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You’re the Worst

Wingman Wednesday

Allen Maldonado

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Photographer: Photographed by Steven Gerlich at Aesthesia Studios/Wardrobe Stylist: Daralyn Carter/Groomer: Bethany Garita

Although acting is at the core of Allen Maldonado’s entertainment industry ambitions, he’s quickly climbing each branch of the overall tree. With his own record company, a writing career, a growing digital presence thanks to the app he launched in 2017, Everybody Digital, and a production arm with multiple projects in development, “The Last O.G.” star is on the verge of being the first name on everybody’s call list. Starting today he can be seen in the new film “SuperFly,” based on the 1972 classic.

We recently sat down with Maldonado to discuss his workhorse mentality, what fans can expect from Season 2 of the hottest comedy on television, and why he goes into “Inception” mode when he’s creating.

TrunkSpace: This must be a crazy exciting time for you with everything that has been popping the last few years. Have you been able to sit back and enjoy it or is it all coming at you fast and furious?
Maldonado: I mean, I’m a workhorse, man. I really find joy in the deal of it all, like closing the deal and the excitement of getting a new project. I don’t dwell on it as much. It’s ongoing, what is happening – it’s always the pursuit is what is exciting to me. So that is what I guess keeps me going at a rate that I’m going in the last couple of years. The excitement of going from one project to the next and continuing to build and continuing to grow my career, that’s what, really, I’ve been tracking. Everything else… I always get a bit surprised with people when they recognize me for my work because I keep my head down at work. I don’t really pay attention to all that.

TrunkSpace: They say that work begets work in this industry, but in a lot of ways, it kind of plays out like a video game. When you’re new, you start on the easiest level, and then work your way up to more and more difficult levels. Basically, as an actor, you work your way up in a very similar way.
Maldonado: Yes! I think it also adds equity in this business, being that we’re doing multimillion dollar projects where these investors have to have confidence to be investing millions in their particular talents that they have in their films or their TV shows. So I think a lot of it is that you build equity in their game, being able to show that you’re consistent with not just great work but good behavior, being on time, and just having good habits. All of these things equals to success in this business if you’re able to maintain that type of consistency.

TrunkSpace: Which is important when you’re spending 14 hour days together, all working towards the same end goal.
Maldonado: Yeah, the people who you know on set, you’re spending more time with these individuals than your family, or your wife, or your kids. So going back to what I said earlier, just having a good position on how to treat people and good energy, it all has an affect on those long hours and being able to work as a group towards one goal. We’re gearing up for the second season of “The Last O.G.” and we’re gonna be doing it for three and a half months, so to maintain that type of level of patience, consistency and good energy, it’s definitely work but it’s something that as a group we’re excited to do and we’re excited for the next season.

TrunkSpace: You said you enjoy the process of going out and finding the next project, but is it exciting when you get the second season order like you did with “The Last O.G.?” From an outside perspective it would seem more exciting because it validates that united “one goal” we were just talking about.
Maldonado: Of course! That’s growth. Definitely the evolution of the show is exciting. Knowing that we’re going into the second season – I’m also a writer for the show now – so just elevating on all fronts, being that now that we have our first season done and it’s aired, we kind of have all of the voices to the characters now. We’ve built a foundation. We’re now going into the second season and we could elaborate more. We can dig deeper because we’ve already introduced these characters and people are familiar with them so we can just dive a little deeper and explore and actually write towards our actors. When I signed on, the scripts were already done, so they didn’t write in my… they didn’t know they were going to cast me, nor Tiffany (Haddish), nor Cedric (the Entertainer). Going into this second season, we’re able to write towards the character and really hear their voices, and really be able to build on the foundation in Season 1. So that’s what’s exciting, just the evolution. Hopefully, God willing, we get our Season 3, Season 4, Season 5 – all those things – and we can continue to be excited.

TrunkSpace: And because of how successful the show was in its first season, it must be nice to have an extra layer of trust from the folks upstairs at the network?
Maldonado: Yes! I think us being the number one comedy on cable definitely gives us a great position in going forward with production is Season 2, and we’re already done with the writers room. So we start shooting in July, so the scripts are all turned in. They loved everything that we’re doing. I’m very excited. I feel that we’ve definitely stepped it up and tried to top ourselves for Season 2.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned that you’re a writer, but in addition to that, you’re also an entrepreneur and businessman. In this day and age, within this industry in particular, how important is it for someone to diversify themselves in as many different avenues as possible?
Maldonado: I think it’s very important to have multiple streams of income. Stemming from what your talent is or natural gift is, like acting is mine, everything kind of revolves around that. From my music company,  Get It Done Records, where we do music for TV and film placements, where that music is incorporated in film and television shows such as “Ray Donovan,” “House of Lies,” and “Acts of Violence” with Bruce Willis. To my kids foundation (Demo Nerds) where I teach acting and film to foster kids. Then there is my production company (Only Son Productions) where we’re producing, creating projects, and developing different shows for networks. And also, lastly, my app, Everybody Digital, where we’re creating short films and short-form platforms, and we’re creating original content, but also helping and adding more exposure to new filmmakers. All of these businesses and all of these things that I’m doing all revolve around acting, because acting is the sun and it energizes from there. Being able to diversify in the things that can bring in income for an actor… there’s seasons to all of this stuff… it gives you a little more room, a little more freedom, to be able to do the things you want rather than doing things you have to do to survive and pay your bills.

Maldonado with Tracy Morgan in “The Last O.G.”

TrunkSpace: And when you’re focused on just acting, you really hand over a big portion of your control because so much of your career fate winds up in the hands of casting directors, producers and executives.
Maldonado: Yes! I think that my biggest tip for all the actors that I run across that will ask the question is that you have to really look at yourself as a small business rather than a career. Acting is not a career, acting is a small business, being that you must invest in yourself, you must self-market and self-promote. You must work extra hours. That sounds closer to a small business rather than a career. In most careers you go work the eight hours and then you go home. You can leave it in the office. But in the small business, you’re working 20 hours out of the day and you’re constantly thinking how to elevate. As you continue to grow your small business, these studios or corporations begin to invest in you, so it’s your job as a small business to build your company up and build your brand enough that it can add the attention of these corporations and they feel confident in that art. “I request your services.” And that’s how I like to attack things and it just feels a little more direct and I have a clear target, rather than, I find a lot of actors just kind of throw a bunch stuff against the wall and hope it sticks.

TrunkSpace: So within those various creative and entrepreneurial avenues, does each one give you something different? Does your creative brain get something out of writing that it doesn’t from acting alone?
Maldonado: It’s all creative. I think my true gift is being able to create. My true love is that. It’s all different parts of the brain – in acting, in creating something that was on some paper or somebody’s idea, creating the actual person, and then there’s creating an entire world when it comes to writing. And then on the director’s side, being able to take those elements from the acting and the writing and be able to actually create a world visually. All these things stem from creating, and I find joy in that. And that’s the common denominator to everything that I do. So it all depends. It’s kind of like eating. It all depends if I feel like having a hamburger or a taco or Chinese. That’s how I feel about when it comes to being an artist with all the things that I do.

Photographer: Photographed by Steven Gerlich at Aesthesia Studios/Wardrobe Stylist: Daralyn Carter/Groomer: Bethany Garita

TrunkSpace: Do the parts of the brain ever crossover? When you’re writing, do you find yourself acting out a scene to see if it’s going to work?
Maldonado: Of course. Every time that I write I always envision the scene. I kind of see and I kind of act it out inside of my head. I play it out as clear as possible. That’s usually how I write. I write from a place of me really seeing it. I think that’s something that I really key in on when I’m writing, is that I really see everything. When I’m writing, I see the world, and that’s the best way for me to really execute it on paper, is that I really paint and kind of feel it. It’s just like in acting when it comes to auditioning. When you’re fully in the role, you have to create the world to really get the essence of what you’re feeling because the same thing you may say in a library may not have the same type of texture as it would as you’re saying it in an alley at two o’clock in the morning. So if you create these worlds, you can get that same type of feeling. And that’s what I do for writing. I kind of create the worlds, put myself in it, and then all of the words of the dialogue and the descriptions just fall right out.

