Mark Christopher LawrenceÂ
Mark Christopher Lawrence does Hollywood his way
By Brandon I. Brooks
Sentinel Entertainment Editor
Compton Native emerges from local star to national sensation
Mark Christopher Lawrence is one of Hollywood’s most sought after talents. Best known for his role of Mix Master Tone Def, in the cult classic “Fear of a Black Hat,” the multitalented comedian/actor has been making headlines over the past few years for his very funny and entertaining role as Big Mike on the NBC hit series “Chuck.”
“It’s really been a blessing because the year that we started (“Chuck”), the project for me was actually a back burner because it wasn’t a series regular role,” said Lawrence. “I was up for four other pilots…and dropped them all, didn’t get in either one. Then my agent called and said hey, well it wasn’t a total waste, you got this part on Chuck, it’s a guest star possible recurring…and I did every episode that season. And then about half way through I told my agent, this is not just a hi and bye type of role, we should probably talk to them…and then it came down from Peter Roth’s office, he’s the head of Warner Bros. (television), they need to lock some people down and I was one of them. He’s been a big fan, which is really great to have that kind of guy be a champion for you. But this year I’ve had a lot of fun, we are doing some funny stuff.”
The success of “Chuck” has spawned many opportunities for Lawrence as his familiar face is becoming more recognizable by fans and critics. He is a remarkable actor and it’s evident in the roles he’s been selected to play. The diverse actor also excels as a producer, a vocalist and as an accomplished stand-up comedian.
“I was always funny,” said Lawrence. “You know growing up and everybody is baggin’ on each other. My best friend Lennon Trotter, he talked me into doing comedy. We actually started doing comedy as a team when I was in the eleventh grade. Eventually he stopped doing it. I went to college and I had to stop for a little while and then I started again in college, kind of dabbled in it, and after college started doing it full-time. That’s how comedy started, basically Lennon (my best friend) saying, I dare ya, and then we went to the comedy store and did comedy. That’s how it began.”
Above all else, Lawrence prides himself on keeping his comedy clean and “family friendly.” “Although my jokes are jokes that may go over a lot of kids heads, if a kid is in the audience a parent is not going to be cringing that I am saying something because their kid is sitting there, said Lawrence.
As a native of Compton, California, Lawrence is thankful and appreciative for where he comes from. He doesn’t mind telling his story because he is so far from the negative stereotypes that come out of Compton. He is living proof that the city is full of fresh talent and innovative minds.
“I always say that God puts you where you need to be at the time you need to be there and he brings people into your life, some of them for a reason, some are there for a season and some are there for a lifetime,” said Lawrence.
While speaking with the Sentinel, Lawrence made it a point to stress the importance of faith and God in his life. That is his secret weapon. He leans on his faith for success.
“I grew up in the church,” said Lawrence. “Not going to church was not an option. No matter what you did last night you are going today (laughs). I actually went through a period when I got to SC (University of Southern California) that I felt like, I’m grown, I’m on my own, I ain’t going to church if I don’t want too. Then when I met my wife, we both felt that we were at a place in our lives where something was missing. As we started talking about marriage and stuff we decided that, we probably need to get back into church. Sure enough we got back into church and I think part of it is God talking to you. I was really feeling sort of convicted about my act at the time and all kinds of things, and once I got back into church, just all of a sudden I’m just writing in a different way. Clearly it’s God. God comes and tells you what you need to do and it’s up to you to listen, he gives you a choice.”
No one individual has had more of a positive effect on Mark Christopher Lawrence and his life journey than a teacher by the name of Ms. Schilling who taught Lawrence at Dominguez High School. Ms. Schilling was an English teacher who single handedly changed Lawrence’s life and turned him around to become a focused student. She got him involved in speech and debate, which kept him busy on the weekends and then got him to participate in theatre. Ms. Schilling’s efforts proved to be life changing because Lawrence would go on to secure a full scholarship to the University of Sothern California.
While studying at USC, he sharpened his craft by working professionally with the critically acclaimed Los Angeles Theater Center. Eventually, a Hollywood talent agent noticed his skill, and Lawrence landed his first job in television, with a role on “Hill Street Blues.” Upon graduating, Lawrence won an NAACP award for his role in Glass House (Ken Davis) and gained attention of film director, James Cameron, who had cast him as the insane asylum Burly Attendant in the action-thriller Terminator II. Impressed by his comedic abilities, Cameron extended Lawrence’s two days of work into several weeks of production; hence, the beginning of Lawrence’s flourishing career.
Being that he is a unique and rare talent, Lawrence can switch from comedic to dramatic roles graciously. For example, he recently wrapped up a performance in San Diego of August Wilson’s play “The Piano,” where he portrayed the role of Boy Willie who is an angry at heart. “I find a bigger challenge in drama,” said Lawrence. “Because with drama you have to hit emotional places that you aren’t use to going.”
In addition to his long list of theatre credits, Lawrence has depicted a variety of comedic and dramatic characters in feature films such as “The Pursuit Of Happyness,” “The Island,” “Christmas With The Kranks,” “Garfield,” “K-PAX” and “T2,” along with notable television appearances on “Weeds,” “My Name Is Earl,” “Reba” and “Seinfeld” to name a few.
Lawrence’s resume continues as an entrepreneur (Co-founder of the Black Theater Artist’s Workshop) and businessman (founder/owner of Prayer Dudz a production company).
As a philanthropist, Lawrence brings awareness of social, political and economic issues through comedy. His genuine altruistic spirit is exemplified through his support and contribution to charities such as, Operation Smile, ACT Today, and Spirit of the Heart to name a few.
Lawrence shared with the Sentinel that he urges all young actors and actresses to pursue “formal training” because if you haven’t experienced the theatre stage you haven’t experienced acting.
“I go out to schools and talk to kids all the time, Colleges, High Schools even Elementary Schools,” said Lawrence. “And I say look, if you think you want to be an actor, find something that you love to do that pays the bills. And figure out what that thing is right now before you jump in because those first few years, you ain’t going to make a dime. You will do all kinds of free stuff just for the fun of being an actor and then after a while the business side starts rolling around. The other advice would be to be trained, get trained and do as much theatre as possible and take as much training as you can get. Because if you walk into the room and you haven’t been trained, and you see me sitting there, you are not getting a job.”Â