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September 2008
MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA | An Interview with Laz Alonso

An Interview with Laz Alonso
by Wilson Morales

September 25, 2008

A lot of actors have benefited from working with Spike Lee over the years. The list is too long to name names but Spike Lee gives actors the chance to shine and breathe in his films, and with his latest film, ‘Miracle at St. Anna’, Lee gives some of the actors the opportunity they haven’t had before in the film career. For Laz Alonso, this is the role he’s been waiting. Having worked in smaller roles has prepared him to handle the role Spike has given him to play with, and he came through with flying colors.

Directed by Spike Lee from a screenplay written by James McBride, the author of the acclaimed novel of the same name, the film chronicles the story of four African-American soldiers who are members of the U.S. Army as part of the all-black 92nd Buffalo Soldier Division stationed in Tuscany, Italy, during World War II. They experience the tragedy and triumph of the war as they find themselves trapped behind enemy lines and separated from their unit after one of them risks his life to save an Italian boy.

Alonso plays one the soldier who is a Puerto Rican from Harlem, Hector Negron. Next year should be a fruitful year for him as Alonso is set to star with Vin Diesel in ‘Fast & Furious’ and in James Cameron’s Avatar.

In speaking with me recently, Alonso talked about his character he plays and the importance of what this film is.

What was the appeal of doing this film?

Laz Alonso: Well, first and foremost, as an actor, you really thirst for roles like this. It’s not everyday that you get a script across your desk and as you know by the quantity of films that come out every month, you don’t see movies that speak to the core of history making information. Events that changed world history; and not just African American history, not American history, but world history. The fact that it was a War World II piece made me instantly attractive to it and what the possibilities were for me in this film. Secondly, working with a filmmaker like Spike Lee; he without a doubt, he is the person I have been waiting to work for my entire career. Growing up, his movies affected a lot of the decisions I made in my life, specifically when I was at Howard University and seeing ‘School Daze’. Spike’s work has been a theme in helping me find my way and my place in our culture, that it was only a matter of time. I’ve basically have been paying my dues so that one day I would be able to step up to the plate if the opportunity presented itself. Lastly, the opportunity to play a character where not only do I play him as a youth but I also play him as an 80 year old man, having gone through what he went through, it was almost like that saying where all the stars are aligned, that’s how I felt ‘Miracle at St. Anna’ was for my career and where I was at that point in time. I’m really happy that this is the point in time when I have the opportunity to play this part because I don’t know if I would have been ready any earlier.

What makes your character separate from the other three guys?

LA: We have to look at the time period. Blacks and whites were not allowed to fight together in the armed forces; and my character, not only was he Black, he was a first generation Latino. A first generation American of Puerto Rican decent. Despite the fact that he was Latin, it really didn’t matter. If you were a certain skin color, you were either with the white soldiers or black soldiers. My last name is Alonso, but if I don’t open my mouth or I don’t speak Spanish, you would never think anything of me other than African American. I consider myself African American of Latin decent because they both are as equally important in what makes me. I was so happy that James McBride included the Black Latino and Latino in general and how important Latin culture was in affecting American culture and American history. This character was based on a real person, Florentino Lopez, who rode the trains many times to work with James McBride even before James wrote this book, and went to the post office everyday. It wasn’t until James decided to do research for this book that he realized how much Florentino was carrying inside of him, having been a Buffalo Soldier. We look at all elderly people nowadays and they have a smile on their face and they somehow find a way to talk about the past and they call it memories, and some people choose to call it baggage; but when you find out what they have inside, it blows you away. Who are we to complain about the lives we now, because what they had, which opened the doors to what we have today, is ten times worse. My character is a first generation Latin, who comes into this country, gets recruited, drafted into the armed forces; and he doesn’t want to be a war hero. He doesn’t want to be in Italy catching bullets. In some ways, he doesn’t feel that this is his war. However, he’s there and to the right and left of him are these Buffalo Soldiers and he is one too. He did everything he could to get out of this war. He failed Italian exams and he grew up speaking Italian in his neighborhood in the Bronx. He was surrounded by Italian and he did everything he could not to be sent to Italy, and he got sent anyway. When you see my character in film, you will someone who is bitter and angry. He’s mad because he doesn’t want to be there.

How was working with the guys and going though boot camp together?

LA: We had known each other or knew of the other loosely, so none of us were friends prior to the movie; and right now to this day, if you saw us together, you would think that we went to school together and stayed in the same dorm because that is really what it was like. We had to live up in the mountains. No computers, no call phones, no laptop, and no Ipods. They didn’t even let us bring ink pens to boot camp. They wanted us to write everything in pencil because they wanted us to feel what it was like in the 40s when they didn’t have pens. If you wanted memories, you don’t look at your Iphotos, you look at real pictures that some carried around with them and you see guys, during their lunch break looking at pictures. Spike wanted us to acquire the DNA of these soldiers and know what it like in 1944. If we wanted to stay warm at night, we had to go out and chop some wood and build a fire. Someone also had to be up every two and keep watch the others and keep the fire lit. Once it went out, we were cold.

What did you walk with from doing this film?

LA: What I walked away with from doing ‘Miracle at St. Anna’ is that this isn’t a history movie. This is a movie that every single person in the world can somehow link and connect to this story. This story affected world history. The reason why the world is what it is today and Europe is free is intimately connected to this movie.

Why should anyone go see the film?

LA: Because it’s a great story and they are going to enjoy every second of it. They will leave there a different person.

MIRACLE AT. ST. ANNA’ opens on September 26, 2008


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