Tate, Larenz 1975–
Larenz Tate 1975–
Ralph Farquhar, who served as executive producer of a television series that co-starred Larenz Tate, told YSB magazine he considered the young performer “probably one of the leading young actors in the country right now.” After a head-turning performance in the urban drama Menace II Society, Tate portrayed a variety of characters that showcased his considerable versatility. Yet for all the recognition he earned, the young actor stayed true to his roots. “I might have a little more money and know more celebrities,” he told the Hyde Park Citizen of his mid-90s status, “but that doesn’t have an impact on the way I live.”
Tate was born in Chicago, the youngest of three brothers. The boys were protected from the predatory streets by their vigilant parents. “Rather than just let their kids hang out when we were young,” the actor related in the Indianapolis Recorder, ”my parents enrolled us in drama classes. I was in third grade when I started acting.” It took a while for the theatrical bug to bite, however. “I just wanted to hang out with my buddies,” Tate told USA Today.”I didn’t think about this acting thing. I was pretty shy. “Soon, though, there was interest from talent agents. “This agent was interested in one of my brothers, “Larenz recalled in Vibe, ”but my father said we came as a unit—if it ain’t all of us, it ain’t none of us.”
The family moved to Los Angeles, and the three boys began appearing in plays at the Inner City Cultural Center. “My father told me that acting was a gift,” he pointed out in YSB, ”to respect it, not take it for granted. “He conveyed more of the senior Tate’s wisdom in Vibe: ”My father told us when we were little that we shouldn’t just watch TV for entertainment,” he recollected, “we should think of a few things we would want to put down on paper. “This sort of advice helped cultivate his appreciation of the craft. “I like the challenge of the work,” heaverred. “People wanna see the reward before the work. But you should wanna be rewarded for the work you do, not the work you might do. A lot of these guys out here [in Hollywood] wanna be up here for five minutes. I wanna be up here for a while.”
All three Tate brothers began to find work, and Larenz appeared on such series as The Twilight Zone and Family Matters before getting a recurring role as Curtis on The Royal Family in 1991. His siblings-who were struggling film actors themselves-wished him only the best, he told USA Today: ”Once we saw doors opening for myself mainly, there wasn’t any animosity or envy with my brothers. As a family we did the right thing-focused and pushed me.”
Larenz co-starred on The Royal Family with veteran entertainers Della Reese and the late Redd Foxx. It was the latter-who played the grandfather of Tate’s character-who gave the series much of its impetus, he
At a Glance…
Born September 8, 1975, Chicago, IL; son of Larry and Peggy Tate.
Television and film actor, 1985—. Appeared on television programs The New Twilight Zone, 21 Jump Street, The Women of Brewster Place, Matlock, Seeds of Tragedy, Clippers, The Wonder Years, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Family Matters, New Attitude, The Royal Family and South Central, 1985-94; appeared in theatrical films Menace II Society (1993), The Inkwell (1994),Dead Presidents (1995),Love Jones (1997) and The Postman (in production, 1997).
Addresses: Home —Chicago and Los Angeles.
related to YSB: “After his passing, the show took a different direction,” Tate mused. “It didn’t have the same energy. I finally understood what he meant about keeping up the fight.” Indeed, the young actor referred to his time on the show as “the groundbreaking point in my career.”
His TV work, however, proved something of a handicap when Tate went after his first major film part. He wanted to play the sociopathic teen O-Dog in Menace II Society, which was written and directed by Allen and Albert Hughes. The Hughes brothers were skeptical about the young performer because of his background. “When I first went in, they didn’t know what to think, “he remembered in YSB.”They only knew me from Curtis. It took about four times of me going in.” He added in the Indianapolis Recorder that the filmmaker-brothers “were concerned that my baby face didn’t look convincing enough. “But his talent and preparation won them over. “I had a pulse on the character,” Tate recollected in Vibe.”Physically, they had a set idea. O-Dog was short and stocky. But I wanted to make the character mine, so I went in there and made them believe me. They couldn’t deny me.”
He elaborated on the real-life sources of this powerful characterization: “A lot of brothers are just numb,” he asserted. “Very lifeless. O-Dog couldn’t see past his surroundings and didn’t want to. He was a star in his neighborhood. His heart was cold, but he was the guy you hate to love, with all his charm and charisma. People keyed into him. “In his interview with YSB, he asserted that “a lot of people-young boys, whether they are black, white or green-love O-Dog, and I don’t know why. “He went on to argue that his character in Menace ”wanted to become popular, but he didn’t want to do anything positive. So he did something crazy and became a hero in the neighborhood—what he thought was a hero,” Tate insisted. “But he wasn’t a hero.”
The Hughes brothers told YSB that Tate “brought so much to that character that we knew we had to use him. “Among these were a distinctive hairstyle and tattoos. Research was key in attacking the role. “I met with former gang members and other inner city guys to make myself look the part,” he informed the Indianapolis Recorder. But the most important element was the ruthless-yet-magnetic energy Tate brought to the role. Were it not for his upbringing, he suggested in Buzz, he might resemble O-Dog: “I thank God every minute I think about my family,” he noted. “Without them, I really don’t know what I’d be doing.”
