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Lawrence H. Robinson is just chasing his dreams

The actor on making the leap to television, meeting Tyler Perry and how the COVID-19 pandemic is changing his mindset

For actor Lawrence H. Robinson, it was the birth of his son, Aiden, that motivated him to pursue his dream. So, in 2012, the West Philadelphia native moved to New York City.

“I just started chasing it. My first big job was a Macy’s commercial with P. Diddy called Diddy Dash. I was the face of Timex, that was pretty cool,” he said. “I had a really consistent career with commercials and print, but when it came to TV and film, it just wasn’t really happening like that.”

And now, he’s landed a film role in The Business of Christmas, a holiday movie releasing this year. Besides his movie appearance, Robinson will have a recurring television spot on Tyler Perry’s BET drama Sistas, a one-hour comedy that follows four single girlfriends in their 30s who have reached the milestone beyond young adulthood. On the show, Robinson plays a guy named Chris who had a rough childhood, but beat the odds and opened his own construction business.

The Undefeated caught up with Robinson for a socially distanced interview, where he talked about his acting journey, meeting Perry and how the COVID-19 pandemic is changing his mindset.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell us about your role on Sistas.

My character Chris pretty much changed his life around after getting out of jail. He got into a construction business, opened his own construction business and now Chris is about to have a million dollars in his bank account. It’s just an amazing story to tell. And I’m dating Lisa, who is played by Shari Belafonte.

Shari Belafonte comes from Hollywood royalty. Her father is actor and civil rights icon Harry Belafonte. What’s it like working with her?

She’s a supersweet woman, very humble and definitely doesn’t have any kind of ego. Shari’s a great actress and I’m just honored to work with her. Like you said, she’s Hollywood royalty.

Have you been able to meet and interact with Tyler Perry?

I’ve seen Tyler quite a few times. He writes and directs everything he does, so every time people ask me that I’m cracking up. If he tells you he writes and directs everything, he ain’t lying to you! To actually see him there directing is like, wow.

He’s also bringing what used to be Hollywood’s purview to the South. How do you think this might change the paths of future actors?

I can see people not having to move to Los Angeles, because he’s really creating an empire. Even with the fact that we’re going to be one of the first studios that come back in July, to shoot Sistas and The Oval. He’s one of those guys that he just sets a blueprint. The studio has only been there for a year, but if he keeps things going how they are, and I’m sure he’s going to keep having these shows and getting good ratings, in no time Atlanta will be the next black Hollywood. I believe that he will change the game.

Do you have any aspirations to write or get behind the camera?

Acting is my ultimate goal, but I just got the directing bug. It happened on the set of The Business of Christmas. Maybe because I’m one of the leads. When you’re doing a film, you collaborate with a director. Like … ‘What do you see yourself doing? How do you feel about this?’ I’m not directing, of course. But my opinion matters. So, I’d like to be on the other side and tell the actor, ‘I see Noah Franklin doing this.’ It just felt good to have a voice on set. Because sometimes as an actor, they hire you to do a job, and the director gives you notes and you take them and that’s it. You’re not going to be combative as an actor. But as a director, you can be like, ‘I don’t like that, I want you to do this.’ When the director calls action, everyone has to be quiet. There’s a lot of power in that.

How have you been able to remain creative and focused during the COVID-19 pandemic?

I have been trying to get more clear with who I am, and really connecting with self-love and looking at the good and bad sides of who I am.

The only thing that I’m not OK with is seeing people losing their lives. I’m a sensitive person to death. If I hear someone passed away from something, I internalize everything. That’s where I would say it’s kind of hard for me.

As an actor, is that something that you can carry with you if you need that type of emotion for future roles?

Absolutely, but I feel like for all of us this is always going to be triggering. It’s crazy, going to places like Target and, if somebody sneezes, everyone is looking at everyone. It almost makes you not want to go anywhere because everyone is so uncomfortable. So, as an actor, I’m going to be able to pull from this for sure.

You mentioned earlier that your son was your inspiration. What do you have to say to parents afraid of chasing their dreams?

Don’t let your kids hold you back. Some people feel like if they have kids, they can’t do things, but I think that your kids should motivate you. We need to push that narrative more.

And there’s nothing wrong with working a 9-to-5. My mom was a housekeeper and my dad was a car salesman. But when you have dreams, I think you should go after them.

Have you ever reflected on how far you’ve come?

I’ll tell you a story. I haven’t told anyone this. When I worked at the airport, I was coming back from loading up the plane. But on my way back, I saw Clifton Powell, Pinky from Friday. I walked up on him. I was nervous, but I asked him, ‘What would you say to somebody that wanted to be an actor?’ And he said, ‘Do five years in New York and then move to Los Angeles.’

I did five years in New York, then moved to Los Angeles. Years later, actress Nafessa Williams had a housewarming for her birthday in Atlanta, and Clifton is on Netflix’s Black Lightning, so he attended her party, too. I approached him and reminded him of his advice from the airport. I did exactly what he said, and now we were at the party together. It’s crazy how things happen, man. You end up where you’re supposed to be.

André Snellings writes about fantasy basketball and the NBA for ESPN.com. He has a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and lettered in track at Michigan and Georgia Tech. He is a two-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association Basketball Writer of the Year.