TrunkSpace: Sounds like you have a director’s eye with everything you work on.
Maldonado: I call it “Inception.” That’s how I like to describe it, where I really put myself into this world and once I’m in there I can really dive in, whether it’s on the acting side, or it’s on the writing side, or it’s on the directing side – all those things. I like to try to put myself in “Inception” mode and see and really be in it.

TrunkSpace: We saw you refer to your new movie “SuperFly” as a remix rather than a remake. The original film has left such an impact, did you think it was important that this new version not be a straight remake and that it attempt to say something that the original did not?
Maldonado: I definitely think it was better for a remix because the original has had such a lasting affect on the culture of black cinema. I think if we tried to do it beat by beat, we couldn’t do it justice. And respecting, rather, the legend that “SuperFly” is, and being able to just branch off of it more than stand on the shoulders of the giant that “SuperFly” was and is, I think that was the best way and best angle to attack this particular project.

TrunkSpace: And what it could do is create it’s own audience, but then inspire those same people to go back and watch the original.
Maldonado: Exactly. It’s not in competition with the original. A lot of times remakes come in competition with the original and sometimes that can be difficult for all of the original fans of that particular project to kind of get over. But if you take it to another level, and again, just put a remix on it and make it inspired by, rather than beat by beat, I think you have a better shot at really satisfying both audiences – your new viewers and the people from the original.

“SuperFly” opens in theaters today.

Season 2 of “The Last O.G.” is currently in production.

For more information on Everybody Digital and to download the app, visit here.

Featured Image Credits
Photographer: Photographed by Steven Gerlich at Aesthesia Studios
Wardrobe Stylist: Daralyn Carter
Groomer: Bethany Garita

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Wingman Wednesday

Janet Varney

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Juggling is a learned skill. When people master the art, it’s, well, masterful. Some juggle bean bags. Some juggle bowling pins. And there are a few adventurous ones who juggle chainsaws. The most impressive version of balls in the air, however, comes in the form of career juggling, and actress/comedian Janet Varney does it better than most. As the star of “Stan Against Evil” on IFC and “You’re the Worst” on FXX, as well as the host of the Nerdist podcast “The JV Club” and the co-founder and creative director of SF Sketchfest: The San Francisco Comedy Festival, she gives new meaning to the concept of working hard and takes nothing in her professional life for granted.

We recently sat down with Varney to discuss trunk varieties, finding balance in her busy schedule, and enjoying the cosplay diversity of comic conventions.

Varney: Are we in a trunk together?
TrunkSpace: Not physically, but we are in the essence of being in a truck.

Varney: Okay. Is it the essence of a car truck, or the essence of an old Chinese steamer ship trunk? Those are your only two options.
TrunkSpace: Definitely old timey steamer ship where you could open it and find anything imaginable inside.

Varney: Oh, fantastic. Let me get some mustache wax and we’ll get to work.

TrunkSpace: (Laughter) You do so much both inside the industry with film and television, and then just on the outside with the comedy festival and “The JV Club.” How do you manage your time and the individual projects to make them all work in unison?
Varney: Boy, that’s a fantastic question. It is a question that I think I find myself asking myself, almost as much as other people ask me. It’s tough. I think it’s one of those examples as any kind of parent would tell you or somebody who is a firefighter and works 48 straight hours with very little sleep, anything that feels like it’s a little bit out of the box, or out of the trunk if you will, from the basic 9 to 5. From the outside it looks like, “How are you doing that?” But it’s just evidence of human adaptability. I think that every time I go back to Tucson, Arizona. I’m like, “Who decided that this was a safe place to settle?” I just can’t imagine looking around the desert and living there for one summer before air conditioning, fans, coolers, before anything was invented at all, and saying, “I think we can do this. I think we got this.”

TrunkSpace: It’s like the first person who tried crab. Who looked at one and said, “I bet that’s delicious!”
Varney: I just said that! I just said that when I was eating crab! From what it looks like, and what it looks like when it’s raw to where it goes and how delicious it is…

I understand that we’re apes, but we’re not that different from the dog who’s like, “Maybe I’ll sample this piece of shit.”