Tate went on to play a very different role, the withdrawn and bookish Drew, in the nostalgic coming-of-age tale “The Inkwell.” The character “is very different from everyone around him,” he told the Indianapolis Recorder.”He is somewhat eccentric, quoting Shakespeare, and has very little interaction with other youth, especially young girls.” He added that the film conveyed “a sense of family values. Growing up can be difficult,” he insisted, “and the idea of trying to get in touch with who you are and not compromising any of your values while trying to blend in with the rest of the world is more than a notion. “In Vibe, however, Tate pointed to one similarity between Drew and O-Dog: “Both of them were distinctive within their surroundings,” he noted. “They both had minds and visions of their own.”
Tate was a regular on the 1994 TV series South Central, which earned some good reviews but also invited criticism for what some viewers saw as a stereotypical depiction of black life. “Everybody was criticizing the pilot [in which Tate’s character’s brother was shot to death],” the actor countered in YSB.”But this only depicts one family in a certain community. It’s about the struggle to keep a family together, unified.”
He returned to film in the Hughes’ controversial action drama Dead Presidents. He played Anthony Curtis, a Vietnam war vet who falls into a life of crime upon returning home. “Anthony thought he would return a hero,” Tate reflected in the Hyde Park Citizen.”Instead, it seemed that nobody cared that he risked his life for them. “He added, “I had uncles who spent time in Vietnam, and I talked with them. They read the script and liked it mainly because it tells the story about when the soldiers returned home.” In Vibe, he confessed he’d been “surprised to find out how young the brothers going over [to Vietnam] were,” adding, “I always thought it was older guys going over there to fight. But many of these brothers were just out of high school.”
The film’s violent and spectacular elements lessened it in the eyes of many reviewers, who felt that its serious story was compromised by such excess. Yet Cinemania Online’s Jeff Shannon asserted, the film is “an important work, not fully appreciated in its time.” Meanwhile, Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times felt that Tate was central to the film’s impact. The actor, wrote, Turan, “galvanized “Menace II” with his performance as the thoughtlessly homicidal O-Dog, and his work here is equally impressive. While playing one or the other of Anthony’s personalities would not be difficult, Tate is convincing both as the dreamy prewar innocent and the haunted Vietnam veteran. By making Anthony’s terrible change believable, Tate gives the Hughes brothers’ work an intimate, human quality it might not otherwise have.” Added the Philadelphia Tribune, ”Some say power comes out of the barrel of a gun. Those who have seen Larenz Tate and [Presidents co-star] N’Bushe Wright may disagree.”
Tate took yet another new direction by winning the lead in the 1997 romantic comedy Love Jones. A low-key, sophisticated love story that eschewed many of the elements of previous successes in the black film world, the feature was written and directed by Theodore Witcher. “It’s a date movie,” Tate opined to the Atlanta Journal and Constitution’s Steve Murray. “Love has been around forever. But to see young African-American people in this light—with responsibilities, feelings and emotions and not just toting guns around—it’s a breath of fresh air.” Tate portrayed poet Darius Love-hall, and his life of words was an important factor for Witcher. “I told Larenz that if there’s a kid who picks up a book just because he sees him do it in the movie, then it will have been a great success,” the filmmaker told the Los Angeles Times.
Tate’s love interest in Jones was played by actress Nia Long, who described the discomfort of an intimate scene in TV Guide.”I had to have a glass of champagne before the love scene, just to relax,” she said of her boudoir moment with Tate. “And Larenz doesn’t drink, so he was nervous. I mean, I had to kiss this man almost every day.
He’s a great kisser and all that, but still, he’s not my boyfriend. A love scene or anything that intimate is always an invasion of your personal space.” While many critics praised the film’s gentle, adult approach, not all agreed about its effectiveness, nor that of its stars. Jack Mathews of Newsday blamed the character more than the actor. “Darius is much too self-absorbed a character to give us a real stake in the outcome of his courtship,” he wrote in his review. Esther Iverem of the Washington Post, meanwhile, ventured that Tate “simply hasn’t developed the mature screen sex appeal to carry off this romantic lead. “Some years earlier, Tate seemed to foresee some of this kind of criticism. “My focus is not on being a sex symbol,” he informed YSB.”My focus is on the work. I don’t want to take that for granted.”
Tate wrapped production on the science-fiction epic, The Postman, starring Kevin Costner, which is scheduled for release late 1997. While he had demonstrated his substantial range as an actor over the preceding several years, Tate acknowledged that many challenges still remain for black actors. “I’m sick of turning on the TV and seeing another brother handcuffed,” he expressed in YSB.”I know what it looks like and I’m sick of seeing it. We need to see a different side.” And as he noted in the Philadelphia Tribune, ”in some cases, you know you do have to be a little better than the next [actor], because you find that there are a lot of hurdles that you’re going to have to cross; because there are people who look at you for what you are supposed to be able to do as a black man. So that is always going to be an issue and always going to be around.” Nonetheless, he expressed his confidence about his future. “One day,” he predicted in YSB, ”you’re gonna come to my studio, you know what I mean? Coming to the Tate Brothers lot.”
Atlanta Journal and Constitution, March 13, 1997, p. E2.
Buzz Online, 1994.
Cinemania Online, 1996.
Hyde Park Citizen, October 5, 1995.
Indianapolis Recorder, May 14, 1994.
Los Angeles Times, October 4, 1995, p. El; March 20, 1997, p. E8.
Newsday, March 14, 1997, p. B9.
Philadelphia Tribune, September 29, 1995.
TV Guide, April 19, 1997.
USA Today, February 28, 1997.
Vibe, September 1995.
Washington Post, March 14, 1997.
YSB, August 31, 1994.
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