LAMORNE MORRIS

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In the middle of a particularly turbulent and distressing race year in America, Lamorne Morris found himself playing a black LAPD officer with a cat named Ferguson, on the hit television show, New Girl. Tensions were high between the African-American and law enforcement communities.  Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Tanisha Anderson, Walter Scott, and countless other black citizens lay dead at the hands of the police. People were angry and scared. There were feelings of rage and sadness being ignited across social media and national headlines. The Black Lives Matter movement started to pick up traction and as politics were being tossed back and forth on an international platform, things began to get uncomfortable. The irony was not lost on Lamorne, he contacted the show’s creator and lead writer Liz Meriwether and told her he didn’t want to play a cop anymore.

“I’m not happy with what’s going on in the world,” he told her.

Liz, a seasoned producer, saw leverage in a storyline that could bring these issues to light, especially  from the perspective of the character Winston, since he was in such a unique position. It also gave New Girl an opportunity to delve into a more serious sphere than the sitcom was use to. She commissioned Lamorne to write an episode and paired him up with Robert Rosell, one of the shows writers. The show that aired, Par 5, episode 20 of the 4th season, attempted to tackle a subject that are still very much open wounds to our nation. In front of millions of loyal viewers, Morris acts out scenes addressing police, racism and brutality in a way that is slightly strained and unnerving to watch. On screen you can tell he is holding back.

“I had to show both sides of the coin and shed light on a little bit of what police officers go through. But also, what citizens go through when it involves police officers. I had to show that somehow. It was hard to walk that line. My first draft was very aggressive. [laughs] It was very one-sided—this is how I feel, this is what’s going on. It was a lot of like, ‘Hey, that’s not gonna make the air, let’s come to a middle ground here and how do we make this work?’ So, it happened, but it wasn’t easy, just because of that line you have to walk,” Lamorne admits.

Raised in Chicago, one of the most racial divided cities in America, Lamorne grew up moving though neighborhoods and color lines with the social awareness one achieves when being part of the South Side and the suburbs.

“There’s always corruption somewhere. So, you don’t necessarily see it, but now that everyone has a phone, you see it and you see it happening more often. and more blatantly. More bold. All it does now is shed light that we’re not trippin’. This is a real thing. You can see it. Just Google it and you’ll see a thousand cases of it. And it’s been happening in our country since forever.”

Lamorne has come a long way from his South Side days, now living a lofty life in Los Angeles, and achieving the ultimate goal of any actor, i.e. steady work. He is currently on billboards and side of buses everywhere as one of the leads in the new blockbuster, Barbershop: The Next Cut.  I get to know Lamorne on breezy Los Angeles day, on the brink of him becoming a Hollywood heavyweight.


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What was it like growing up in Chicago?

Chicago was great. We lived in a few different locations when I was growing up—South Side of Chicago, which was exactly as publicized. When I was around fourteen, we moved to the West Suburbs, which has a completely different vibe from the South Side of Chicago. [laughs] Me and my brother, we were kinda like fish out of water. It was like, getting to know new people, a new way of life, getting acclimated to.

It was a different beast. We had to switch friends, type of friends. We went from a black neighborhood, the South Side of Chicago, to a predominantly white neighborhood with very little color—DuPage County, Illinois. Which was great, because that’s where I met my best friends in life. Until this day, we’re all very close. It also kind of formed my comedic sense. All my friends are funny, they’re into theatre. My friends are still actors in Chicago or out here in LA. It was cool. It was having the best of both worlds under your belt, living in two different parts of the city. You get to gain some perspective better.

Yeah, I can kinda understand that. My parents are Nigerian. They came from basically villages in Nigeria, especially in the sixties and seventies.They moved to America,  started their careers and moved up to the suburbs. We grew up in the suburbs as these African kids and people were like, ‘What is this?’ It was so bizarre, the juxtaposition between being Nigerian, going to Nigeria, and living in the suburbs. Especially being dark skinned and stuff, it was just so bizarre to me just trying to acclimate into being first-generation in America. It’s so segregated and divided. Everyone’s like, ‘You’re black so you need to act like this and do this, this, and this.’ I was like just, ‘Huh? But how do I do this?’ I’m glad I’m older now. Because now I can be like, ‘Fuck you, fuck off. Get your head out of your ass, everyone’s different.’ When I was in high school, I was like, ‘I’m so confused!

Right. Trust me, people look at the playlist on my phone and they’re surprised. They’re so confused—‘Wait, what?’

That’s so annoying though. I love indie-rock, I love country music, but I also like seventies soul and the Rolling Stones, rap music, Stevie Wonder… I like everything. I like what speaks to me. It was always so weird… being the only black girl at rock concerts or indie-rock stuff. Having people be like, ‘How can you like this?’ It’s just unfair, I think.

