Many people know this funny guy from his hit TV show One on One, but surprisingly, his career hasn’t always been a laughing matter. In his new OWN reality series, Flex & Shanice, created with his Grammy-nominated wife, Flex Alexander gives us insight into their journey after a financial downfall. The couple, which has two young children, is rebuilding their careers in a rental home with five extended family members. We chatted with Flex about maintaining success, how he is coping with the heartbreaks of the entertainment industry and how he remains the family man he is today.
People define success many different ways, but once you get to that point of success it seems like it’s hard to maintain that spot that you worked so hard to achieve. What is the hardest part of maintaining a successful career?
I think the thing is people have to realize that it’s not always in your control, you know what I mean. You think because you have a few great years, some great runs, it’s always going to be like that. I think as entertainers, actors and so forth, we get that in our heads that it’s always going to be great. And reality is, it’s not. So the hardest thing is to keep that streak going because the minute you’re not on it, everyone just gets into “Oh, you fell off and this and that,” which is terrible, but it’s a culture that has started.
And our people, we do it to ourselves sometimes, which hurts because you’re like, “Hey I’m out there trying to work just as the next man,” and because I’m not at a standard or a place where you think I should be, it doesn’t give you the right to-- because I’ve done a couple of commercials [people] be like “Oh, you’re doing commercials now?” It’s like, “Hey man, you make money doing commercials. You know that, right?”
What financial literacy tips would you give a class of up and coming entertainers?
Spend it like you don’t have it. Don’t look so far in the future. If you can’t pay for it cash, don’t charge it. It’s a trap charging credit cards because you just get into automatic debt. Learn about investing and different ways you can grow and get residual income where you can make money in your sleep. I’m not saying go out there and be a miser, but just be smart. Know that tomorrow, next week is not promised to be making money. Really really think about your family. Put money up for your kids in a trust fund.
And you can’t help everybody. I’ve learned that the hard way, as tough at it is. If you’re not together, how can you help anybody else? My grandmother use to say, “Self preservation is the first law of the nation.” So you gotta take care of self in order to take care of others.
When your Hollywood career is at a standstill, does the hustle that you started off with to kick off your career, does that sort of come back? What do you do to regain that momentum in the industry?
My hustle never stopped. Even when it was going, I was thinking about it. I always said, “This is not going to last forever.” At the time, I was with an agency that was just comfortable with getting their checks and not thinking about future things, and I’m creative. I created One on One, and I wanted to create other things, but they really weren’t hearing that or trying to help me with that so we parted ways. But I’ve always continued to look for the next thing and always been prepared for what’s next.
Sometimes in the industry, it’s out of your control. It’s a stalemate, where there’s nothing happening, and especially for African American actors and actresses. It tends to be a cycle where there’s a time where we’re hot and then we’re not hot for a few years, then you’re hot again. So you try to strike for the times it’s hot and prepare for the times when you’re not in fashion.
Reality shows are taking over right now and lots of families are able to capitalize on reality shows and kickstart their careers again. Was that the intent when deciding to do this show?
Well, it took me seven years to do one. I said no because at the time, I was looking at it like I’m an actor. I’m gonna be looked at as “Oh, you’re not serious” or “Oh, we’re not bringing in somebody from a reality show” or whatever. I thought it would be a negative thing. But time passed, the medium changed and then, overall, we had a story to tell. My thing is I’m not doing a show where people are trying to have us at each other’s throat and at odds. If I’m going to have my family there, it’s got to be about something, it’s got to have meaning, and it’s got to have a lesson in it. It’s has to be something for people to look at and be inspired. And that’s what we decided to do. My wife and I created it, and we had some students who worked at a film school in Santa Monica. We set up shoot dates and had a crew and then we called our friends Jeff Dyson and Vernon Lynch because of their success and what they did with Hollywood Exes, it just made sense. So we partnered together and we went to OWN.
There’s always talk about how unreal reality TV is. How much control do you have over the show and how it’s being edited?
