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La La Anthony doesn’t know anything else besides working. A self-described “hustler,” Anthony has been working since age 15 — first to help her mom land on her feet, then to pursue her dreams in radio, soon followed by the ultimate MTV gig as a TRL VJ at the center of 2000’s music pop culture.
Since then, Anthony has been through five seasons of a reality show, a high-profile marriage and divorce to NBA star Carmelo Anthony, raised a 15-year-old son, Kiyan, and began an acting career that has landed her on a number of successful movies and television shows, including The Chi, for which she received an NAACP nomination.
Anthony revealed to Charlamagne Tha God that she feels like she’s lived five lives in one. Sitting at a Caribbean cocktail bar on New York’s Lower East Side, the two shared a thoughtful conversation for The Hollywood Reporter’s series Emerging Hollywood, in which Anthony reflected on her career, life and love. The 39-year-old Afro-Latina actress has spent time working on her mental health and rebuilding her life post-Carmelo. She says staying in the marriage would have been easier, but the fact that she was able to move on amid the rumors and speculation proved to her she could do anything. She told Charlamagne that she learned how to work and hustle young, but this is the stage of her life when she’s really learning how to self-care.
You’ve said before that you knew what being broke felt like and you never wanted that feeling again. How young were you when you understood the concept of money and not having enough of it?
My mom was married to my stepdad and when she left him, that’s when I felt like, “Oh, it ain’t that sweet anymore.” We moved to Atlanta with my aunt and my cousin, and I knew my mom was struggling to get us on our feet. I was probably like 15, 16 at the time, getting all kinds of jobs — Baskin-Robbins, Marshalls, I had like a hundred jobs. I was like, “I gotta help my mom, cause I don’t like how this feels.” I just remember it so vividly. I work so hard to never go back to feeling like I can’t have something again.
How did that shape who you became?
I just work really hard. I’m just a hustler. I enjoy working. I don’t know anything else! Once it’s in you, it’s in you. And it keeps me happy. And I think in some ways, the more I’m learning about mental health, I realize in some ways, it’s a form of therapy — but also it’s become a crutch for me to not have to deal with a lot of things going on in my life. [I saw] something on Instagram that said staying busy is a trauma response. That hit me so hard. I worry if I slow down, the reality of a lot of other things in my life will hit. So I just work, work, work, work, work, and take care of Kiyan. That’s like what I know how to do.
What are you running from, La?
A broken heart. (Laughs.)
Not everybody knows that you speak fluent Spanish. You’re a proud Afro-Latina. Did anybody ever challenge that you weren’t Black enough or Latina enough?
I got that at different points in my life and career, like, “Oh now she wanna say she’s Spanish …” It’s like no, I’m Black and I’m Puerto Rican. I’m proud of both. You’re not going to say, “Oh, she’s trying to exclude this, or not be this or that.” We’re not playing those games. I represent both so proud and I want to be able to open doors for all of us to be able to do amazing things.
You became practically a household name on MTV’s TRL, which was like the epicenter of pop culture at that time. How did that change your life? And Direct Effect!
Direct Effect! Shout out to DJ Clue! You can’t forget about that. It changed my life. I never forget the first time I went through the airport, and it was like, “Oh, that’s La La from MTV!” And I was like, “What’s going on here?!” But like you said, to be on MTV at the height of pop culture at that time and to be Black doing that — this wasn’t BET. This was MTV, where there wasn’t a lot of Black talent. So to be that person for them, I took so much pride in that. This is bigger than me. And I want to bring our voice to MTV. I think I did a good job. Thinking back, I’m like, wow, that was such an exciting time in my life. But I was working so hard. Sometimes you don’t take it all in. To be in Times Square every single day, looking out that window and there’s thousands of kids outside screaming. And interviewing the biggest stars and they’re just talking to you and you’re rubbing elbows with them. It was a really incredible time.
What were some of the struggles you faced?
