All it takes is one conversation with Larenz Tate to feel his passion, the same energy that is infused in each performance that has crated a loyal fan base reaching back to his O-Dog days.
His latest performance is based in a completely different world than South Central. Tate finds himself as Zachery Cranston, a scheming businessman in what he refers to as a dark comedy in Business Ethics. The film is released through TateMen Entertainment, a partnership established between Larenz and his brothers Lahmard and Larron, who are using their hands on experiences, in front and behind the camera, which they have built up over the last 25 years of work.
For Larenz Tate, releasing this movie during a pandemic served as an opportunity to go direct to consumers, but like the rest of the world, there was an adjustment made both personally and professionally.
Speaking with The Source, Larenz Tate details his new character, learning Hollywood to not be reliant on its current structure, receiving an idea from another Chicago legend in Quincy Jones and more.
It’s a lot going on in the world so I feel to have the responsibility to ask. Are you doing alright? Mentally, physically, in every way possible?
I’ve been truly blessed, man. During the shutdown and everything, myself and my family, meaning my wife and my four children, we’ve been pretty much just kind of staying inside. Go out when it’s necessary. We’ve been really fortunate to stay healthy and everybody’s doing well. There is a bit of a challenge that happens when we have been doing homeschool. My sons who were in school, would rather be around their friends and that gets a little challenging too because they in front of a computer for six hours a day.
This has also given time for us to kind of instill the real principles and just to talk about the world that’s going on right now. We keeping it real, keeping it unapologetic.
We had a whole lot going on this year with deaths, police brutality, and pandemics. How have you been able to ground yourself and make sure that you stay on track professionally?
That part has been the toughest. When you are seeing what’s going on, whether it’s back home in Chicago, here in Los Angeles, anywhere that your loved ones are, or just in general, it’s tough. The police brutality is something that Black folks have been experiencing forever. We’ve been dealing with that for a long, long time. It’s just that now you’re able to now point it out in real-time because you have actual evidence. Oftentimes when Black folks would point out injustices or things of racism or inequality, we usually are seen maybe stretching the truth or overreacting. They look at us with skepticism when we talked about the injustices as if it’s not rooted in fact, but in theory. Now we continuously reliving trauma when we see it on television when we see it on social media and that’s been really, really tough.
I feel like we have to address it quite honestly. When people try to say that there’s no color-coded society or they’re color blind, it’s not true. Now that we understand and can accept that we function in a color-coded society, where certain people in certain groups have benefits or privileges, we have to address it. Us as Black people, we have to find things that matter to us, and we cannot always look for other people outside of our group to create the solutions for us. We have to figure out what the solutions are for ourselves. These are the things that these are the things I’m teaching my children. It’s tough dealing with a pandemic.
Professionally, you can’t go on set. You must continue to quarantine You can’t do the things that will be natural to us in going to shake hands and hug people. But that’s not the real adjustment. We’ve seen with this administration who’s really in it for the greater good of the people in the nation. People that have their own agenda and not for the entire country.
I want to come back to us as Black people, specifically in ownership, but this new movie, Business Ethics, is a different role for you. We have seen you as O-Dog, Councilman Tate, Darius Lovehall, but now you are a professional out of business school. Lack of better words you are coming up off a Ponzi scheme. How was preparation for this role for you?
I’m always looking for stuff that’s going to challenge me. I’m always trying to branch out and tell stories and see how I can be a part of it from the grassroots. That’s how it came about. I came on as a producer and it originally was a short feature film, 15 minutes, and it was really about a middle-aged white man who was going through what my character is going through. And as we thought about how we can make this story different, it came to put a Black man in a world where you don’t oftentimes see Black men. In a corporate space, the financial world and winning in a way that you typically see other people winning.
From there I decided I would like to speak to a brother who decides to take matters into his own hand, whether it was the quick fix or this greater scheme to get ahead. It’s something that is a part of the world of the financial market and we wanted that. We wanted to make it kind of unique to see a brother in that space and deal with the moral compass of “should I really do this?”
When this life-altering thing happens to him, he decides to say, okay, I’m going to try this Ponzi scheme and see if it works. And you know, it wouldn’t be a movie if we didn’t have the scheme work. And it continues to work to the point where he begins to believe that he’s meant to scam people out of their money. It’s an interesting story. We tell it in a way that, you know, kind of has a field of a thriller, it’s kind of a dark comedy in the sense that it’s funny.
