Allen Maldonado is always on the clock. In this very moment, he’s on an important call regarding a short film that he’s co-writing with Jessie T. Usher (Survivor’s Remorse). The reel, titled A Father’s Love, is backed by Maldonado’s Everybody Digital platform. In the midst of the creative process, one of the actors bailed out on him last minute. Now, Maldonado is hunting to find another performer, but he doesn’t seem pressed—he speaks in the convincing tones of a multi-million dollar Hollywood dealmaker. “You already have a deal in,” he says as he sips Orange Dulce tea. “The check is clear.”
On this mundane December afternoon, Maldonado dissects his journey to Hollywood stardom in a dimly lit restaurant called The Six. Clad in a neon green Nike sweater paired with gray sweatpants, you might recognize him as Curtis, Anthony Anderson’s right-hand man on Black-ish. The black and Puerto Rican actor was raised in Rialto by a single mother who woke up at 4 a.m. every day to get to work in L.A. County. From an early age, he knew the benefits and power of hard work.
That persistence to succeed has led him to land stellar roles in some of television’s hottest shows, like The Last O.G. starring Tiffany Haddish and Tracy Morgan. The TBS program premiered in April and broke the record for the strongest debut on the network with 1.8 million viewers on premiere night, Deadline reports. Its plot centers around second chances. Morgan’s character (Tray) is sent away to prison for 15 years and returns home to a gentrified Brooklyn where he has to adjust to a foreign life. Prior to Tray’s incarceration, he was in a relationship with Shay (Haddish). Once freed, he finds out he has two children she kept hidden from him, and she’s married to a white man.
Maldonado plays the naïve cousin Bobby, who glorifies Tray for his past and coolness and is just happy to be here. “I think Bobby is pro-Tray everything,” he says. “He just wants Tray to succeed. Being that he looks up to him so much, he’s going to help Tray.”
Morgan, who recently garnered a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, suffered a major car accident in 2014. The impact broke his nose, leg and ribs. On Morgan’s comeback, Maldonado says it was inspiring to see the public’s reaction. “I saw four people get emotional and cry with him being healthy and surviving an accident, and they just appreciate him back in comedy,” he says. “That right there was profound watching how large of impact he has on what he does. It just inspires me to continue to inspire.”
Maldonado holds onto that inspiration to get ahead in an industry where the air in your life jacket depends on how deep your resume is. That determination to keep floating amid the currents has always existed since his early beginnings.
By his senior year of high school, Maldonado realized that acting was his calling. Given his years on his school’s basketball team, he applied that “same work ethic” into his career. While taking acting classes, he enrolled in college and worked two jobs to sustain his dreams. Eventually, he booked roles on Young And The Restless; The Equalizer; Dope and Straight Outta Compton. He also made it a point to study the craft of writing. He credits Kiko Ellsworth (Jamal from General Hospital), Kenya Barris (creator of Black-ish) and Michael O’Malley (creator of Survivor’s Remorse) as his mentors.
After Maldonado showed Barris a short film he made with $500, he took notice of his writing talents and pushed the rising star to start refining his pen. “I remember him inviting me to Disney Studios,” he says. “And us walking through the compound of all his employees, and writers. It inspired me out of this world. He’s from Inglewood, a rough neighborhood. And he’s a person of color in his position. I never saw myself in his position. That’s what inspired me to begin all these adventures in writing.”
Those adventures turned into a position as a writer on Survivor’s Remorse, and eventually the start of his own streaming platform, Everybody Digital. He also founded a non-profit organization for at-risk youth in Los Angeles called Demo Nerds where kids get a chance to write, produce and edit their own short films.
To say Maldonado has his hands full is an understatement, but he doesn’t see this as work even though he had to struggle to get to where he is now. He’s a firm believer in what you put out into the universe, you get back. “I always believe that you meet up with your blessings,” he says. “God has already set out so many things, and so many accomplishments that you can achieve but you have to work towards them.”
Part of that work is continuing to make a change in the racial landscape of Hollywood. Maldonado believes it comes down to simply creating a community, helping the majority not fear what they don’t understand, having ownership of intellectual property, and creating your own opportunities.
“The common theme for me in a meeting is usually to be one of the two black people there, ” he explains. “The problem stems from people fearing what they don’t know, and a lot of times these executives don’t understand the culture.”
In efforts to help the world understand his particular point of view, he hopes to have complete authority and opportunity in positions of power, even if that means making his own entryway into powerful rooms. “For me, it’s never about a seat at the table,” he adds. “It’s about having my own table.”