ART IMITATES LIFE
Creating hit comedy black-ish has turned into a family affair for star Anthony Anderson and his teens.
by Crystal Wood
ART IMITATES LIFE, and that’s pretty obvious on ABC’s hit comedy black-ish (which airs on City in Canada). The show often mirrors Anthony Anderson’s life as a dad to son Nathan, 15, and daughter Kyra, 19, and offers parents a hilarious look at everyday problems like bullying and sexuality. Anderson’s character, Dre Johnson, is a successful advertising executive and father to four kids who finds himself caught between wanting the best for his children and reminding them of challenges he faced at their age. Now in its second season, black-ish has been well-received by critics and audiences since its 2014 premiere. It has won several awards, including two NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Comedy, two NAACP Image Awards for Anderson’s role on the series and an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for Anderson’s performance.
Anderson’s favourite part about the show: its success at helping parents deal with difficult situations. “People walk up to me and they say, ‘This is what we’re going through right now, and I learned how to deal with it by watching your show,’” he says. “They never would have thought to say something to their son or daughter, but because of Dre and how he dealt with it, they were able to have that dialogue with their child. So, it’s extremely gratifying. To tell these stories, and to have them be so well-received by the public, it’s just a beautiful thing.”
Anderson sat down with INBETWEEN to chat about how playing a parent on black-ish has opened his eyes to just how universal raising teenagers can be. “You know, we’re not always gonna get everything right, and we’re not always gonna get everything wrong,” he says. “But as parents, we’re always gonna want to do better, be better.”
PARENTING GOES GLOBAL
“It’s crazy. Parents come up to me and say, ‘When did you guys put cameras in my house? This is my life!’” Anderson says. “And that’s gratifying because it shows that [the show is] resonating with everyone across the board, and, even though our show has a very specific point of view, what we deal with is universal.” The show also helps Anderson deal with his own parenting milestones, including when his daughter started dating a boy of a different race. “I just assumed he was gonna be a little young brother who plays basketball, but when he came home to visit for the first time, I opened the door and he was a Latino. That turned into the episode ‘Andre from Marseille’ where Zoey dates a white French boy. Dre says, ‘Where is that? Is that near Compton?’”
HOW TO EMBARRASS YOUR KIDS
“Using my family as a source [for the show], they appreciate it. They enjoy it,” Anderson says of including his kids when discussing ideas. “We get to sit down and strategize and talk about what ends up on the show.” Sometimes, though, the content of black-ish can prove to be a bit embarrassing. “There was this sex talk episode where Dre catches his son masturbating,” Anderson says. “My son’s 15 years old, so everybody knows he’s going through that in real life. He had to deal with the fallout in school, and his friends were like, ‘Yo, did this stuff really happen?’ He was like, ‘No, it wasn’t me!’”
KEEP THE LINES OF COMMUNICATION OPEN
Anderson doesn’t just believe in honesty when it comes to storylines for his show; it’s also how he communicates with his children. “[When the kids were young], I established a relationship with my children where they could come to me and talk to me about whatever it is that they had on their mind,” he says. While his kids have always responded well to his no-holds-barred approach to communication, Anderson admits that their mother, Alvina, prefers a softer style of parenting. The result: Nathan and Kyra tend to turn to Mom when things get emotional. “Sometimes, just because it’s of a personal nature, they feel their mother is more nurturing,” he says. “So, they may go to their mother before they come to me.”
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
One thing that Nathan will always talk to stars in the Netflix series Richie Rich, seems set to follow in his father’s artistic footsteps. He’s even appeared in a guest-starring role on black-ish, something Anderson has been hoping for since the show’s creation. “I wanted my son to come on and be Andre Junior [Dre’s son] for real,” Anderson says. “Unfortunately, he did not get the role. He understood, because he’s a young actor, but we were able to bring him on later as a relative.” Anderson says co-starring with his son on that episode was a fulfilling experience. “It was a very proud moment for me, as his father, knowing that this is something that he decided that he wanted to do on his own,” Anderson says. “To sit back and work with my son, and to watch him work on his own. He’s put in the work to be a great actor.”
“To sit back and work with my son, and to watch him work on his own. He’s put in the work to be a great actor.”
LEAVING THE NEST
Anderson’s daughter, Kyra, left home recently to achieve a degree in social work at the University of San Diego. When faced with the empty space she left at home, Anderson found it more difficult to accept than he’d believed. “My children have always been independent,” he says. “We raised them to be free thinkers, and independent of us.” fact, he says, they might be more prepared to leave home than he is for them to go. When they dropped Kyra off at college, Anderson says he was more emotional than anyone. At one point, he recounts, “My daughter was like, ‘OK, you’ve got to leave now.’ She was ready to be independent.”
Even though he’s proud to have raised independent children, Anderson admits that he’s happy to still have Nathan at home—a situation he doesn’t think will change anytime soon. “My son, on the other hand, we’ll probably have to kick him out of the house,” he laughs.
WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
Now that his children are older and don’t require as much care, Anderson is able to devote more time to his creative projects, which include the film Barbershop: The Next Cut and an updated version of the classic TV game show To Tell the Truth. As for black-ish, Anderson hopes to continue working on his show for a long time. “Hopefully black-ish will keep me busy for at least another five years,” he says. ■
black-ish airs Wednesdays at 9:30pm ET/PT on City and ABC
Read the latest issue featuring
Anthony Anderson here: