From acting class to hit sitcom

June 01, 2008|By Harold T. Fisher | Harold T. Fisher,Special to The Sun

Lance Gross walked the hallway of the historic Charles Theatre to a waiting limousine outside. He was leaving the invitation-only party recently held for fans of House of Payne, Tyler Perry's hit cable sitcom.

But before taking off, Gross, who portrays Calvin on the TBS show, posed for photos with fans. They smiled and snuggled against his athletic frame. He was warm, authentic and bubbling over with excitement.

DeShaun Reid, 39, of Upper Marlboro is one of the adoring fans who admits to having a mini-crush on him. "He's the sexiest, black, chocolate, young man with the prettiest smile I've ever, ever seen. He's wonderful, truly wonderful!" she says.

That was the reaction of many women at the party, but Gross is unavailable. He has been romantically tied to America's Next Top Model winner Eva Pigford since last year.

The 26-year-old stopped, but only for a few minutes, to talk about his acting career.

He says Calvin is a lot like some college kids trying to find their way and themselves. Some of them just can't seem to find the "go" button on life's GPS device.

"A lot of people can relate to Calvin," he says. "He's a child with a desperate need to become a man."

That said, Gross doesn't seem to have a problem with his career compass so far, even if his recipe for getting there is one heaping cup of luck with a dash of planning.

The Oakland, Calif., native graduated from Howard University in 2004 with a degree in film production and acting. He moved to Los Angeles and worked in commercials and music videos. Soon after, he was discovered by Perry, who showed up at an acting class Gross was taking at the Ivanna Chubbuck Studio in the fall of 2006.

"He happened to come in right before my scene," Gross says. "So I was actually in the back of the stage and didn't even know he was there."

Gross adds, "He saw my performance, loved my performance and basically promised me a job. He didn't exactly say what the job would be, but he definitely wanted to work with me, and I wanted to work with him."

A skeptical Gross kept in touch with Perry. Nine months later, Gross moved to Atlanta and began taping three episodes a week of House of Payne. Perry also offered Gross the role of a high school basketball star and son of a down-and-out single mother in his latest comedy-drama feature film, Meet the Browns.

"He called me to his office, and the first question he asked me was, could I play basketball? I said, `I'm no LeBron James, but I can handle myself on the court,'" Gross says. "The second thing he said is that he's casting Angela Bassett. If I took on this role, I would be Angela Bassett's son, so that was an easy yes for me because I've been looking up to Angela Bassett forever."

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