It was live television. No do-overs. It’s no, “OK, cut. Let’s do that again.” So you always had to be on top of your game. As a female, and an African American female, I always felt like I couldn’t mess up. There was no room to mess up. They could have found somebody else quickly. I always felt like that. So, I always took it really seriously.
You lived a big chunk of your adult life on TV. You did five seasons of La La’s Full Court Life. How did it affect your mental health doing the show back then?
It was hard because, you know, when you’re on TV, everybody got something to say. They got something to say about everything. “Well, this is why this is going on in her life …” or “Why she got that on?” or “She’s with this basketball player, what he’s doing?” It just became like an open feast for people to say and do whatever they wanted to do. And it took a while for me to get strong enough to not let it bother me.
What kind of pressure did being in such a high-profile relationship for many years put on you?
It was a lot of pressure. When it’s good, it’s good. And when it’s bad, it’s bad. Because when it’s bad, then everybody got something to say about it. Everybody has: “Well, I knew” or “I would have done …” “She should have known …” or this and that. Um, but I didn’t know a lot of it. I went into it because this is somebody I loved. I was leading with love. I wasn’t leading with anything else. So it’s like, “Well, what you expect? You was with a basketball player,” or “What you thought was gonna happen?” Actually, I didn’t think that was gonna happen. So, it happened, and it was a learning experience, and it’s just another chapter in my life that I can learn from. But it’s also the chapter that brought me my greatest gift, which was my son. So, it was not something I ever will regret or anything like that. I mean, we did some amazing things together. Unfortunately, it just didn’t work out.
When you look back at the person you were just starting that relationship to the person you are now, what’s the biggest changes within you?
Within me, I think that stepping away from that marriage was such an incredibly hard decision for me, but it made me realize there’s nothing I can’t do. Staying is easier. Walking away is harder. Staying in your comfort zone — what you know, your house, your kid is happy cause their parents are together — that’s easier. Walking away on your own and trying to rebuild a life by yourself … I was with him when he was 19 years old, like that’s all I’ve known. To step away from that and try to build my own life and still keep my sanity and keep things normal for my son who only knew his mom and his dad together — that wasn’t the easier decision, but I had to make a decision for myself. So now it’s like, wow, if I could do that, I could do anything.
It’s been a few years now, but there’s still really hard days because this is not the life I thought I was gonna be living right now. When you marry somebody, that’s what you picture your life to be like for the rest of your life. You don’t go into marriage like, “Oh, gonna do this for two or three years. And then I’m done.” This is like your life partner. So, when it doesn’t work out, it’s like, “Oh shit. Now what?” And so, I had to figure out what I needed to do then. And I’m still figuring out what I’m doing now.
How would you describe your relationship with Melo now?
Great. Co-parenting, amazing. We want to be a great example to our son. We have open conversations with him. We tell him, “You were made from love.” We’re still a family and we do things together. We go to his games together. We try to keep it as normal as possible.
I don’t want my son to look at his parents like they didn’t get along. He’s looking at us as an example. I don’t want him to have dysfunctional relationships. I want him to be better when it comes to that. What makes me the most sad is that I wanted to be a better example to my son than what I saw. And I didn’t necessarily do that. So that makes me sad. It’s not my fault, but I wanted it to be different for him. He got to an age where he was seeing everything and reading everything. Like, “Mom, they’re saying this … My friends at school are asking me …” So we had to navigate through all that. And the fact that I couldn’t necessarily protect him from that, still hurts me, but I try to make up for it in other ways, by just being open with him and still showing him a loving household co-parenting situation.
Did you feel ashamed?
Not ashamed. I was never ashamed because I didn’t do anything. That wasn’t my burden to bear. I felt sad that he had to go through that. That I had to go through it publicly and still wear a smile. And, “Damn La, she’s handling as well.” But nobody knows what’s going on once the door closed.
You’re a Cancer, you cry buckets of tears. (Laughs.) Hard exterior, soft interior.
