Anthony Alabi stars opposite Tia Mowry in Netflix's hit family comedy Family Reunion, which is back with a star-studded Part 3 today. If you haven't checked out Family Reunion yet, you may recognize Alabi from his recurring role on Showtime's critically acclaimed Shameless or his appearances on ABC's Blackish and Modern Family. Football fans may also recognize him from his NFL days with the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs.
From NFL to Netflix, Your Money Geek was excited to chat with Anthony Alabi about the premiere of Part 3 of Family Reunion.
Anthony Alabi Teases Part 3 of Netflix's Family Reunion
Maggie Lovitt (ML): So you've been acting for about a decade now, how did you pivot from football into acting?
Anthony Alabi (AA): Oh, it's funny because I get this question a lot. The interesting thing is, it was a pivot, but in reality, acting was kind of the plan all along. It's really what I wanted to do since I was a kid. Often I tell people that when you're 6'6-360, in Texas — you play football. For me, that was the thing, I think at an early age I realized that I needed to play football to kind of set myself up to do what I wanted to do later on in life. I think that was the most important thing.
When I found the opportunity, after getting vested, you know, retirement is taken care of and all the other stuff, I just kind of took that shot and was like, I'm gonna go and do this thing that I've been dreaming of doing since I was a kid. And it's worked out so far. Don't ask me to do it twice. Not sure if it will happen again. But it worked out this time.
ML: With your background in football, I would imagine that there wasn't a lot of character research for Moz. Is your history with football one of the reasons that you were drawn to Family Reunion?
AA: Yeah, I mean, the fact that you're an actor who's doing guest stars and recurring and anybody offers you the lead of a show. [laughs] You take it. I enjoyed reading that script and I enjoyed the idea of the show. Just because being a former football player, you understand the intricacies of that kind of life.
I thought it would be fun to see the family side of that. I loved it. When I read it, I thought it was great. I thought it was something that I could absolutely relate to. I felt that I could bring sort of a groundedness and a realness to that character, but still make it fun. I think that was the most important thing to me and I think the writing staff appreciates that.
ML: I feel like Tia is such a recognizable name in the industry. What was your reaction when you found out that she was going to be playing Cocoa?
AA: I was really pumped. For the longest time, just seeing how Tia held herself in interviews and just seeing how she was on camera, I always knew that she was kind of a goofball. Which is exactly what I am. It was interesting because, since day one when we met each other on set, it was just non-stop messing with each other and just joking around and coming up with things. And it's translated.
Now it's almost three years later and we still do it. I mean, most of our communication is now nonverbal, just because of masks and everything else. We just got to that point where we know each other so well. But we both had the same kind of comedy and I think we were usually in lockstep. I think that's why our chemistry off-camera has shown people on-camera how well we work together.
I was really pumped when I found out and to this day, I'm so grateful and so excited that she's my co-star and she's my on-screen wife.
ML: That answers one of my other questions. Your comedic timing is so spot-on in Family Reunion, so it sounds like you really are that funny in real life. But what do you do to keep it fresh?
AA: Well, as far as funny in real life, I think I am? You'd have to ask my wife on that one. I keep them laughing. I think it was refined with football. I think a lot of times younger actors are like, “Hey, what school should I go to? Or should I drop out of school?” I tell people all the time and they don't want to hear this because it's not a sexy answer. But I say, “You need to live.”
Actors pull from their life experiences and you're not going to get that sitting in a classroom and listening to a teacher or talk or you're not going to get that from taking acting classes. I was like you, “You need to go to school, go to college, go out in the world, and experience people. Learn from people. See their habits [and] the weird little tics that they have. The little hang-ups that they have. Those are the things that kind of build experiences and build characters.
That's what I do in my comedy and in my acting. I pull from all of the experiences that I had in football. Everything you see me do on screen is all pulled from these weird, funny, egotistical, humble, crazy characters that I played within football. I mean hundreds of guys that I've met and played and they're all from different parts of the country [and] different parts of the world. I pulled from that and just the way that they talk or the way they present [themselves] or the rhythm of their voice or their mannerisms.
Those are all things that were so funny to me that when I played football because there's a certain kind of way you hold yourself [and] I could never express that. Now that I'm an actor, I just kind of vomit all that stuff out constantly. It's all very fun for me to release all this stuff.
ML: So what can fans expect from Part Three?
AA: A lot. [laughs] I think in the first two parts we were getting our footing and getting to know each other; coming together as a family [and] exploring this new experiment of the McKellans coming from Seattle and going to Georgia. I think now with the new episodes, we're jelled and it’s a well-oiled machine in the house.
Now you're getting a lot more interpersonal relationships, instead of the awkwardness of the family coming in and it's new. I think now you have these relationships between Jade and her parents because she just came back from running away and breaking up with a boyfriend. You have the kids and their new friends dealing with what's going on there.
Cocoa and Moz are dealing with financial issues and having to be better parents because they can't just throw money at issues. Even the relationship between Grandpa and M'Dear, they're getting out there in age, do they still relate to each other? Are they still keeping it fresh in their relationship? You're gonna see a lot of those interpersonal relationships, as well as exploring social themes like racism, and dealing with friends who are prejudiced or have stereotypical ideas.
I think all of those things are gonna come together, along with the long, beautiful list of guest stars that we had come in the season. It's gonna make for a really entertaining and exciting season and educational. I think we do a lot of the fun educational stuff in there that we did in the first season.
ML: Do you have any favorite scenes that you filmed that you're particularly excited for fans to see?
AA: All of them? Obviously, in the past seasons, there were tons. I mean, there was the one where Cocoa and I were dancing in the bathroom. There's the baptism thing where I get thrown into that lake. There were so many, I mean, all of the church stuff was really funny.
This season there's a lot. There are scenes where we're dancing. The Grease number is going to be something that people really love. There's a really, really funny scene where I have a dream and I'm made into this like baby-toddler. Through the power of CGI, it's hilarious. That was really funny. [laughs]
There's a lot of great scenes that I'm really excited for people to see. So many, in fact, that I have to go back and think. There are so many that we do every time. We [would] go in every week [and] it was like, “What are we doing this week? Are you serious? All right, let's get it!” I think those are the things that I'm excited for people to see.
ML: Going off what you were talking about with how the show has had educational moments to it. There has been a lot of really important conversations lately about how important it is to have diverse writers’ rooms. With Family Reunion having an all-Black writers’ room, how does that resonate with you as an actor?
AA: I think it's important. Naturally, the majority of these writers are white or not people of color. What it is, is [that] you're used to being written a certain way and you're used to it being done in a certain way. It was so refreshing and beautiful to come to work and to see the overarching themes of these episodes of this show, and how these characters are portrayed.
I was talking about this the other day. In the 90s, you have these sitcoms that were Black sitcoms and they were amazing. They were so funny and they were great, but they weren't written by Black people. A lot of them were written by how it was filtered through the view of how white people saw Black people. I think the great thing is that now with this show, it is Black people writing for Black people about Black people.
I think that's amazing. When you get the unfiltered view of your culture and you get to see those little dark corners of your culture that only those who are in it kind of recognize. I think that's what people see when they watch the show. They see the recognition of themselves. I think that's what makes it such a rich, entertaining, and savory thing for people to digest every time these new episodes come out.
I attribute that to the beautiful writing of the writers and the bravery of Meg DeLoatch to go there and explore themes and explore things that people normally shy away from, or water down. She just doesn't do that.
Part 3 of Family Reunion arrives on Netflix today!