For four years, Anthony Alabi lived what many would consider the NFL dream. He played offensive tackle for the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs. After those stints, another team was angling for him, but Alabi was already in L.A., pursuing a different dream that had been with him since childhood: acting.
It was 2010 and he didn’t know the first thing about professional acting, but he buckled down, studied for three years, auditioned again and again and eventually landed some small parts, including a recurring role as a coach in Disney’s “Raven’s Home.” Alabi had begun to believe he wasn’t cut out for a lead, but last year he snagged a lead role in the new Netflix sitcom “Family Reunion,” which debuts July 10.
Alabi plays Moz McKellan, a former football player, husband to Cocoa (Tia Mowry) and father of four. Emmy winner Loretta Devine and Richard Roundtree (the original John Shaft) round out the cast as his parents in this show about a city family moving to small-town Georgia, where extended family present all manner of hilarity.
What drew you to acting?
I grew up in San Antonio, Texas. First generation. My dad is from Nigeria; my mother’s Puerto Rican. With my dad being foreign, movies were a great way for him to connect to the culture. I loved going to the movies. After every movie we saw, I wanted to be whatever character was on the screen – a cop, Batman … My dad said, “You can be all those things. You can be an actor.” But let me put it in perspective. First, he said, “Get your degree.”
What was the transition from a career in the NFL to pursuing acting like?
The best acting job I ever did was acting like I loved football. I was out here when my agent called and said, “This [football] team is offering you a two-year contract.” I remember having to put the phone on hold and getting emotional because I was feeling torn between a contract that was going to pay me a good amount of money and a webisode that was paying me $300 for three days. It was one of the times that I bet on myself. I figured I would just keep knocking on enough doors until they let me in.
How did you handle the rejections?
What I tell everybody is that the biggest thing is you’ve got to find your why. Your why is that thing you think about constantly. For me, my why was me wanting to be the best version of myself. You audition and you audition and you audition, and you don’t get it. I remember every single role I didn’t get, like a 100 and something, because they all hurt. But those are the times you have to fall back on yourself. You have to fail forward.
I remember even recently, I had auditioned for this pilot, and it was between me and another guy. My agents and reps said, “They love you,” [but] I didn’t get it. I had my brand-new son. My wife and I have two kids, we’re trying to raise a family. I started wondering, “Do I need to be doing this? Or should I grow up and come out of Neverland?”
My wife said, “We’ll all live in a cardboard box, but you’re doing this.” That’s what kept me going. She’s a superhero.
When you got the Netflix Family Reunion role, how did you feel?
I had to pull over my car because I started shaking. My friend [Anthony Hill, a producer for “Raven’s Home”] said, “All jokes aside. You got the part. You’re the lead in ‘Family Reunion.’” I thanked him profusely, told him I loved him. When I told my wife, she and I started to cry. We cried for two days. My wife asked, “Was it worth it?” and I said, “Tenfold. It’s better than I can imagine.”
And you get to work with an amazing cast.
Loretta Devine is my mother on the show. She’s fantastic. It’s like a clinic every day. Richard Roundtree is my dad. The Shaft is my dad!
What kind of dad are you in real life?
My daughter is 2½ and my son will be 1. It’s a lot of fun. I try to be super involved. I’m trying to pursue this acting thing that will take care of them, but at the same time, you want to be there.
At home, my wife and I put our phones in our bedrooms and give the kids our undivided attention. We’re a team. I always put my wife first. If we’re not good, then the kids aren’t going to be good. When we’re with the kids, we’re with the kids, but then we have date nights, and that’s our time to be Caroline and Anthony instead of just Mama and Dada.