It’s very much so unfair. People try to put you in a box, tell you how you’re supposed to sound…

People used to always tell me, ‘You sound like a white girl! You’re white. You wanna be white.’ And I was like, ‘Um, no. Actually, I love myself.’ I’m actually very self-involved. I’m really into myself. I’m into everything I do. I don’t wanna be anyone else.  But people were always so confused about my preferences. But I think that’s kind of starting to change. I feel like this is the generation of people being woke and inspired by everything. This new millennial generation, people are all mixed up and doing their own thing. I think it’s cool.

Right, exactly. But, recently I did have someone tell me, ‘You talk white. You sound mad white when you talk.’ And I just kinda had this idea of like, ‘Oh, so you think that because I don’t sound like, Young Thug, that I’m not black like Future or Lil’Wayne or somebody like that.’ That’s their definition of black.

Which is so ignorant. That’s the thing that always made me upset. There’s so many different versions of so many different people. This rapper, thug culture, that’s not even like one percent. There’re black people who sound like everything. Black people can be everything. I think the biggest thing with entertainment and the media, which is what always fascinated me, is how much people try to limit black people’s stories. Which why it’s really cool to see you doing your thing and seeing the media change a little bit in general and offer more roles for people of color who can be multidimensional characters.

Right. Exactly.

Do you feel like you have the opportunities to be a multidimensional character in Hollywood or is that something you’re still fighting for?

I’m still fighting for it. That’s a continuous battle, even with different roles. People still say, ‘Well, you can’t play that role, you’re black.’

Ugh.

Idris Elba is apparently too street to be James Bond. You know what I mean?

That was so… It’s just so crazy, because that guy is so perfect for James Bond. So perfect! He is James Bond!

Yep.

I hear a lot of things in this industry, so…Like, we’re still 100,000 years behind what we should be.

Right, exactly.

Your character on New Girl,  that’s a multidimensional character. I like Winston. I think he’s very cool and I like his whole setup. It feels very realistic to a regular person’s life. But, do you ever feel like, do people ever think you’re the token black guy? Do you ever feel that?

Well, people are always gonna say that no matter what it is if you’re the only black dude. They’re always gonna say you’re the token. As a matter of fact, even when Damon [Wayans, Jr.] came on the show, back on the show, when we were both on the show together, people were saying, ‘You’re both are the token black dudes.’ You know? It just doesn’t make any sense. It was just like, ‘Oh, if you have black characters…’ There are two white guys and two black guys on the show. There’s a white girl on the show. And there’s an Indian girl on the show. So, that’s a pretty diverse cast. People still go, ‘You’re the tokens now.’ And I’m like, ‘Now? Now you’re just being racist.’ It doesn’t make any sense.

When a black person is doing a show like that with a white person, for some reason, that term is thrown around maybe too loosely, too casually. The cool thing about the writers on the show is that they’ve created a character that is very much so off the wall—not stereotypically black, not like I gotta talk like this, gotta sound like this or do this. I have the weirdest storylines; I have a pet cat, you know, you don’t see that often. [laughs] I’m the black confidant at times, which is the opposite of what you see a black character on TV.

Well, especially a black man.

Yeah! Always so aggressive, leading-man suave. It’s always you know, being really cool type of character and I don’t necessarily wanna play that right now. I don’t mind it, I like it, I just like playing this type of… I like playing left of center. I like playing what people don’t expect to see what I look like.

Yeah, it’s kind of bizarre, because I can’t even imagine you playing a character like that. I mean, I guess I could, I mean I think you’re a good actor because I’ve seen you in New Girl and I really love your character there. But it’s like… so you could play any role. But I think when I hear stereotypical too, that always kind of offends me. I’m like, ‘Can’t I be the stereotypical black girl? Can’t someone else be the stereotypical something else? Like, being yourself?’ What makes stereotypes, especially when they’re negative stereotypes? I find that to be so annoying.

Right.

What made you wanna be an actor?

I didn’t have a jump shot. So… basketball wasn’t gonna work out.

But how come you weren’t like, ‘Okay, I guess I’ll be a rocket scientist’?

That just sounded boring. Also, when I was a kid, I used to goof off a lot. I was always being entertaining at some point. When I was a kid, I loved sports so much, so I originally wanted to be a sports journalist. I wanted to work for ESPN, talk about sports all day, go to basketball games.

I can totally see you as a sports journalist.

Man, that’s what I wanted to do. I still do, to a certain extent. But, you know, it just took a turn in high school when I started doing theatre. Playing different characters was just cool to me. It was a different thing. I would challenge myself to be different from everybody else to see how I would play that character, do a certain thing or say a certain word. How do I make this person laugh? So that was, for me, why I kept going. And it seemed to be working, to the point where in high school, I was like, ‘I know what it is I wanna do with the rest of my life, because I can do it until I’m dead.’

 

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That’s amazing perspective. It is such a skill to be an actor and actually look natural. Have you ever felt unnatural or awkward when you’re acting? What’s your approach to acting? Do you put the real you into it?

Yeah. I do. It’s hard to take risks sometimes, because you can become insecure that it won’t work. It’s like a standup comic. They have to go on stage a ton of times to test out their jokes and make sure they work before they bring it to the big audience. Same with acting. You rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, and you try stuff out.

Cool thing about our show, is that we know each other so well, and we know our characters so well, we’ve done 120 episodes or something like that? We know exactly what we need to do and when we wanna take risks, we take risks. If they look crazy, we’ll laugh at each other. That’s just how it is, there’s no insecurity there. I filmed this past episode completely naked.

Oh my god.

Yeah. I just covered my junk up. But, other than that, completely naked. And it was freezing outside, they were just laughing at me. But it wasn’t like I was embarrassed. This is what I do now. I get paid to goof off, act weird, do silly stuff, so when I have to do it, I’m not scared about it. I know what the payoff is gonna be.

Exactly. Do you anything else other than acting? I’m so obsessed with musical theater, pop music, and belting out songs. Do you sing? Do you have any musical abilities?

I do. Like I said, I did some musicals. I was the president of the men’s choir in high school. But I don’t necessarily do it that often. I am writing, producing, and starring in something that me and a guy on our show, Jake Johnson, are producing. It’s a musical-mockumentary.

Oh my god, that sounds amazing.

Yeah, so, we got Common on it. We got a lot of people that are involved. I recorded an entire comedy album already, where it’s R&B, hip-hop… but the subject matter is playing opposite of what you would think a rapper would talk about. I impersonate John Legend. When I play the song, people think that John Legend’s on the album. But it’s me impersonating him. So, I do some musical stuff and I have some musical [background]… I want to be a musician. But that’s just a want. Like, I also wanna play in the MBA. But it’s like, it ain’t happenin’.

I should probably ask about Barbershop. Can you talk about that?

Well, me being from the South Side of Chicago made it double as important to do, more than, ‘Oh, it’s a funny movie with a great cast.’ Me being from the South Side of Chicago makes it that much more satisfying for me. I auditioned for the first Barbershop, didn’t get it in, when I was about seventeen? Eighteen, maybe?

Oh, wow.

Yeah, didn’t get in it. But, here it’s part three, and now I’m in it. That’s just… the best.

Amazing.

But—the subject matter of the movie is what’s important here. It’s tackling an issue that has been plaguing Chicago and most places in this country since forever—gang violence. Like we were talking about earlier, the police not necessarily being there to protect. But, also, we’re not protecting ourselves either by killing each other. The movie hits on that subject matter a lot and impossible solutions are being tossed out and around in the movie, which is great. I think that it’s a very important movie for people to watch—not just because it’s hilarious and our cast is amazing—but because the subject matter is something that we should all be focused on and pay a lot more attention to. Our kids are genuinely killing each other. It’s sad. It’s very, very tragic.

It’s crazy, you’ll see some areas where kids are excelling. We talk about that line as being more blurred. Then it’s like, ‘Hey, I can listen to whatever I want, I know I’m black and I sound a certain way. It doesn’t make me less black because I speak proper English.’ While that’s happening, and it’s becoming more and more accepted that we sound like how we sound like—how we are. But at the same time, I feel like while we’re getting smarter on one end, we’re getting much more violent on the other. It’s almost like things are happening in an extreme level.

Yeah, definitely.

It’s scary. So the movie follows Ice Cube and his son, and how he’s trying to keep his son out of that element because he’s older now. He runs with a certain crew and Ice Cube has this dilemma. How does he raise his son and be true to his neighborhood as well?

Have you had any ‘I’ve Made It’ moments? Do people recognize you on the street a lot? Can you talk about how the success has changed you?

I have had a few of those moments, where I’m like, ‘Wow. This is what I do and this is the life that I’m living now.’ And if I wanna keep it, I gotta be a certain way.

What do you mean, a certain way?

I gotta be more responsible. It’s easy to just go out and party every day—because you get invited out to parties every single day. It’s easy to do that and say, ‘If I wasn’t famous, I wouldn’t get invited to these parties. I wouldn’t be getting this cool stuff or doing all this cool shit.’ But because I am, but because if I went and accepted every single thing like, ‘Yeah I’ll go out to this party, and this party…” Before you know it, you’re getting no work done. Stuff that got you where you are, you’ve kinda forgotten about it. You’re on cruise control and all you wanna do is party and fuck a bunch of people. [laughs] And if that’s all you wanna do, that’s gonna end quickly. You have to adapt to it. I get recognized all the time on the street, which is great, I love fans and stuff when they come up to say hi, they appreciate you, want a photo—that stuff is cool. Because it wasn’t always like that. I used to get that every once in a while when I worked for BET. I used to host back in the day. I was an entertainment reporter kind of comedic host for BET. So people would come up to me all the time and be like, ‘Hey yo! You that funny nigga!’ [laughs] And I’d be like, ‘Thank you, thank you, I appreciate that.’ And then when I moved to LA, I went broke. I started living that actor’s lifestyle where you’re couch surfing here and there every once in a while, car gets repo-ed, you don’t have food certain days—living like that, taking the bus to auditions. One moment hit me when a girl, she says, ‘Oh my god, can I get a picture wit’chu?’ when I was waiting at the bus stop.

