‘Power’ star stum­bled into act­ing ca­reer

Star of the hit ‘Power’ draws strength from her her­itage

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - FRONT PAGE - Ana Pe­layo Con­nery

Lela Loren talks about the wind­ing path that brought her to Starz drama se­ries pro­duced by rap­per 50 Cent.

Some lit­tle girls grow up dream­ing of star­dom, of hit­ting it big, Hol­ly­wood style. Not Lela Loren, the star of TV’s “Power,” the hit Starz drama pro­duced by rap­per Cur­tis “50 Cent” Jack­son. From the age of 4, Loren spent her child­hood in Sacra­mento, Cal­i­for­nia, plot­ting a ca­reer as a bi­ol­o­gist. ❚ “I wanted to be the next Jane Goodall,” says Loren, 38. “I had, like, four cats, dogs, a scrub jay I res­cued, a snake, frogs, mice –in­evitably some­thing would get loose.” ❚ Her love of bi­ol­ogy never wa­vered un­til she stum­bled upon act­ing in col­lege. “I signed up for a fine arts class to get it out of the way,” Loren re­calls. Two weeks later, she learned the class was full and she’d been au­to­mat­i­cally placed into a be­gin­ner’s act­ing class. “I be­grudg­ingly fell in love with it. In­stead of feel­ing great about it, I had this aw­ful, sink­ing feel­ing I was go­ing to mess up my whole life! Ev­ery­one knows that ac­tors end up wait­ing ta­bles.”

Her par­ents also were con­fused. “My dad’s fam­ily is aca­demic and science-ori­ented, but this was where my mother’s for­ti­tude came in,” says Loren. “I de­cided I would rather be a wait­ress my whole life and go af­ter what I’ve re­ally fell in love with than pre­tend I don’t love this and take the safe bet.”

It took three years for Loren to land her first au­di­tion, and she paid her dues with small roles on shows such as “The Shield,” “CSI” and “Gang Re­lated.” “You work once, maybe twice or three times a year, you eke it out and hope it’s build­ing to some­thing more.”

The ac­tress cred­its her mother for her per­se­ver­ance and tenac­ity. Born into poverty in Mex­ico’s Tierra Caliente, a re­gion known as a hub for drug traf­fick--

ing, her mother’s fu­ture looked bleak from an early age. “Be­cause of ex­treme poverty, she was given away to servi­tude at age 6, but the up­side is that she got to go to school,” Loren says.

Her mother even­tu­ally im­mi­grated to the United States in the 1970s, mar­ried Loren’s father, an econ­o­mist from up­state New York, and raised two chil­dren. “Her dream was to learn English so she could go back and give tours at the an­thro­pol­ogy mu­seum in Mex­ico, but she played the long game,” Loren says, with ob­vi­ous pride.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing vale­dic­to­rian from an adult high school, Loren’s mother went on to earn her col­lege de­gree in her 40s, and be­came a teacher. Over the years, she made a point to keep up with rel­a­tives back in Mex­ico. “It was im­por­tant for her to re­con­nect with her fam­ily, so we would go back to her vil­lage every year for three months dur­ing the sum­mer, and I still go al­most every year.”

Those hot Mex­ico sum­mers were a stark con­trast to Loren’s life in sub­ur­ban Sacra­mento, where at the time there wasn’t much of a Latino com­mu­nity. “For nine months of the year I lived a very Amer­i­can up­bring­ing, then for three months I had no run­ning wa­ter or elec­tric­ity, and we slept in adobe huts with dirt floors — but I loved it. I feel like I got a huge gift with the worlds of my par­ents. I got to ex­pe­ri­ence both cul­tures.”

Loren cred­its those trips to Mex­ico for a slew of life lessons that buoyed her once she pur­sued act­ing. “I learned not to be afraid of poverty and not to ro­man­ti­cize it,” she says. “My fam­ily deals with prob­lems on a daily ba­sis that wipe out any prob­lems I could have as an ac­tress.”

It took 10 years for “Power” and the role of An­gela Valdes to come along and dur­ing much of that time Loren did, in fact, work as a wait­ress to make ends meet. “I know how to live small, off rice and beans. I never ap­proached it think­ing I would have ar­rived at where I am.”

To­day, she’s en­joy­ing the suc­cess of

“My fam­ily deals with prob­lems on a daily ba­sis that wipe out any prob­lems I could have as an ac­tress.” Lela Loren

spend­ing five sea­sons as whip-smart Valdes, a fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor hope­lessly in love with the drug lord she’s sup­posed to be in­ves­ti­gat­ing. The on­screen chem­istry with her co-star Omari Hard­wick is pal­pa­ble, leav­ing fans buzzing on so­cial me­dia. “I think what makes An­gela an ex­cit­ing char­ac­ter is how dif­fer­ent she is from me. She’s a Nuy­or­i­can city girl, and I’m a coun­try girl from gra­nola-crunch­ing Cal­i­for­nia. On “Power,” she has to nav­i­gate very dif­fer­ent worlds, and I grew up like that, too, but An­gela’s win­ning by any means nec­es­sary would not fly in my house.”

Once again, she points to her mother for in­still­ing good val­ues: “My mother raised me not to care how rich some­one is, how many houses they own. It’s all about how de­cent you are as a per­son and how gen­er­ous your heart is. Your char­ac­ter is your char­ac­ter re­gard­less of your cir­cum­stance.”

GOTHAM/GC IM­AGES

LELA LOREN

Lela Loren has come a long way from hav­ing dreams of be­ing a bi­ol­o­gist.

GOTHAM/GC IM­AGES

“I think what makes An­gela an ex­cit­ing char­ac­ter is how dif­fer­ent she is from me,” Lela Loren says of her role on Starz’ “Power.”

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