That feels very sort of Gary Larson, Far Side-ish. Like some series of cartoons that just show the guy who tried the thing, the caveman who tried the thing that, in fact, did kill him. All the people who have sacrificed themselves by making epic fail decisions before there was an internet.

That’s a long way around of saying, “I’m just used to it.” It doesn’t mean it’s good for me all the time. I feel very lazy a lot of the time, which is to say I don’t necessarily just sit around all the time, but I know that I kind of wish I were sitting around all the time. There are definitely things that I put off, that I procrastinate over. It doesn’t matter how much or how little I have going on, I’ll just find a way to not do something until the last minute. It’s like you really wanna find that sweet spot of busyness. There’s a certain level of busyness where your energy is up, you’re not being totally sapped, and so it feels like you’re kind of on top of everything and you have this momentum. You don’t even wanna procrastinate, because it feels great to get stuff done and you’re working on what you love.

What a rare moment to find, but once you feel it, you kind of go, “Well, maybe I’ll just keep reaching towards whatever that thing is. And then, is this too much? Okay, now I feel overwhelmed and I just wanna have a nervous breakdown. Now I feel a little bit like I have only one thing to work on, and now I’ve come to hate that one thing, because it’s taking up too much of my time.”

TrunkSpace: There was a time where you would not see someone starring in multiple shows for multiple networks, but that is not the case anymore. The way that the industry has changed seems to have allowed for creative people to juggle more as well.
Varney: Yeah, it definitely has, especially in a business where you’re conditioned to be afraid to say no, which isn’t a good thing. There’s something very empowering about making the right decision for yourself and taking care of yourself, even if that means saying, “This project isn’t right for me.” Or, “I can’t juggle one more plate, I have to think about my family.” Or whatever the reason is. Again, that’s that balance we’re talking about striking.

In this business, because there is so much that’s up in the air and so much that’s out of our control, it does feel, I think, good and exciting to have the capability to be doing different things, because then your eggs aren’t all in one basket. Your heart isn’t shattered when the one show that you’re doing goes away, and you sort of look around with this existential conundrum going, “What is my purpose again?”

Varney in “Stan Against Evil”

TrunkSpace: There was a time when a television show needed millions upon millions of viewers to be considered a success. Now a show is allowed to find an audience and grow, which is nice to see and it must help take the pressure off of everyone involved?
Varney: I couldn’t agree more. I’ve never liked anything that mainstream, so I can’t imagine creating or being a part of something that mainstream. Never say never, but I always like the stuff that makes it fun to go to places like Comic-Con. Not San Diego Comic-Con, where everything is huge and corporatey, but these smaller cons where people are cosplaying as things you’ve never seen before, and that’s okay. And they’re happy to tell you about this weird, random, Japanese Anime that they love and that you’ve never seen. And that makes me so happy, that there’s room for people with all kinds of different tastes to get a feel of what they like.

TrunkSpace: “Stan Against Evil” is set to return in November. From an acting standpoint, what’s the best part about returning to a series after a long hiatus?
Varney: What’s funny is we all kind of had the same experience, which is it felt like so much time had passed. I think it’s kind of like going back to school. It feels like all of these things happened in your life and that all this time has passed, and then you get on the set and it feels like, “Oh, I was just here. Did I ever leave?”

What a joy to see that crew again. It’s just such a great group of people. There are things that we learned about how to function in the short period of time that we have to shoot the show. And Dana Gould had the experience of writing a bunch of stuff with the writers without having seen the set or knowing what Georgia was going to be like, precisely, in the middle of the night in the swamps in July, and maybe regretted a couple of the decisions that he made. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: (Laughter) Sounds cozy!
Varney: (Laughter) So he went in to coming up with season 2 ideas armed with a lot more information, a lot more on-the-ground information, and I think that’s reflected in season 2 and what happened during the production. I’m so lucky now that I look back at the stuff that I’ve done over the… I guess I’ve been doing this for 12 years maybe, something like that. And it’s not that I wasn’t proud of things I worked on in the beginning. I was, but there was just sort of a universal wash of delight and surprise that I was working at all. And I did love “Dinner & a Movie.” I loved Claud and Paul. And that shot in Atlanta, so I got to love that city over the seven years that I did that show.