That is amazing!

Yeah! But then the guy she was with goes, ‘That ain’t him, stupid! Why would he be on the bus?’

Oh my god.

Then she goes, ‘I’m sorry.” Then she walked away. I was just like, man, that went left so fast.

That’s so demoralizing. The guy who said it was an idiot. No one knows anyone’s true story. There is nothing wrong with public transportation.

Mm hmm. They don’t. I could literally go on the bus just because my car broke down.

Or maybe you just like taking the bus! Or maybe you’re practicing for a role. There are so many reasons. I can’t stand the idea that money… like that’s the number one thing. Like you have to have a flashy car and clothes and do this, and this, and this.

You know, that’s the thing about it though. It is an ignorance. It’s an ignorance that is scary, but it’s a thing because you don’t see it too often outside of the black community.

Yeah.

Will Ferrell can drive a Camry. Everyone’s like, that’s fine. But if Baron Davis drives a Prius and that’s news. Everyone’s like, ‘Woah! Baron Davis drives a Prius! But you’re a millionaire!’ Well, so is Will Ferrell.

Yeah. I think that is a thing with an inherit value system. That is something I’ve noticed in some parts of the black community too. You’ve gotta be flashy and have diamonds. I don’t know if it’s the media—like they just want black people to go broke—or what. But it feels different for some reason when black people start getting money, they are expected to show it in some way.

I think a lot of it is, when you’re growing up in a black neighborhood, you don’t have a lot. Certain black neighborhoods are way below the poverty line. So when you grow up as a kid all you have are aspirations of getting out of there. You know, buying your mom a house, a nice car, so she can feel comfortable. Providing for your family the way you didn’t have growing up. So you think about these things. And sometimes with being black, you can’t just be good. You have to be great. That’s even in the acting business. If you’re not Kevin Hart, nobody gives a shit.

But you know, with that dynamic, you have to be great. You’re never taught to just be good. It goes back to why I didn’t wanna be a doctor or a rocket scientist. Because it wasn’t glamorous. When you’re growing up, it wasn’t extreme enough. It’s like you have to be the best. You have to be the funniest, or you have to be this person. Certain households in other communities, they don’t necessarily teach that. They teach a different thing. And when you grow up with the money, even in a middle-class home, you grow up well-taken care of. Your aspirations aren’t to burst out of that environment—because it’s not a bad environment to be in. And when you’re in a poor environment, you wanna transcend that. So, I think that’s why that’s placed on blackheads a lot. You have to have this on, you have to look a certain way. And there’s a certain pressure when you are that person because you wanna drive a nice car. Yeah, a Hummer definitely feels better than a Honda Civic. But at the same time, both get you from point A to point B at the exact same rate. But. You know you got the money for it, so go and buy the comfortable car, the one that looks good.

I kind of can understand that. It’s also a generational thing. Americans just have a hard time wrapping their heads around the disproportionate wealth that’s in the black and white communities. They’re just like, ‘Oh! Slavery was like, a thousand years ago. Get over it!’ Actually—no. It was less than two hundred years ago not even counting the reconstructive years that are still happening today! There’s still… think about all of the fucking money—billions and trillions and gazillions of dollars—that have been and are still kept from black people. And wealth accumulates over time, too. There’s a lot of different communities who have been sitting on this wealth and it’s a race that you’re held back from. Maybe that has something to do with it too, you’re breaking out. It’s your first taste of money. You wanna treat yourself.

Right, right.

Anything else we should talk about?

Yeah! Follow me on Instagram, readers. Stay tuned for my comedy album called, The Lamorning After Pill. I don’t know yet, I’m still planning that release. It’s pretty much done. I announced it on Conan that I was gonna do it—for the first time—and since then, a lot of artists have hit me up to say, ‘Hey, let’s do a song.’ So now, I might go back into the studio and add features to it.

Awesome sounds great! Thanks for talking to me!

Take it easy.

*Hangs up the phone, screams, fangirls, watches New Girl on repeat, while googling local listings for The Barbershop 3*

shirt, VALENCIA

story / Koko Ntuen
photos / Kristy Benjamin
groomer / Ashley Bourdon @ Celestine Agency
barber / Chill
stylist / Tara Hunt

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