Oakland, CA native Lance Gross is known best for his role as Calvin Payne on Tyler Perry’s sitcom, “House of Payne,” seen weekly on the TBS cable network. He has also costarred in Perry’s feature film, “Meet the Browns” and numerous other TV shows and music videos.
Currently, Gross stars in “Our Family Wedding,” directed by Rick Famuyiwa (“Brown Sugar,” “The Wood”) from an original screenplay written by Rick Famuyiwa, Malcolm Spellman, and Wayne Conley, boasting a cast that includes Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker (“Last King of Scotland,”treet Kings,” “The Great Debaters”) and Lupe Ontiveros (“This Christmas,” “Real Women Have Curves,” “Selena”).
Lucia (America Ferrera) and Marcus (Gross) are hopelessly in love, however, they learn the hard way that the path to saying “I do” can be rife with familial strife. Home from college to announce their marriage plans, they soon discover that their families are from two different worlds and simply do not get along.
Gross, 28, sat down with me to discuss his expanding acting career and impending marriage to actor and America’s Top Model alum, Eva Marcille Pigford.
Sandra Varner (Talk2SV): There is a noticeable growth curve in your work from when we first me two years ago. What are you doing to build upon your acting skills?
Gross: Well, I’m always in (acting) classes and I’m always taking advice, trying to learn from people like Forest Whitaker. I’m always trying to better myself and I have a lot of room to grow; its good when you have a lot of room to grow because people can watch you grow and root for you so I think I’m in a good situation. I think people will get a kick out of watching me evolve into an Oscar-winning actor one day. I’m taking it in stride and I’m enjoying every minute of it; I will never stop learning and showing what I’ve learned on the screen.
Talk2SV: What is some of the best advice you’re getting, or you’re applying? You can get advice and you don’t have to apply it…
Gross: I’m getting so much; I can’t think of one thing. With Forest Whitaker I learned to ask as many questions as you can. Like there’s no wrong question that you can ask about your character, especially when you’re asking a director and the writer you know so that’s something that I learned to just investigate, do your detective work and ask questions.
Talk2SV: Forest (Whitaker) talked earlier about acting from a place of fear; is there a type of acting that you might be nervous about or have you overcome that?
Gross: With every role, as an actor, you have fears about it; but you just have to learn to apply the fear in some way to make it work for you… so, yeah.
Talk2SV: It’s no secret that Tyler Perry is a workaholic and the cast shoots an episode a day for his sitcoms; a rigorous schedule by any measure. How do you keep up and how is it different from films?
Gross: I’ll start with the films: it’s definitely a lot more relaxed (on set) when doing a film. You have more time to play and develop a character. Working with Tyler Perry is unlike any other sitcom you in Hollywood because you shoot one episode a week. In Atlanta, with Tyler Perry, you shoot three and four a week so it is one a day as compared to a regular sitcom. They have a day for the table read; a couple of days for rehearsals and two days to shoot, but with us, we do it all in one day. We have the table read, we have our rehearsal and we’re expected to learn our lines so we can shoot it all in one day.
Talk2SV: Has that pace made you a better actor?
Gross: Yeah, it’s the best boot camp you can get. Working with Tyler is like running a marathon; you’re always conditioning so when you come back and work a normal job it’s easy, you can relax and take your time. I like it and wouldn’t have it any other way.
Talk2SV: And how do you feel about your “House of Payne” character, Calvin, his growth?
Gross: Calvin’s character has had a ton of room to grow and he’s come very far. He still hasn’t graduated from college but he’s come from relying on his parents, living with his parents, having his mom do his laundry and cook for him to having his own home, being a married man and working through his own problems. He has grown a lot. You’re lucky when you are able to –first off, have a sitcom that lasts that long– and to have a character where there’s room to actually grow and develop.
Talk2SV: So, if things go as you hope for and plan, you will thank Tyler Perry when one day you’re up for an Oscar…
Gross: Oh, of course, I can’t get up there and not thank Tyler because a lot of people don’t know it but Tyler is like a mentor for me. When I need advice, I’ll ask him. If he tells me something or gives me advice I’m going to listen because I respect him so much; he has a great mind and I admire what he has done for not only the African American community but also for the community, period. I mean, he has given so many people opportunities in Atlanta; he has pretty much turned Atlanta into a little Hollywood. Atlanta was known for the music industry but now it’s an outlet for film; if you don’t want to shoot in Hollywood, his studio is absolutely amazing. So yes, I will definitely thank Tyler.
Talk2SV: What kind of movies do you like to watch?
Gross: Thrillers… and I like a good drama.
Talk2SV: Would you like to do roles that are more dramatic because comedy is paying the bills right now?
Gross: Yes, I want to do drama. I want to do something that is grittier than what I’m used to. I’m used to playing ‘the All-American nice guy’ and I’m on screen smiling a lot. In my next film, I’m not going to smile. Well, I hope in my next film I won’t play the character that is ‘a smiley nice guy.’ I want to play ‘the bad guy.’
Talk2SV: Have you gotten any of those scripts yet?
Gross: I have, I’m reading a couple of them now so, it’s exciting.
Talk2SV: What about theatre? Tyler Perry is no stranger that that art form; will you be in one of his future plays?
Gross: Um, Tyler has talked about it. I sighed because I was up for a role in the Broadway production of Fences with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis; I didn’t get it. I got real close though. So to answer your question, yes, theatre is something I definitely plan to do.
Talk2SV: When you first decided to get into the business of axting, what did you expect and what did you get?
Gross: Well, I didn’t expect Tyler Perry to walk in my acting class the night that he did and basically give me a job. I didn’t expect that. I knew it would be hard work to break into this business but I was always hopeful. I always knew it was going to happen; I am a person who believes in the law of attraction so if you claim it, it’s going to be. So, that was my expectation and I knew I was going to be here.
