Larenz Tate is focused—on his purpose, his path and his career.
Some of us were first acquainted with the Chicago-bred actor in his breakthrough role as street thug O-Dog in 1993’s Menace II Society, or may have swooned for him in films like Love Jones (1997) and Why Do Fools Fall in Love (1998). Well, Larenz Tate is back, on the small screen this time in the role of Malcolm (actor Don Cheadle’s brother) on the Showtime comedy, House of Lies.
When he’s not acting, he can be found honing his new passion as a video director (most recently for Melanie Fiona’s “Wrong Side of a Love Song”). Larenz Tate chats with EBONY.com about his new role, a Love Jones sequel and Chief Keef.
EBONY: Nowadays, you play Don Cheadle’s brother, Malcolm, on House of Lies. How has your experience been joining the new cast?
Larenz Tate: It’s been great, I just love the show. I had been a fan of the show already. Don and I are good friends but we never spoke about me being on the show. I wasn’t going to be the dude like, “Come on, man, put me on the show!” but it all worked out. It’s been a great process. I don’t watch a lot of shows, but House of Lies is something I watched. It’s interesting because Don randomly called me when I was walking into a meeting in New York, like, “Yo, I want you on the show.”
From there, I got a chance to sit down with the writers and producers to discuss the character of Malcolm. I just love the fact that Malcolm is the brother that everybody loves and gets along with except for Don’s character. His professional life and professional world is the polar opposite of mine. My world and my lifestyle is a proactive person in the community. He’s the guy that’s organizing and picketing corporations and big banks. They have a long history of sibling rivalry. It causes more of a conflict, and it’s just adding fuel to the fighting, which means great writing and great acting.
EBONY: You started in television before transitioning into film. Which do you prefer?
LT: What I’ve learned is, you can do both. At one time I felt as though you had to do one or the other. I’ve gotten different types of opportunities in television, but in film I get the same stuff. You’ve seen me do those characters already. That’s been the biggest difference: television is more diverse. It makes no sense to do it again if it’s not going to be a sequel or something better. For me, I’ve been able to get better opportunities to find more challenges to things that spark my creativity as an actor on television.
EBONY: Do you have any projects in the works where you may be headed back to the big screen?
LT: Nia Long (also on House of Lies) and I have been talking about doing a movie on the same realm of Love Jones. Or is there a way for us to do a sequel but let the story be a standalone story? So you still have the same characters going through similar elements but you don’t have to see the first one to know that this is a solid movie. We are just trying to align the planets to make sure this can happen. We’d like to revisit the Darius Lovehall character and Nina Mosley. If things work out, than we will try to get to that sometime this year.
We’re marveled by the fact that people still love our chemistry. People still want to see us do movies together or roles together, and we just sit back and we’re blown away. We knew we had something different and special, but we never knew it would be a classic, something that’s iconic. That wasn’t even in the cards. Our chemistry is natural, we’re compatible.
EBONY: You recently directed Melanie Fiona’s video “Wrong Side of a Love Song.” How was that?
LT: It was magic, which made my job a lot easier. All I had to do was sit back and tell the story. She and I went back and forth on the concept that would bring the song to life. I’m looking to produce more stuff: TV shows, commercials, music videos and short films. I’m building my catalog so I can have some fun in between the times that I get to a movie. I approach film no differently than I approach a role. I want to make sure the movie is right, the characters are right, I can really bring something to it as a visionary, a storyteller. It’s great to point a camera, but can you tell a story?
EBONY: I know you’re originally from Chicago. How devastating has the gun violence been for you and your family?
LT: I spend a lot of time in Chicago. It has changed a lot. I have young family members who are in the communities, and I like to make sure they’re on point and getting involved within the community. Sometimes when I come back, they feel as though I’m preaching. They say “You’re in California, you aren’t experiencing the same things.” And I took heed to that. Instead of talking and preaching, I started listening to find out why things are the way they are. Once we start listening more to one another, we can figure out what some of those solutions are.
All these deaths are senseless. I’m doing something in Los Angeles with California Community Foundation, and we’re looking to expand to Chicago. It’s called B.L.O.O.M: Building a Lifetime of Options and Opportunities for Men. These young men have been a part of the probation system. Once they come out from juvenile hall and are 15, 16, it’s hard for them to get re-re-acclimated. What we’re trying to do is refocus these men and get them to the right path.
EBONY: How do you feel about Chief Keef, who promotes a culture of violence?
LT: I go further than people such as Chief Keef, I go to the people that are getting behind the message of Chief Keef. He’s a young individual expressing himself the way young individuals do. The corporations that are getting behind that movement, I have a bigger issue with them. No one is trying to peel back that layer to see if there’s more to him than that. Let’s see if they cut him a check for doing something slightly different than the issues that he talks about so it doesn’t look like he’s celebrating the violence. I wonder if a corporation will get behind that.
Kimberly N. Wilson is a NYC-based entertainment writer and digital strategist. She’s a graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, and completed her JD at the Howard University School of Law. Follow her on Twitter @kimberlynatasha.