From football player to doting father to actor, there isn’t anything Anthony Alabi can’t tackle. There’s something about him that instantly draws you in. It’s a combination of talent, charisma, hunger, and that good old southern hospitality that separates Alabi from the rest. He isn’t afraid to pivot and follow his dreams. That one distinctive quality will take him a long way. Currently starring the hit Netflix show Family Reunion as Moz McKellan, I had the incredible opportunity to speak with Alabi about his transition from football into Hollywood, his experience starring in Family Reunion, and some of his favorite 90’s sitcoms that have impacted his life.
Shan Britton: Can you tell me a little bit of your origin story and how you got started?
Anthony Alabi: I grew up in San Antonio and then ended up out of high school getting appointed to the Naval academy and I loved it, except for the fact that the football team wasn’t what I wanted. So I ended up transferring to TCU. I didn’t get a scholarship to start. I was a defensive lineman and trying to kind of make it. I ended up kind of being asked to switch to the offensive line. I went up against our All-American defensive and knocked him on his butt and ended up kind of getting a scholarship a couple of days later. After that, I got drafted to the NFL in 2005. Played in the NFL I’d say six years. I was kind of acting for five. I got to the point where had my retirement set up, and I just made the decision of what I wanted to do even as a kid, which was to be an actor. I ended up coming to San Diego drove to LA every day, and started to grind. I booked my first audition, which was this little webisode slash video game for this old show on USA called Burn Notice. I met my writing partner on that set and I met a couple of friends who introduced me to the man who would eventually become my mentor, teacher, and manager. From there it just grew, we started off doing a lot of commercial stuff and it grew into a lot more TV and film. So really proud of it, a long journey. It’s a long way to go.
SB: That’s amazing. So who would you say were some of your greatest influences growing up that helped shape your career?
AA: I looked at guys like Deacon Jones. Mike Singletary, it was a lot of defensive guys cause I just liked that mentality. When I went into acting Don Cheadle, Forest Whitaker, Regina Hall you know, Bryan Cranston and, Jason Bateman.
SB: So what was that transition like from football into going into acting? How would you say that football prepared you for that?
AA: The transition obviously was not easy. I lost some friends some people didn’t understand, a lot of people did understand and they supported me. I think football did something very valuable for me, which is it prepared me for this industry. I didn’t know that at the time, but now looking back, there are so many parallels between professional sports and the entertainment industry. I take a lot of those tools and apply them to this industry.
SB: Wow. That’s amazing. You have to have that discipline to continually move on and progress your career.
SB: What would you say have been the most difficult role that you’ve endured so far and how did you prepare for it?
AA: There’s been roles that are very difficult to kind of prepare for, but I have to say this one Family Reunion. It’s not difficult as in the character, it’s more difficult as an actor, because the roles that I’ve taken were kind of layered and they were only for a week. What makes this much more difficult is that now I’m having to do this day in and day out for three months, four months. In the case of the pandemic in filming season two, we did it for a year. The harder it is to prepare the more I like it because I love acting. It’s building to something more. I think when you start thinking about these terms like that, instead of it being something that you’re tired from, it’s more like something I’m preparing for.
SB: What was your audition process like for Family Reunion?
AA: Oh man. It was a crazy process. So I was, I was recurring on the show called Raven’s Home, the executive, the head writer for that Anthony Hill called me. He was like, Hey man, listen, there’s this role on a show that a friend of mine is creating and it’s about a football player and he moves his family from Seattle to Georgia. I was like honestly, that sounds great. I will audition. I appreciate it. But I’m not going to get that role, because I’m not a name and they’re going to want all that. Can you just promise me that you’ll get me like a recurring or something that will help my career a little bit?
AA: I did the first audition, I think a week or two later, we had a producer session where I’m going to call back. At that point, I had already tested for this other pilot that required me to basically have my head shaved and I had this big LeBron James beard. It was crazy because I went into this Family Reunion, audition like that.