We have full creative control but we’re not nitpickers. We pick our battles. There are some things we will absolutely not do. Some things we’ll absolutely fight for, but we haven’t really had those issues to where it was something so crazy that we’ll be like “we ain’t doing it!” It’s never been about that.
It’s been about the greater goal. It’s been about what people are going to get when they watch the show. Are they going to be inspired? Are they going to be like “It’s not just me. They’ve gone through it too”?
So we have to be willing to open up and to be honest. It was very therapeutic for us to talk about things and what we’ve gone through. That’s why we say, “We’re not where we want to be but not where we used to be.” We’re telling the story of what has happened.
It’s not currently in that way—yes, we all still live together—but things are better. We just wanted to share our journey of what we did go through. It’s real. Working closely with Jeff and Vernon, they know the integrity we want to keep, but also we want to be real ‘cause you know you have to have drama, as they say, but our drama is real family stuff. When you got a mother-in-law living at your house, that’s gone be real. When you got nine folks living with you, that’s gone be real.
As a parent in the entertainment industry, how difficult is it or not to introduce your kids to this life with already knowing the ups and downs of show business?
It’s tough, but this is all they’ve known. They’ve been on set. Our daughter, Imani, took her first steps on the set of One on One. Elijah wants to direct. Imani’s just always rehearsing, practicing her acting. It’s really in their blood. I was hoping not. I didn’t want them to go that route, but I’m gonna support them and be there for them. But there are some lessons they’re gonna have to learn on their own just like we did. You could try to shield them and protect them as much as you can but there’s only so much you can do. Some things you just have to go through. We will just give them the best opportunities, support and right tools that we can and see what happens. But they’re both passionate about it.
We know to expect funny from you, but what else should we expect to learn from watching you and your family?
It’s going to be an emotional rollercoaster. We’re laughing, crying, bumping heads a little bit. It’s everything that 90 percent of families in America are dealing with. And everybody can sit down from 70 to 20, and say, “We’ve been through that” or “We’re going through that right now.”
Growing up, that’s how we did. In the old school, everyone came over-- your aunts, uncles. If somebody needed food, everybody came over and cooked. We had a bunch of cousins in the house who slept over. That’s what we came from. So with this, we’re bringing family back. We want people to walk away and say, “You know what, family works.” If it makes them reach out and call somebody they haven’t talked to in a while, great.
We want people to know that you can get through the storm ‘cause we’ve been through it. We’re not trying to be preachy. We’re just saying, “Here’s our lives, we’ve gone through it, we’ve learned and maybe it could touch somebody.” And we just want people to have a good time and remember that it’s okay for family to love each other again. In society now, we’ve gotten out of that. We can’t have a conversation without seeing the top of somebody’s head down in their phone.
You’re right, you’re absolutely right. So what are you most personally proud of that you were able to accomplish thus far throughout your life?
It’s tough. The first moment was being able to take care of grandmother and mom when I first started making it-- pay their bills, whatever they needed. I regret the fact that I was never able to fly my grandmother out to California before she passed because I was listening to her doctor who was saying “Oh, she cant fly,” but I should’ve just done it. That was probably the proudest moment in my life up until becoming a father because I always said when I was little, “I’m gonna take care of y’all.” And my grandmother was my best friend. My mom didn’t even know I was doing all that until my grandmother passed and she saw all the paperwork, receipts and all that stuff. But that made me happy.
The second would definitely be being a father and a present father and husband and seeing my kids blossom into these really good people. I’m thankful to witness that. The material accomplishment from acting is great, but for me, if it ain’t family, no love in it, it doesn’t mean anything.
Are there any principles you live by that has helped you succeed?
Just to be at peace. I just like peace, love. It sounds corny, but those little principles, a lot of these things we talk about it and we can’t even do. The simple things, which is loving your brother, loving your sister. Just being happy. I just try to everyday, be thankful.
I go outside in the backyard and meditate early in the morning and at sundown to find that peace, especially in this industry, you really need to find that peace.
Is there anything else you would like our audience to know?
Just to have fun. I want the brothers, the men, if they have been estranged from their families or not talking to somebody to just reach out. We only have so much time here. Love on somebody and let whatever you’re holding onto, let it go.