Talk2SV: Switching gears a bit, prior to you being madly in love with Eva, have you had any dating experiences where you had to absorb somebody else’s culture or learn something about them that perhaps challenged the relationship?
Gross: Well, you learn something in every relationship and I’ve learned much over the years. It has not ever been the same situation that we have in this movie –maybe I’m either sheltered or lucky– to not have that kind of situation where people don’t like me because of the color of my skin. I don’t even think it’s about that in this movie, I just think that Carlos’ character had this idea of his little baby girl bringing home a Latino male to marry and when I show up it just throws everybody in the family for a loop.
Talk2SV: This is a wedding film and you are getting married soon. How does the timing of this film line up with your own wedding plans?
Gross: It was weird working on this movie because it was like a bad test run of my wedding, but on the other hand, it was comfortable because I felt like, ‘ok this is all the stuff that can go wrong. It went wrong in this movie so it’s not going to happen in my wedding.’ But I caught myself pulling things that I did want for my wedding out of this movie and stuff that I didn’t want, like no goat at all (laughter), but it was fun and I could really relate to my character, Marcus, because I am planning this real wedding.
Talk2SV: What has been the most stressful part of the wedding planning thus far for you?
Gross: Oh, just writing the checks because I write checks so I got to pay for it all (laughter). Good thing I’m working because we’re going to have a big wedding. There will be 400 guests. We are trying to scale it down to 300, but you know, I’m OK with that because I just want everybody to be there and witness it and have fun so we’re going all out.
Talk2SV: 400 guests….
Gross: Oh yeah, it’s going to be a blur, just as long as people can say they had fun at my wedding, I’m good.
Talk2SV: When is your wedding?
Gross: This July.
Talk2SV: Is the honeymoon a secret and are you trying to avoid paparazzi and so forth?
Gross: No, it’s not a secret. Does that mean that you want to know?
Gross: I’m taking her to Portofino (Italy).
TalkSV: Why did you choose this destination?
Gross: Because I went without her; she couldn’t go because she was working and I promised her I would take her back. I didn’t know it was as romantic as it is. When I was there, I was wishing she was there with me so I feel that it is the perfect place to take her on our honeymoon.
Talk2SV: How do you balance both of your careers given your busy schedules?
Gross: It’s fine because we get to miss each other –we talk a lot, communication is key– we talk all the time. I think we understand each other and we work well together.
Talk2SV: For a person your age, you appear to be quite comfortable with the largesse of your lives and the responsibility that comes with it.
Gross: Well, I always have… I mean, there are some reports that I grew up as a very spoiled child but I always say I had a great balance. My parents did a good job of giving me everything that I needed and everything that I wanted but then they flipped the script on me and made me work for everything. They started to make me earn everything that I wanted: things that were usually given to me so it gave me this great balance. I think that’s why I’m successful because –in my head– I feel like I can have anything that I want as long as I work hard for it. It’s kind of like the power of positive thinking, if you claim it, it’s yours. You just have to know that you can claim something and it can be yours but you got to work to get it. So responsibility is a part of who I am. There comes a time in your life when you’ve got to ‘man up,’ be a man, start a family, settle down and not run the streets. I think I’m lucky because I have found that person who I can share that with and I can build with and that’s Eva.
Talk2SV: I’ve heard it said of Eva’s father what an incredible person he is. It’s a pretty well-known fact that women often fall in love with their ‘fathers first,’ and in almost every relationship they look for aspects of their dad. At what point during your courtship did Eva see her father in you and know that you are “the one?”
Gross: Wow, it was early on (in the relationship) and she would always say, ‘you remind me of my father,’ and I felt like I was doing something right and now to hear you say that. Yeah, she compares me to her father a lot; I hung out with her father quite a bit and got to know him. He is a respectable guy.
Talk2SV: And at what point did she see her father in you; what aspects did she see first?
Gross: Just the men that we are; we have a sense of tradition and I guess– her father is a musician and he’s somewhat of a perfectionist– she sees the same in me or with our work ethic. Mine, of course, is this industry of film and TV and his is as a musician. But that was the number one comparison that was made between myself and her father.
Talk2SV: Both you and Eva are beautiful people; do you have equal mirror time?
Gross: (Smiles) I’m not in the mirror that much believe it or not; she’s in the mirror a lot more than me. I guess that’s how it’s supposed to be; she’s a woman but she’s my mirror so if she tells me I look good, I trust that and I don’t need a reflective mirror.
Talk2SV: That sounds very philosophical. What are you learning about compromise: When to, when not to and what it means to you?
Gross: What it means to me is very important. You have to compromise with a lot of things, probably everything but, as far as I’m concerned, I relate compromise to my upcoming wedding and my relationship. There is a lot of compromise that goes into a relationship because you can’t have everything your way. You could be a selfish being but at a certain point in time you have to break out of that and know that it’s not just about yourself. There are more feelings involved with that other person so you’ve got to compromise; you have to meet them half way and they should do the same.
Talk2SV: Conversely, you have had the opportunity, as you said, to “hang out” with your future father-in-law. Women have in-law fears as well. How has Eva been able to anticipate her in-laws and the experience of getting to know your side of the family?
Gross: It has been great. It’s funny because, while we are talking about parents, I don’t have any brothers and Eva doesn’t have any sisters so, it’s as if her brothers are now my brothers and my sisters are now her sisters. Our families get along so well. Eva absolutely loves them and they love her. They’re always hanging out. First, my parents are very easy; they are very down to earth, low key and easy to love. Eva just soaks it up. She loves being around them and she thinks they are the cutest couple in the world and I love it. I just love watching them get along because you don’t get that in relationships all the time.
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