Allen Maldonado on running the race that lead him to lead new Netlfix series Sneakerheads, the hard work that drives his creativity in the writers room and in front of the camera, plus his appreciation for short films and building a platform to celebrate their makers.
For most in the film and television industry, the arrival of Covid-19 has been a disastrous event that has ground productions to a halt and taken the wind out of an untold number of projects in pre-production and development. While that may also be the case for actor, writer, filmmaker, entrepreneur and charity founder Allen Maldonado, it also enforced a much needed break for the star of The Last O.G. and new Netflix series Sneakerheads.
"It's been amazing. For the past five years I've been working nonstop. I was working on four TV shows, writing for two of them, developing an entire network, shooting a short film every month while running all of my other businesses at the same time. When the world shut down for a little bit, I was actually able to breathe, reset, reconnect with myself. As crazy as it may sound, this has been the longest I've been myself for the past five years.
"I rediscovered my love for running. This is something that I'm very passionate about. I have a running crew called Knees Out Coalition and we've been doing monthly challenges during this quarantine. For all my runners out there, if you want to get down with us, it's pretty cool because my approach on this is a little different, I approach running for mental growth rather than the physical. Now, you're going to get the physical results just as a byproduct, but my main focus is on the mental aspect and the meditation that comes with running. That's been my therapy and my relief during this quarantine to combat all the stress and how the world has been turned upside down during this process.
"The quarantine was a blessing for me. If you take the time to really evaluate yourself, especially when you're quarantining, you've got to ask yourself serious questions about, 'What do I do for me without the world pressuring me to do other things?' Hopefully, that's what people have gotten out of it. Of course, it's been a financial strain for people who can't go to work and all of these things, but the benefit is this was an opportunity for everybody to look at themselves and deal with themselves."
With all that said, Maldonado had already begun to approach his life/work balance in a different way before quarantine began, inspired in no small part by a visit to Europe for filming.
"I went to Spain last year for the first time to do a movie called American Carnage. That'll be out next year, I believe. It really changed my life. I just love the culture there and the people. For me, I came from the projects, and I've worked extremely hard to obtain the things that I've obtained. It's always been from the position of living to work. Every day it was work, work, work. In Spain, it really was the opposite. People work to live, to live your life and enjoy your life, having fun and true happiness within that. Work was just a means to maintain that happiness rather than the purpose or the lifeblood of your happiness."
One thing that has made Maldonado very happy since then is taking on the lead role in new series Sneakerheads. The series follows the trials and tribulations of Devin, a former sneakerhead turned stay-at-home dad who finds himself deep in debt after falling for the crazy scheme of an old friend. To get his money back, the at-odds duo go on the hunt for the most elusive kicks in the game. It's a first lead role for the actor.
"Oh my God, it's a dream come true. I've been at this for a long time. My name isn't a household name, but I've been in everybody's household for the past 20 years. People have recognised me in different shows. I started with one line on a show, let's say, 20 years ago when I first started. To get to this level and get to that position, it's a total honour and a testament to the longevity that it takes to be an overnight success.
"People often forget that it takes so many years to get that moment, and this is the time. This is the time for it. Excited to have been a leader to these incredible actors that were on the show. Andrew Bachelor was a blessing to work opposite and share his genius. I believe he's a comedic genius with everything that he does. I tell it to him all the time.
"I usually play those roles so I actually handpicked him because I really wanted someone that I trusted being that for me where I'm the straight man. In order for me to be the best straight man, I have to have someone that can be just as good and funny, that's going to carry the funny, and he was the perfect guy for it. I'm excited for people to see his work and see his performance. I'm so proud of what he was able to do on screen, and I think people are going to see him in a different light from the show."
Despite it being a first lead role, and one that differed in style from those he had played in recent shows such as Black-ish and The Last O.G., Maldonado was more than ready to pick up the mantle of series lead.
"I've danced between comedy and drama: The Equalizer, Straight Outta Compton, Cake with Jennifer Aniston. All of these films, those were all dramas. Then you go to Black-ish, Survivor's Remorse, You're the Worst, all of these shows that I've done that are on the comedic side. I like to attach every role from an actor's perspective, meaning that whatever that character needs me to be, I'm allowed to do it. Playing the straight man on the show, it was just another form of the art and just really diving into the position and the perspective of this character that, if I can make it believable, then the jokes will come automatically.
"I've been wanting this for the past 20 years. I've been working towards this. It's not like I went from zero to 100. I went from one, two, three, four, five. I hit every number. For me to go to lead, I was already at 99, so I was 99 to 100. I was ready to go because this has been a marathon, and that's part of why I love running and the symbolism of what marathons are. To me, it's a reflection of my career. I've been consistent, and I've been steady. I've been staying strong all the way through, and that's what it takes for longevity in this business.
In addition to starring in The Last O.G. opposite Tracy Morgan, Maldonado also had the opportunity to join the writers room on the show.
