Laz Alonso is one of Hollywood’s brightest stars. The former Wall Street analyst is living his dream on the big screen—one blockbuster at a time, including Jumping the Broom, Fast and Furious and Avatar.
During a recent stop at the New Life Covenant Church with Pastor John Hannah in Chicago, the Cuban-American heartthrob shared his faith walk to Hollywood, dealing with rejection, how he remains disciplined and grounded as well as encouragement to single moms.
JET: Why did you study business and not theater?
Laz Alonso: I would have gotten my butt beat (laughs). My four years at Howard University, I had a business major with marketing and finance as my concentration. I was able to discover what I’m good at without the pressure and distractions of someone telling me what I can’t do. By the time I got to Wall Street—an environment that was all about you can’t—nobody could tell me nothin’. Living in a single home, you grow up very quickly. I knew that by studying business it would help me put food on the table and help my mom. I love when Tupac said it feels good to put money in her mailbox in “Dear Mama.” I always wanted to know how it feels and I’ve been putting money in her mailbox for 20 years.
JET: What advice would you give to single moms raising boys?
LA: My mom did everything from video recoding to catering to housekeeping to put food on the table. As a child, I never knew we were poor, because I didn’t know the struggles we went through. About five years ago, I had a man-to-woman conversation with my mom—not son-to-mother, but man-to-woman. All this time, I never knew that my mom questioned if she was a good enough mom, because I thought I showed it. To the single moms: as long as you do your best, don’t doubt yourself. Your children will see it—in their heart, they will always feel the sacrifice that you make. Keep doing what you do and the child will know it. Just know that’s all that matters to children. I never verbalized that you are and were my biggest blessing that God could have ever given me.
JET: Was your father around when you were growing up?
LA: My father was an alcoholic. I saw early the effects of what drugs and alcohol could do to a family because it broke up our family. They never fought except over alcohol. I saw how something so unnecessary could break up two people that were completely compatible. My father taught me a tremendous lesson because in Hollywood you get presented with a lot of temptation. You gotta rely on your faith and your inner strength and say ‘I’m gonna’ be alright without that.’ Some of my best jobs came after my biggest failures.
JET: How did you transition from Wall Street into acting?
LA: I was making money in Wall Street, but God said you’re making the money, but are you happy? No, I was miserable. It was a guaranteed paycheck, but my heart wasn’t there. I took one acting class and started auditioning. Wall Street had me working sometimes 90 hours a week—without going home to shower. I figured out a way to continue to make work around it. So me and my boys started a marketing company—that’s how I met Munson Steed. It afforded me the opportunity to audition more because I was my own boss. I believed in myself and walked away from Wall Street. Often times I worked for free at Source Magazine, Nike and treated it like a paid job. One thing people will not turn down is free labor. From that I got contacts, references and nine times out of 10 they offered me a job because there was value.
JET: When did you get your first real break?
LA: I didn’t have one big break…I had a series of small breaks that kept me going. When you build a house, you build it brick by brick … so that when it breaks, that house won’t fall. That’s how I would describe my career. You will never get to the next level unless you put 100 percent of every molecular cell, belief and faith—I’m not just talking mental—we are spiritual beings having a physical experience. I know this level is temporary … because God is in control. My first break was on BET as a VJ for 2 years and it opened up the doors for me to go to California.
JET: When did you realize that you are responsible for your success?
LA: You go through periods where you do blame the world. But I’m trusting that God has me exactly where He wants me. God is always speaking, but we are not always listening…I still struggle sometimes. But I trust that God has a reason that it’s usually bigger than what you wanted. When I got Avatar, I had just been let go from a show that was picked up for ABC. They hired the entire cast but me. I saw the contract and how much I would have made and said ‘really God?’ But less than three months later, I got a call that I was one of three people out of 3,000 that the director saw worldwide for that role in Avatar. When I got that call, I knew that’s why I didn’t get the ABC job…that moment I knew it was mine.
JET: How did you stay disciplined?
LA: You have to something in your life that you’re disciplined for. If I didn’t have my mom to take care for-–I would have probably been a hot mess. I delayed my gratification, I didn’t get the big house first—I got her a house. When your motivation isn’t you…that’s when the blessings will pour in. You tithe money, time…you tithe period. In prayer, it was revealed that in order for me to continue to be blessed I have to give bigger—my mom is not just enough—I have to give to others. This year, I became way more active in my community. I believe 100-percent that you are blessed to be a blessing. I no longer fear lows because God has never let me down. Although I love the highs, but I don’t take them granted. Life has seasons. You can’t judge your life on anybody else’s season. I’ve had moments my face is on the billboards and bus stops, then there are others on the billboards. I have to focus on my season and what God wants me to learn right now. If I was promoting something—I wouldn’t have time to learn because you’re busy doing interviews, you don’t even have time for your family. When you are going through a lull—ask what do you want me to learn. He is giving you a minute to speak to you because He’s saying I need you …we need Him, but He needs us. That’s the time when the best information comes—you grow the most, you become strongest in faith and you rely on it the most.
About Effie Rolfe
Effie Rolfe is a media consultant, personality and speaker. For years, she was the “voice of inspiration” each Sunday morning and middays on Chicago radio. She also speaks at schools, churches and workshops. Effie writes for several publications and is the author of The K(N)ots Prayer. Visit her Website effierolfe.com; like her on mseffierolfe.com and follow her via @effiedrolfe.