What’s a young virile actor to do when Spike Lee invites him to an impromptu breakfast? Wipe the cold out his eyes, eat and nab a dream role in the director’s latest flick,“ Miracle at St. Anna,” based on the novel of the same name by James McBride, about brothers serving in World War II. Alonso’s Cuban roots and work in “Stomp The Yard” grab Lee’s attention and a chance to breathe life into Corporal Hector Negron. Long before he was a Toni Braxton video heartthrob, the first-generation American chose Wall Street over the big screen. However, the DC native discovered that a 9-to-5 gig stifled his creativity. Eventually he ditched his office job and worked his way up from starring in videos to becoming a BET VJ, and eventually a leading man. ESSENCE.com caught up with the former number-cruncher to discuss the iconic film, what you don’t know about war, racism and why he’s confident in true love.
ESSENCE.com: Shooting “Miracle in St. Anna” is a long way from your finance days. In the film, your character grows from a young soldier to an older man face to face with the past. What did you learn the most from that experience?
Laz: It was tough. I have a new found respect for older people. By the time they get to a certain age, more than likely they’ve outlived most of the people that they knew and loved. You have to respect them to still be able to smile amongst everything that they’ve lost. To really get in touch with this character, I had to focus on everything in my life that I have lost to tap into what it might feel like to be older and not have certain people in your life anymore. It was probably the toughest character that I had to get rid of thus far because it was so emotionally taxing.
ESSENCE.COM: How was it to experience the racism Blacks endured in the?
Laz: Props goes to the actors who played the racists. They were some of the nicest people offset, but by the third take, it was a completely different scene. Spike really let them improv and say anything that they wanted to say. To think that in our parents’ lifetime there were people who had to deal with that on a day-to-day basis is amazing. Although we have a long way to go, we have come a long way.
ESSENCE.com: After going inside the world of a soldier, what would you say is the biggest misconception people have about war?
Laz: That our service people represent the policies and the ideologies of the people that put them in war. All service people are not fighting for Republicans or Bush. They’re fighting for the man or the woman in the hole next to them, who is going to save their life and they’re trying to protect theirs as well. They’re fighting so they can go back home and see their kids. They’re fighting to live another day.
ESSENCE.com: You have a pretty diverse resume. Is there anything else that you do that people don’t know about?
Laz: I’m an inventor. I can’t talk about my inventions yet. I’m always amazed by the people who create stuff, like Henry Ford, Edison or Dr. Drew who made the world a better place. My engineering friends from Howard and I started our own inventors’ circle. We’re coming up with a lot of inventions for cars and gas that we’re patenting.
ESSENCE.com: You’re also a philanthropist and have an organization dedicated to single moms. What inspired you?
Laz: Yeah, my mom was a single parent. A lot of times if you make a certain amount you don’t qualify for help, but that doesn’t mean you’re not struggling. So I wanted to create something that helps kids out who may be in a financial situation and I didn’t want it to be based on grades because while someone else is studying, you may be at work. I was 15 when I started valet parking at a hotel to help bring money home in and I didn’t even have a license. (laughs) I learned how to drive a stick shift on other people’s luxury cars. I would be in a Benz everyday and it kept me motivated to work hard.