"It was amazing to be able to express my art in a different form. I give a shout out to my mentor, rest in peace, Michael Kane who wrote All the Right Moves for Tom Cruise. He taught me how to write, and he put me under his wing at 17 years old. I helped him with several scripts throughout the years, and I held that in my back pocket for a long time until I met Kenya Barris, who is the creator of Black-ish. Because Michael Kane was a 60 year-old white man, I never saw myself in that position, as crazy as that may sound. It wasn't until I met Kenya, a person that looks like me, sounds like me, come from similar backgrounds, in that position that I thought, 'Oh wow, I could be a writer too'.
"After meeting him, I began to write for the show Survivor's Remorse with the blessing of Mike O'Malley, who is another mentor of mine and just an incredible human being, who allowed me to join the writers' room after being an actor on the show for season two. It was a blessing, and it was one of those things where opportunity meets preparation. All those years of writing with Michael, I was prepared to go in for the writers' room, and as green as I was, I still had the information and knowledge to succeed, even though I'd never been in the room."
Now armed with the experience of the writers room and being an actor in front of the camera, does he find one of these elements helpful in informing the other?
"Yes. It's the idea of a player coach. Not only am I on the battlefield, but I'm in the preparation of the battlefield. I'm in the war room, so I know everything inside and out. When it comes to being out on the battlefield, I always tell actors this, the more information you have, the better you are. The person that wins the war is the most prepared. The person who has all of the information knows what's going around, knows all the turns. All of these different things are the variables. You're prepared for anything that is thrown your way, no matter what it is. That's what it feels like being a writer and the actor on a show."
Whether it's writing, acting, directing or even making music - he also has an EP coming out soon - it's all about creating for Maldonado. One thing that is universal for him, whichever path he's on, is he works at it as hard as he can.
"I'm an artist. Some days I feel like writing away. Some days I feel like doing music. I'm blessed to be able to make a living being an artist. I come from a single-parent home. My mother raised me and my two older sisters by herself. I come from a blue collar background, so the way I work and the way I approach everything is that it's a blessing and a privilege for me to be able to do what I love. I don't take advantage of that. I appreciate that. I wake up every morning just like it's a nine to five. If I was to be lazy or to take advantage of the opportunity I have, in my heart and my soul, I'll feel like I'd be disrespecting my mother."
'Workshy' is something that Maldonado can never be accused of being. In fact, on top of his writing, acting and filmmaking, he also set up Everybody Digital - app and festival platforms designed to nurture, showcase and reward short films and their makers for the work they create. His belief in short film as a genre in its own right is inspiring to hear.
"Short-form media is dominating more than long form. There's more people that are enjoying social media content than actual movies and television shows. These artists are extremely talented. It takes a special skill to be able to tell a story in five minutes rather than an hour and five minutes. To get you engaged, locked-in and ready to enjoy this journey in that short period of time is an extreme talent. I just wanted to give these filmmakers more of an outlet to continue to get more exposure for their art.
"I've been on the creative side, and to be able to help put people in positions to make a living doing what they love, that's the goal. Money comes and goes. That doesn't drive me. I love people, and I love to invest in people. I don't invest in things. I invest in people because I believe people are the real wealth of the world. If I'm able to help someone take care of their family, that's better than any dollar amount I can ever achieve because that's a legacy. That's a real legacy. Money isn't a legacy. Half of the billionaires you don't even know their names. The legacy is how you impact people and how you help people improve themselves, and that's the goal."
And speaking of investing in and building a legacy, Maldonado is also involved in Get It Done Records, a music placement company for film and television.
"We work on TV and production music where the music that you hear inside the shows, whether it's the theme, the background music, or let's say just the effect of somebody walking by in headphones and the music inside of those. We started the company going on three years ago now and made incredible progress. We're teamed up with pretty much every major production company around the world, getting placements left and right. We have a large network of artists and producers, and we're always looking for more."
"We work with artists from around the world. Definitely, any other artists out there, please reach out. You can check out the company site, contact us and submit some of your music, and then we'll figure out how we can work together and get you some placements on some major TV shows and films. That's the goal. We're artist-friendly, we split our revenue 50/50 with our artists. That's something that most of these companies don't do. Our artists are the life blood of what we do.
"I definitely want to give a shout out to my business partner, Trevor, who runs the company. Now, I'm the face, and I bring a lot of big relationships to the company, but he's running it and he is an incredible man. Again, it goes back to what I said earlier: investing in people. The biggest joy that I get out of this whole thing is that I've helped an individual be able to take care of his family. Doing what he loves because he loves music. He loves it. Being able to create a plan, be able to do something where not only you can do what you love but able to provide, that's the win-win. That's success."
With so much success coming from the hard-graft work ethic instilled in Maldonado from a young age, it's hard to imagine what advice he would go back and give himself if he could. Nonetheless, I ask the question and he is quick to answer.
"I just realised that I'm a marathon runner. Over the years, patience was not my best friend, but in running a marathon, patience is your best friend. It's not about trying to sprint 26.2 miles. It's about understanding that 26.2 miles is the goal and nothing else matters but obtaining that goal. How do you position yourself to achieve and deliver on your goal? That means you have to pace yourself.
"I've ran marathons under five hours. I've ran marathons over five hours. It doesn't matter how fast or slow you're going, all that matters is you're going towards that goal. That would be the conversation I'd have with my younger self."
You can follow Allen on Instagram: @MaldonadoIsEverywhere