AA: I’d say about a month and a half four to six weeks after that call back that I didn’t hear anything. So in my mind, I was like, okay, cool. They moved on. That’s it. So my wife and I were down for the night. We pull back the covers and ding on my phone and I was like, what is this? And they sent me the sides because at 8 in the morning, the next morning. I’m going to test for the show in front of Netflix executives. I freaked out. The next morning we went and we tested probably two or three times. They told me I had the role while I was driving I almost got into an accident, we cried for two days out of joy and it was great.
SB: I have to say that I genuinely love Family Reunion. You know, I watched it with my son and my niece and they love it. When I told my son I was interviewing you, he was so excited.
AA: Thank you so much for the support. We really appreciate it. Honestly, we love the fact that people watch it with their families and that they enjoyed it so much. Especially during this time, it’s good to make people laugh.
SB: How does this show relate to your own family? Are there any lessons that you’ve learned on the show that you would incorporate into your own life?
AA: What I do look at it as it’s almost like a time machine so I know what I’m going to get into later on. I’m going to take this knowledge and kind of tuck it away for that rainy day when my daughter tries to sneak out of the house or my son is being mischievous and does something. So that’s the fun part about it. The relating code is it’s very similar just because I think Moz and I kind of parent the same way. We’re always kind of relaxed and funny and enjoying ourselves, but when it comes down to discipline or something that needs to get done, it gets done.
SB: I love that the show tackles so many important issues, for this season there was an episode surrounding death. I think that was really important, especially for young children to see that there are different ways that we cope with these things and handle them.
AA: Meg, and the writing staff, don’t really shy away from any kind of themes. I think a lot of sitcoms try to avoid certain things. I think we hit it head-on, whether it be race, interpersonal relationships in a family, or like you said, death. I think with that episode with Principal Glass, we’re kind of patting ourselves on the back. I think we nailed it. I love that we showed each member of the family grieving in their own way and talking through it.
SB: On the show, you are working with some incredible legends. You have Tia Mowry, Richard Roundtree, and Loretta Devine, top-tier legends, what have they taught you about acting?
AA: It’s more of just watching them and watching how they work. You know, I love like Tia is a juggernaut, right? She’s a solid, When she walks on set, you know, what you’re going to get, the respect is there and we just worked so well together. She’s very funny when it comes to kind of sitcoms, she just has this formula down. When you’re talking about Richard and Loretta. I mean, just watching them work. I’ve seen Loretta, you know, joking around playing off, off-screen, and then all of a sudden she gets on screen and she just turns the switch on. The fact that she can just dial in so quickly is something that I aspire to do constantly. When it comes to Richard and I got so pumped, when I found out he was my dad. He’s lived up to everything I thought he would be. He’s so cool. The coolest man I’ve ever met by far, there’s an ease to him and there’s an ease to his acting. I try to kind of emulate that every now and then because I think it lends to being grounded as an actor.
SB: That is incredible to be able to watch and shadow, these artists who have been in this industry for so many years.
SB: So here at Zumble, we love nostalgia the 80s, 90s, and things of those eras. So I have to ask you, what are some of your favorite 90’s sitcoms that have had a profound impact on your life?
AA: So obviously The Cosby Show, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Family Matters. I love Full House. You know, I had a crush on DJ. There’s just so many. I mean, those are the main ones that kind of stick out to me, especially the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I just loved the way that that show was executed. I loved the relationships. I thought every character had such a strong point of view. I enjoyed Will Smith. I look up to Will Smith a lot. I see him and I see kind of the range that he has. He has something that I try to make myself into in my own way.
SB: That’s amazing. Wow. So I think the only thing is left to ask is, what’s next for you?
AA: There’s a, there’s a few projects that we can’t talk about but there’s stuff coming. Voiceover is another big one that will be coming out soon and production. I have a library of scripts that we’ve just finished and we’re eager to kind of get out and get pitched. We’re in the process right now with several of them. I’m excited to see how it turns out. I’m excited to see how this kind of develops and you guys will definitely see a lot more.
SB: Well, we are definitely looking forward to it. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to interview with us.
AA: Thanks for having me I appreciate it.
Season 3 of Family Reunion is currently streaming on Netflix.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.Leave a comment