(Laughs.) Yes! I’m the true definition of a Cancer. But I knew I had to — what was I gonna do? Die? I had to build myself up and continue to live. I have a lot to live for. I wasn’t gonna let this destroy me. But there were moments where you felt like, “How am I gonna bounce back after this one?” It’s tough.
So, what are your thoughts on love now? What do you hope for in the future? For everybody out there trying to shoot their shot …
(Laughs.) I do hope that I’ll find love again one day. I can’t necessarily say I’m the most confident about it. Sometimes I’m like, maybe it’s just not in the cards for me. Maybe an incredible son and an incredible career is like — that’s for me, you know? And then people are like, “You can’t say that! Words have power.” Ciara over here, one of my best friends, is like “No, you need to pray the exact kind of man you want, you need to pray!” And I do pray. I definitely pray that it will happen, but I’m also at a place where if it doesn’t, then I’m gonna still have fun. I have great friends. I have great family. I’m not lacking. I would love it. But it’s just, it’s slim pickings. It’s hard to trust when you’ve been scarred in a sense. I’m like, “Damn, that really messed me up in a lot of ways,” but I’m in therapy. I’m dealing with my own stuff, and I would love to find love and a companion to do fun stuff with and someone I can rely on.
Let’s talk about work! You got a lot of projects going on. At this point in your career, do you still feel like the teenage girl hustling to make things happen?
Always hustling and just continuing to expand. We are in a business where you can never get comfortable or stagnant. Now that I’ve ventured into acting and producing, it’s like a whole new world has opened up. I’ve been blessed to have such an incredible friendship/partnership with 50 Cent, who has opened so many doors for me. I always tell him this — he’s the one person when he says he’s gonna do it, he really does it!
Like, “I’m about to create this show called Power. I’m gonna bring you in for an audition cause I want you to earn it. … BMF, I got something for you. You gotta earn it. Let’s go in there and wow them.” He has really helped me in this second phase of my career. And I’m very grateful to him. A lot of times, it’s like, “Well you didn’t come from this. You were a VJ or a radio person. You don’t really do this.” And it took me really going to acting school, classes, working on these shows — to show people I really do this. And I can really do it to a high level. And it took things like even getting nominated for the NAACP award for my work in The Chi to be like, this is really happening.
Now, you came forward recently about discovering a heart condition and having emergency surgery. You said it was a terrifying experience, but it made you reprioritize yourself. How have you done that?
So it’s like — work, work, work, go, go, go. Don’t sleep. Off a plane, land, go to set. 16-hour days, go to Kiyan’s game. It’s constant. And you realize, you can’t just go at that speed all the time. I feel so guilty taking a day off or like even taking a trip. I’m on the ‘gram — everybody is always on a trip! They on a vacation! I never go on trips! I work so hard. And when everything happened with my heart, I was like, “Yo, this is scary!” You could really work yourself to death or work yourself into the ground. And then what? One day on Instagram, “We loved her. She was great.” And then everybody moves on. It’s just how life is. If you don’t take care of yourself, who’s going to? So, I’m still working at it because I haven’t found that balance completely the way I would like to. But I think I’m getting better at it.
If you could go back, what would you say to your 15-year-old self? And what do you want to say to a 60-year-old La La?
I would tell my 15-year-old self, put yourself first, do what makes you happy. Don’t do things cause you want to make everybody else happy.
God willing, if I can get to 60, I want to say, “Wow, you had an incredible life with so many great experiences. You have an incredible son now who’s doing incredible things as well.” My assistant told me the other day, “I feel like you’ve lived five different lives in one.” When I look at like the teenage years on radio, then the MTV years and then reality years, and then the acting years, the marriage, it does feel like five lives in one, but it’s been very fulfilling, and I’m happy to say I lived a very fulfilled life. There’s more to do. But at 60, I would just be like — for a girl from Brooklyn, mom born in the Marcy Projects, didn’t have anything — to what I’ve created for myself and my family, is something I’m proud of.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
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