My brothers Larron and Lahmard, we have a production company and this movie speaks to our mindset of doing things independently, not asking for permission, not waiting for the big machine of Hollywood to say, you guys can and should do this. Once the movie was done, we shopped it around and got a lot of great responses. But because of the way things are, you know, there’s a shutdown, and we were like, this is a great opportunity to do this independently and just go straight to market as if we were the studio. What’s great about these platforms, if they think that your project is something that is worthy to be on their platform, that they feel like there’s some business there, you can do it.
Did you find a certain challenge that you weren’t specifically prepared for in releasing this movie?
We did a lot of research and going around town. We’ve seen a few other projects that went straight to the market and it’s going great. Also when you think about the music industry, sometimes artists will just drop an album or go straight to their streaming services and put it out there for the people and find that independent way to do business. So we kind of took a little bit of those models. And again, it has always interested us to kind of function independently outside of Hollywood. Like in the spirit of a studio. We don’t have money like a studio, I’ll be totally upfront by that, but it speaks as you don’t need to necessarily have the same amount of money and in the machine of a studio to produce, direct, star in a movie through and get it out there.
You have had the Hollywood experience but family is different. How did it feel to launch into this venture with your family?
I work with my brothers, they’re the people that I trust. And if I’m going to go through anything, the highs and the lows, a family is something that is just natural. It felt great to do this with people that I’ve known my entire life, as opposed to saying I wish I did this with my brother. I wish I was apart of this with my brother.
It’s been a Black renaissance in telling our stories. Earlier we spoke briefly on ownership of our work and companies. How did that resonate with your aims going forward and what sparked the idea to start on your own?
Well, I can answer the latter question first. Our father is the person who instilled it enough to do things sort of on our own. We would sit and watch TV shows and say “if this was a black version.” This was very early on in our career. He said to write it instead of talk about it. So when my brother Ron went to UCLA he switched to theater and me and Lahmard we found ourselves gravitating towards the people behind the scenes where they would have the directors and the producers. We saw we had to learn the ends and outs of the business. We had to know how to read a contract independent of our lawyer. It was more about responsibility, more than anything. It’s our responsibility to know the things.
So I felt like having our stories told in the narrative, the best way to tell Black stories or stories that matter to us is coming from Black people. We have a podcast called Bronzeville, which is a story of a community of people who began to thrive on their own during The great migration coming out of the South in the early 1900s. On the Southside of Chicago, we had our own banks, we had black-owned and operated hospitals and schools. Everything was happening, just in like places like Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Harlem. These are things that we have gotten away from, right? That is important for us to get back so that we can have it for our children.
Quincy Jones is from Chicago, I portrayed him in Ray and we had a conversation when we met. He said, man, “Do you know about the policy? And do you know about how Chicago sort of built this thing on the Southside” and he gave me some information and said you got to do a story about this. So for the longest, we’ve been trying to get it done, but doing the research, Black folks really had it figured out. At the root of a lot of this stuff, they were doing things that were considered like gambling. It was running numbers, right? So we were running numbers, which is called policy. Eventually, other communities started seeing this. Other people began to see this. They were bootlegging, we black folks wasn’t bootlegging. That’s how the country was held, was partially built. The economy will do these things, selling tobacco, all that other stuff, right? Ours was running numbers. The government comes in and takes that over the running of the numbers. And it became what we know today as the Illinois state lottery. People will notice that the lottery is something that we did to thrive. You play a couple numbers. Take five cents to make five dollars. That was a lot of money back in the twenties and thirties before. We found ways that to get this money and we reinvested the money back into our infrastructure because we had all this stuff.
Somehow America finds its way to either take it over or take it for money. They go and bomb you. Americans literally bombed Tulsa, Oklahoma. The government bombing people. They call it a race thing. Where do just everyday citizens don’t have airplanes to drop bombs? But again, they’ll look at what we’re saying, you know, with skepticism, because racism is something that you, you can’t just quite pinpoint such a broad general thing. And no one wants to accept that a certain group has benefited from racism.
With all of this on your plate, a continuing career in front and behind the camera, is there a passion project that you have your mind on?
Yes, there’s a couple of them. I’m looking to do something in the social justice space in terms of what we are currently dealing with. We have dealt with this for so long as Black people. I want to really address and explore that on many different levels. That is my passion project. I want to get down to it. I’m currently working on some things right now with my brothers and some other really talented and top-notch people. We have to really discuss what’s going on out here.