Chicago Sun-Times

Irone draws strength fromtough life lessons


He played a bad guy in the film “The Blind Side,” but Irone Singleton is anything but bad. The actor grew up in the Atlanta projects, where guns, drugs and hopelessne­ss were pervasive. Yet he found his way out, graduating from the University of Georgia, where he played football.

He plays T-dog on AMC’S hit “Thewalking Dead,” a zombie apocalypse series.

Married with children, the 37-year-old is very spiritual. “Thewalking Dead” returns to AMC at 8 p.m.feb. 12.

Question: What prompted you to change your name from “Robert” to “Irone”?

The thing that happened wasmy life. [Laughs]. “Irone” stands for an eagle in flight with an unbroken spirit. I coined that term because it is indicative ofmy life story and the fact that I’mout of the inner city. Statistics state that as a young black male from the inner city, I would be either in prison or dead or, more than likely, hanging out on a street corner selling drugs or something like that. So once I graduated from college, and right before I moved to L.A., God just put it inmy heart. There was this overwhelmi­ng desire to come up with a name that served as an icebreaker. “Irone” was it.

Sohowdid you find your way out of the projects and a situation somanysee as hopeless?

Speaking metaphysic­ally, there is just this overwhelmi­ng power, this supreme being inmy life. It was bigger, way larger than life. I refer to it as God. I always had a relationsh­ip with God as early as 8 years old. ... I visitedmy paternal grandmothe­r and saw that the life that she lived totally contrasted with the life that I had lived in the projects. So it inspired me to want more out of life.

The underlying theme of “Walking Dead” is never give up, and it seems that is something you have always embraced in your life.

That is exactly it. You survive by any means necessary. There were a lot of moments inmy life where I could have died or I could have ended up serving 20 years to life in prison. I overcame those things, those obstacles, because I listened and I obeyed that higher power that was speaking to me at the crucial moments in my life when it really counted. A lot ofmy friends didn’t, and they ended up either going to prison and serving life terms or dying.

Howmuch do you reach back into your own life when you are doing scenes in movies like “Blind Side,” but particular­ly for “Walking Dead”?

All the time. That part of my life weighs onmeso heavily. You knowit has such an influence onme. There are so many graphic images, so many things to pull from, so I use that as my motivation. I just look at where I used to be compared towhere I amnow, andiget overwhelme­d with emotion.

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