Behind the Smile of Lance Gross
written by: iman n. milner
Actors are often generalized. They’re seen as outgoing, self-serving maniacs who we all assume were always the life of every party. We give surface definitions to this breed of entertainers and write off those who seem too beautiful to have ever been an outsider. So imagine the surprise one may have meeting Lance Gross, the shy and handsome star of Tyler Perry’s hit show House of Payne.
Lance is nothing like you’d expect. He’s gentle and kind and seems to be in no way aware of how absolutely striking he is. But on this beautiful day in Malibu, though he may not be aware of his appeal, none of our staff can take our eyes off of him.
The youngest of three children, Lance Gross has always been an object of affection. And over the last few years he’s become the man of every woman’s’ dreams but he admits that the attention still doesn’t seem warranted. “I mean I think I’m alright”, he says before cracking his now infamously perfect smile, “I wouldn’t put it where a lot of people have placed it, I mean I appreciate it but I’m no different from the next dude.” That genuine air of sincerity is perhaps the most impressive thing about Gross. No ego. No gimmicks. Just pure transparency that makes you feel right at home in his presence.
Growing up in Oakland, CA in a family that he says was “like the Cosbys”; Lance Gross was taught a valuable lesson early on. “ Everything I needed they (my parents) gave me, they spoiled me but at a certain age they made me work for everything that I got. They gave me a good balance of having drive and working hard for the things I really want”, Lance explains, “so I’m a firm believer in dreams come true through hard work”. As he should be. When Gross enrolled at Howard University in Washington, DC, he was not an incoming theatre student; he was there on a full track and field scholarship. There were doubts, both internal and external; that this shy kid could ever break out of his shell to become the actor he is today. And of course, there was the sport that had allowed him to continue on to higher education. “In college I made the decision that this was something I wanted to do. I wanted to major in theatre but I couldn’t because I was on a full scholarship”, he says, “and at the time my parents weren’t all that supportive of acting. All through college I was kicking myself in the ass like ‘you should’ve did what you wanted to do”. But that didn’t stop him.
Upon graduating, Lance made his way back to Los Angeles and jumped headfirst into his career. After landing what he thought to be only 10 episodes as Calvin on Tyler Perry’s, House of Payne, Lance knew that his decision to follow his dreams was the right one and that only success would follow. But asking Lance about his measure of success proved to be quite interesting. As one of those infectious smiles crosses his face, he explains his admirable view of his accomplishments. “I’ve been successful since I was a kid. My parents always taught me to set goals, accomplish them and immediately replace them so you’re always striving for more”, he explains, “so as a kid getting an “A” in class made me successful. As far as my career…when you have dreams and you accomplish them, that’s success.”
Success hasn’t come to Lance Gross in every part of his life, however. When we switch gears to talk about his personal life, he’s noticeably uncomfortable and maybe even painfully shy. Being raised in a household by parents who’ve been married for almost half a century has made him long for a love like theirs. Yet it’s something he just hasn’t found yet. “I’ve learned our generation isn’t the same. What my parents had and have…we’re just so different, we don’t think the same and people aren’t into working on themselves”. But although he recognizes the differences in a world that seems to not be conducive to a love that lasts forever, Lance stresses the qualities in himself that make him an ideal mate. “If I’m in love with you, I’m in love with you. You don’t have to worry about anything”, he says, “If you’re mine, I’m yours. I’ll give you everything that you need”.
Are you completely ready to drop everything and sign up for Lance’s heart yet? Right. His honesty about love show maturity and depth, it shows him more than just a ladies man with a body to live for and a face to dream of waking up to every morning but it also creates a mystery. A puzzle.
How does a man like Lance Gross find himself single and unable to find Mrs. Right?
He later reveals that his own reservations with love may be to blame. “Love can be the most fulfilling feeling in the world and also the emptiest feeling in the world. It’s no fun when you love someone but just can’t be with them because they aren’t right for you. That’s the down side of love. I’m at a place where I kinda fear love at the moment…there’s just that possibility of the down side I’m not ready to deal with again.” Although he’s not running with open arms towards the embrace of love, he knows exactly what qualities he’s looking for in a woman whose love he’d accept. “She’s gotta be my best friend first. We gotta be able to just hang. If I can sit alone in silence with you and have the time of my life, we’re good.” And what really does it for Lance? (Because we know that’s what you’re all wondering!). “I love when a woman is comfortable in her skin and doesn’t have to do much. Just be effortlessly fly whether it’s the way she dresses or just the way she carries herself. I think that’s the flyest thing in the world. That confidence.”
Living the single life has afforded Lance the ability to focus fully on his budding career and his many artistic hobbies. His focus landed him the romantic lead opposite America Ferrara and Forest Whitaker in last summer’s, Our Family Wedding and has kept Calvin, his immature and irresponsible character on House of Payne, in our hearts for over 100 episodes. But Lance is not only an actor. He’s a painter, having decorated and painted his entire condo in Los Angeles himself, a photographer and an athlete who “plays EVERYTHING”. With all of his substance and genuine honesty there are still misconceptions about Lance Gross some centering around rumors and some simply gathered from his physical appearance but one of the biggest (and most untrue) is that Lance is self-centered and has a booming ego. “Everybody who knows me knows that I’m not like that”.
But you don’t have to know him to see the true Lance; he wears it on his sleeve. In his warmth is a genuine appreciation for everything that has happened for him thus far and a huge respect to his fans who make it all possible “ When people say “I know you hear this all of the time”…it’s like ‘No’. Every time somebody gives me a compliment, I appreciate it.” Never forgetting his roots in Oakland, CA, an area often stricken by youth violence, he doesn’t shy away from the ability he has to make a change in people’s lives. “I have the responsibility to be a good role model especially to African American men. It brings me joy when people from Oakland say ‘we have so much negativity here and you’ve proven that you can get out of the city and do great things’, as long as I’m setting a good example I think I’m doing my job”. When speaking of role models and his body of work thus far, the influence of Tyler Perry both to him and to African American culture is up for discussion. Perry often stands as subject of great debate in the community he claims to represent but Gross feels that his service to this culture is to be praised. “Tyler is great at what he does. It’s not for everybody but the people who support him, love it. I think he’s doing so much good that people aren’t even recognizing. He has given so many of us jobs…he’s pretty much changed the game. Everybody’s gonna have an opinion”.
But opinion has never outweighed fact. If you ever by chance meet Lance Gross, or even if this story is the closest you’ll ever get, know that you’ve caught a glimpse of honesty in its purest form. A man who has taken his stumbling blocks and turned them into success. A man who lives with his mind open but for now his heart remains closed. A man for whom life changed one night in an acting class when a superstar producer/director decided he deserved to have his talents broadcast to audiences worldwide. A man whose happiness hasn’t been dimmed by the bright lights though his privacy has been stripped from him. And most importantly a warm spirit in a humble being with life behind his smile and depth behind his eyes. Lance Gross is simply complex and is fast on his way to becoming our next big leading man but don’t expect to hear that from him. We’re sure he’ll just smile, divert his eyes and say a polite “thank you”; after all, he’s no different from the next dude, right?
Written By: Iman Milner
Photography: Ashley B. Nguyen
MUA: Ashley Blaine
Stylist: Kristie Jorfald