or knew anything about players the NFL. I did my research.
Also I was in the gym a lot. I had to get back into great shape; I wanted to put on a more muscle mass. I wanted to look like a football player so that was my preparation for this role.
IFQ: What do you look for in a script?
LG: I look for a script that will move me. I look for a script that challenges me. When I read this script, I thought this character was perfect for me. No one had seen me in a role that demanded the range of emotions that Kyle Bishop goes through in this film. It hooked me in the first 10 pages. This script was a page-turner; it was very entertaining and I learned a lot.
IFQ: The film states that 78% of professional footballers are divorced, bankrupt or unemployed 2 years after leaving the game. What was your reaction after learning this?
LG: Wow! My reaction was that I’m guilty of being one of those people who assumed that if you were in the NFL you were well off. I am a fan of the NFL, but didn’t know the breakdown of the contracts and how they don’t actually have guaranteed contracts. I didn’t know about the percentages. I was learning as I read this script and had a lot of questions for Matthew afterwards.
IFQ: Why do you think this happens to the majority of former NFL players?
LG: I believe that it has a lot to do with poor money management. You get these large sums of money. I’m from Oakland, California and I’m from the hood and we dream big in the hood. There were a lot of things we couldn’t afford. I am not saying I grew up poor because I didn’t, but my parents just felt like some things weren’t necessary. For me it was Jordans. I used to see Jordans and fantasize about having a pair, but my parents would never agree to spend the money for them. [Laughs.] So when I made it (if you will), I just started buying Jordans. I am a Jordan collector now. I probably have every Jordan you can think of. It’s a serious thing. I feel like it stemmed from not having things as a kid.
So when athletes get these $50,000 or $100,000 lump sum checks, they feel they need to buy the things they dreamed of. It may be jewelry, cars or buying your mother a home. But some don’t have the money management skills to plan financially for the future or to save for their kids.
They forget about putting away money for a rainy day. They forget you have to pay Uncle Sam, your manager, agents, assistants, so many people have their hands out. Now you have less than half of this $100,000 check. I believe poor money management is the root cause of a lot of their problems.
IFQ: On the opposite end of the spectrum, you turned down the opportunity to become a Pro Track and Field athlete to pursue acting, why?
LG: For me, I had been running track consistently from the first grade to my graduation from Howard University. It was pretty much all I knew as far as the sports world. But when I got the scholarship to go to Howard, it started to feel like a chore. It was something that I had to do. It became a job, and I started to lose the love of doing it. I always loved track and field, followed it and one of my best friends is an Olympian. However, I couldn’t see myself waking up every day going to run as a profession. I saw things differently after I graduated. I was always passionate about acting and felt it was a perfect opportunity to start anew and work my way up. I don’t regret my decision at all. There has never been a day that I regretted it. Sometimes I do wake up and miss running. With acting it’s the same competition, you compete to get these roles. I am very happy.
IFQ: You are mostly known as Calvin Payne in Tyler Perry’s “House of Payne” and also the film “Meet the Browns.” Tyler Perry Studios is located an Atlanta – what is the TV and acting scene like there?
LG: About 5 years ago if an actor asked me where to go to pursue his/her acting career, I would say New York or preferably LA especially for film and television. But now my advice would be, if you have the time, get your feet wet in Atlanta, build up your resume. It’s crazy how much Atlanta has grown for the TV and film industry. Tyler Perry Productions is shot out there, Will Packer’s production company Rainforest Films is in Atlanta. It’s growing. I like to say it’s a baby Hollywood; it’s on its way. It has got to grow a little bit more, but it is a good place to start.
IFQ: You are in the new film “Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor” scheduled for release in 2013. Tell us about it?
LG: It hits theaters March 29th, 2013. It stars myself, Jurnee Smollett, Vanessa Williams and Brandy Norwood. Working on this project was great. I was already comfortable working with Tyler Perry. I kind of know the things that he wants – so it’s comfortable. I remember seeing Jurnee for the first time in “Eve’s Bayou.” I watched her career and we are close in age. I enjoy her work; she is talented and takes her craft very seriously. I play her husband. The film is really about a wife who is unfaithful and a husband who is trying his hardest to save his marriage. There’s a huge lesson in the film. All Tyler Perry films have great lessons. I think audiences will really enjoy this film. It was an honor to work on it.
IFQ: Recently we saw you in Lifetime’s “Steel Magnolias.” What was it like working with the award-winning cast, Queen Latifah, Phylicia Rashad, Alfre Woodard and Jill Scott?
LG: Just being part of the history of this film. We made history doing it with an all African American cast. It was big shoes to fill. I was honored to have my role even though it was a small one, and I appreciated each day I was on set. I was actually nervous to work with Queen Latifah. She started in rap and now she is this huge super star. But Queen, she was a joy. She was one of the “homies.” She made me feel comfortable. She was cool and down to earth. I would come home from set and “The Cosby Show” would be on syndication so working with Phylicia was the icing on the cake. It was like working with Bill Cosby; they’re on the same plain for me. Alfre Woodward, she was so funny and just kept me laughing and so cool. I love Jill Scott. She was so nice to me, she has a warm spirit and very cool to be around. Working with this cast was great.
Also, the director Kenny Leon is a legend in the film world and the world of plays. He does all of the August Wilson stuff. I have had a great deal of respect for him for a while, so being able to get direction from him was amazing for me.
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