ESPN Films has produced several award-winning documentaries through their 30 for 30 series. A recent doc entitled “Broke,” focused on millionaire athletes who lose their fortune and fame once their professional careers have ended. As the star of “The Last Fall,” Lance Gross takes on the personal struggle of a former NFL Player who also endures a very similar rise and fall.
The film debuted in Los Angeles earlier this month and will be released on DVD January 15th of 2013. Lance sat with EBONY to talk about the film, his life as an actor, and some of his craziest encounters with fans.
EBONY: Tell me about your role in “The Last Fall.”
Lance Gross: I play an NFL player by the name of Kyle Bishop, who got cut from his NFL team and had to return home to his family. Everyone is under the assumption that he’s well off, after playing professional football. He deals with stressful relationships with his parents as well as his high school sweetheart and love interest Faith Davis, played by Nicole Beharie.
In a nutshell, I’d like to say it’s a love story. It’s about a man’s love for football, his family and his high school sweetheart.
EBONY: What was your preparation like for this film?
LG: I wanted it to be as authentic as possible. I spoke to all my friends that are in the NFL currently, as well as retired players. I also picked the brain of the director Matthew Cherry, whom this story is based on. He had a career in the NFL and got cut. These are basically his life situations that he chose to write about. We broke down the script a lot, and I got a ton of notes from him. I was in the gym practically every day trying to put on muscle mass. I wanted NFL players to watch this and feel like I’d blend in with the people that they know and train with.
EBONY: What did you find most challenging with this role?
LG: Kyle is very stressed out throughout the movie. It’s kinda like a push/pull [effect] and just pulling that emotion and making it real, was probably the most challenging thing for me. Oh, and also putting on that muscle mass to look like a football player [laughs].
EBONY: You’ve been fortunate to do quite a bit throughout your career. Give me an idea of what your journey’s been like thus far.
LG: For me, it’s always been about hard work. I believe it always pays off and you get what you work for. I went to Howard University and majored in Film Production and minored in Acting. I turned down an opportunity to go pro in Track & Field to do this – I took a chance with this. I just worked non-stop and studied a lot. I met Tyler Perry and we did “House of Payne” and a movie. We’ve done a couple other films since then, but it all boils down to the work. I’m a work-a-holic, which is why I think that I’ve been successful. If you tell me no, I’ll work even harder!
EBONY: Have you ever had any regrets about not pursuing your Track career professionally?
LG: I ran the 4x400m and my specialty event was the Long Jump, but I haven’t had any regrets at all. I’m doing what I love and I honestly couldn’t picture myself running track for the rest of my life. I could’ve gotten injured or who knows what else could’ve happened, so I think I made the right decision.
EBONY: What’s been your most fulfilling moment as an actor?
LG: I’d say it was hearing my mom’s voice once I told her that I booked a real job on a TV show. She’s a big Tyler Perry fan, so she was really excited when she found out that I’d be the star of the show. It was sort of a confirmation, in her eyes, that I was doing my thing.
Going back to college, my parents were always worried with my pursuits of becoming an actor. They’d love for me to be an accountant or something like that, but once I booked that gig it was like, “ok, we can trust him.” [laughs]
EBONY: What’s been your craziest encounter with a fan?
LG: Aww man [laughs]. I’ve had some crazy things happen, but I think it was an incident with two identical twins that were practically fighting over me. They were on some, “we’ll share you” type of stuff. I’ve only seen that in “He Got Game,” so it was like I was living out a movie [laughs].
As far as Twitter, you’ll always get the obvious sexual advances. It’s like when a person’s behind a computer, they have no filter [laughs]. I think whatever the first thing that pops in their head, they’ll type it [laughs].
EBONY: [Laughs] So, what is that like? You decide to take this leap of faith and pursue this career and go from Lance the track star at Howard University, to Lance Gross the movie star? Describe that type of lifestyle change.
LG: You’ve definitely gotta know what you’re signing up for when entering this industry, because once you’ve entered and become successful, there’s really no going back to “normal” life. You can – but there’s always gonna be that one person that recognizes you. You’ve gotta be willing to give up some of your privacy, but I knew what I was getting myself in to. I love it! I love everyone that supports me and things can get wild at times, but my parents raised me to be grounded and to always remain humble. I think that’s one of the main reasons that my fans support me.
It’s rare that I turn down a photo or autograph, because these are the people that support me, so why not support them. I love it and I invite it. I love what I do and the whole “celebrity” life and all that [laughs]. It’s cool!
EBONY: Give a little advice to other aspiring actors.
LG: I would tell them that hard work pays! At the end of the day, if you put in the work, you’re going to get results. The more work you put in, the better the results will be. You’re going to get ‘no’s’ – I get ‘no’s,’ everybody get’s ‘no’s’. Denzel’s gotten his ‘no’s,’ but now he’s at the point where he’s getting more ‘yes’ than ‘no’s’… You’ve gotta grind, man. You’ve gotta study and set goals. After you’ve accomplished those goals, you immediately replace them with new goals, so you’re always striving for something.
EBONY: Out of everything you’ve done, what’s been your most memorable role so far?
LG: It’d probably be working on “Our Family Wedding,” with Forest Whitaker. I’ve been watching him since I was a little kid! This is a couple years off of him winning an Oscar, so I was fearful of working with him because I didn’t know what to expect. He could’ve been the biggest [expletive] in the world, but when I met him, he was so cool and very willing to make me feel comfortable. He actually took me to a Lakers game during one of our first meetings, and I’m a HUGE Lakers fan!
The entire experience was probably my most memorable so far. Just sharing the screen with Forest Whitaker] was one of my favorite moments and roles so far. It was something I wasn’t used to, since I had been working with Tyler Perry for so long. Working with Rick Famuyiwa, who directed the film, was so different and I love all of his films. So, I’d definitely say that working on that role was the best to date.
EBONY: So what’s next for Lance Gross?
LG: Right now, I’m auditioning and I’m in talks for a couple different roles on some new shows that are coming out. I’ve got a film coming out next year called “The Marriage Counselor.” It comes out March 29th, I believe, starring Brandy, Jurnee Smollett, & Vanessa Williams. I’m out here grindin’ it out. I’ve got a bright future ahead of me [laughs].
Steve Rivers has contributed to The Source, ESPN Rise and a host of other online publications. Follow him on Twitter: @TheKidSkoob.