But for some reason, in the last four or five years, there has been a different shift to feeling like I had just gotten even more lucky, and I’ve had more ongoing, long-term jobs that have just been real pinch-me moments of, “Why am I getting to work on this?”

I feel so incredibly lucky to get to work with Dana and John C. McGinley and that extraordinary group of people. I just don’t think I’ve taken any of it for granted. I have many, many flaws, but taking the work for granted, I think is not one of them.

TrunkSpace: You had mentioned that as a viewer you like shows that are not in the mainstream. The thing about “Stan Against Evil” is that tonally it’s a difficult one to find a balance with for a lot of shows, the horror/comedy mix. But your show does it so well. Did you guys have to do some massaging to find that tone and get into groove?
Varney: I think it’s Dana, as a show. He’s such a fan of old-school horror, zombie, Roger Corman, Elvira, and just everything from “Planet of the Apes.” He’s just such a nerd for that stuff, and has been his whole life. And then, you take his enthusiasm for that, that he’s had his whole life, and you take his enthusiasm for comedy that he’s been cultivating, and obviously had a lot of experience working on with “The Simpsons” and as a stand-up over the years and I just think that stuff was all cooking in his brain just as he was walking around being a human being in life. So when it came time for him to actually do the show, I feel like he just really, really knew the tone. And I think he did a tremendous job of communicating that really early on. And he loves to say this and I always get really embarrassed and now here I am saying it myself, but I guess it turns out he wrote the part of Evie for me. He wrote it with me in mind. I still can’t believe that. That’s outrageous to me.

So I was obviously on the same page with him from the beginning, and then as IFC and Dana were in search of their Stan, having John C. just get it and get it so quickly was paramount. It was so exciting for everybody to be locking in this amazing group of people who just got it from the get go. Because, again, we have such a little amount of time to shoot it, that was just imperative. Everybody had to kind of be on board for the tone from the beginning. And it does kind of feel like serendipity, it feels like, “Well how did that work out?” Thank God it did.

Varney in “You’re the Worst”

TrunkSpace: Do you feel like playing Evie has helped break any preconceived notions within the industry about you as a performer?
Varney: Gosh, I hope so. I don’t know that I can identify a specific situation where I would have gone in for something and had someone say, “By the way, I wouldn’t have brought you in for this if it weren’t for your role as Evie on ‘Stan Against Evil.'” I think, for me, if you think about the work you’re leaving behind, that and “The Legend of Korra” are the two things that have maybe shown my range the most. And that’s a tremendous gift.

That’s another thing where very few of us feel like we have the luxury of sniping about thinking we only ever get to play one thing. But typecasting is totally real, and it’s not even something that I can get mad about. That’s just how we are. As a producer, I know that I think of people in a certain way based on the work I’ve seen them do. And it doesn’t mean that I’m not open to seeing them do something else, but we’re creatures who like to put things in boxes because we take in a tremendous amount of stimuli. So I totally get that someone would look at me and go, “No, I don’t see Janet Varney auditioning as the lead surgeon on this procedural. She does this, this, and this.”

Maybe it’s just that I don’t feel like I’m not getting to stretch. With that said, to your point, it’s been great to have these roles that maybe dig a little deeper. And the same is true with “You’re the Worst,” to be honest with you. As outrageous as that character is, she is deeply wounded, and so there is definitely stuff going on inside that I think informs even how over-the-top she is and forms something human about it. And I think that’s what’s so great about that show, is that for all of these characters basically being some version of the worst, they really are arguably each one the worst, because they’re all different and peculiar at how awful they are. There’s something so vulnerable about all of them. And to me, that’s what makes you wanna come back to it, even with all the train wrecks, because you still root for the characters.

Season 4 of “You’re the Worst” premieres September 6 on FXX.

Season 2 of “Stan Against Evil” premieres November 1 on IFC.

You can listen to The JV Club here.

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