La La Anthony Knows How to Hustle
It seems unlikely that a celebrity who boasts nearly 10 million Instagram followers could go unnoticed in a tiny Thai restaurant in Manhattan’s East Village. But as a native New Yorker, La La Anthony knows how to pick the right spot. Our original plan was to meet at a swanky TriBeCa restaurant until the actress, author, and designer, pinging between meetings and photo shoots, rerouted us here. She is decked out in a black Alexandre Vauthier turtleneck and vegan-leather pants from her own collection, and her three-person team — a personal photographer, a hairstylist, and a publicist — has set up a mobile office at a center table. She’s in the middle of what I can only assume is an important business call, judging by her stern tone. Except it’s not business at all. “You let her know I’m not afraid if she doesn’t want to talk to me,” Anthony says before she hangs up, her toughness fading as she turns to me and laughs. “My teenage niece is driving my family crazy. They’re like, ‘You better talk to her!’ So I’m all over it.”
As her fans can attest, Anthony, 38, is big on family. Her 12-year-old son, Kiyan, with NBA star Carmelo Anthony, factors prominently on all of her social-media accounts. “Kiyan is the best thing that ever happened to me,” she says. “He’s what I’m most proud of. Having him is the most badass thing I’ve ever done, so I definitely feel most powerful when I’m in mom mode.” Motherhood may be her proudest achievement, but having learned how to hustle at a young age, Anthony is just as fierce when it comes to her many business ventures. “My mom always made it work with whatever she had to keep our family together, even when she was a single parent,” says Anthony, who grew up in Brooklyn’s Flatbush neigborhood. “That’s why my goal in life was always to not be broke. It wasn’t about having a career; I didn’t even know what I wanted to do. But I knew what being broke felt like, and I never wanted to have that feeling again.”
So she worked her ass off, starting out as a radio DJ in Atlanta before landing a VJ gig on MTV’s Total Request Live at just 19 years old. Though she always appeared confident interviewing top musicians on air, Anthony wasn’t immune to the pressures of the spotlight. “It took time to get to a place where outside validation wasn’t important,” she says. “When you’re on TV, people always have something to say — and this was before Instagram and Twitter, where they just tear you apart every second of the day. Plus, I’m a people pleaser, and I wanted everyone to like me and be my friend. I used to let people run all over me because I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers, but I learned that in order to do what’s best for yourself, sometimes that’s necessary.”
After leaving MTV in 2003, Anthony went on to star in two VH1 reality series, La La’s Full Court Wedding and La La’s Full Court Life; write a best-selling book, The Love Playbook; and launch her own beauty and fashion lines — most recently, the size-inclusive La La Anthony Collection. But acting was always her passion. “For so long, people tried to put me in a box,” she says. “I was told, ‘You’re an MTV VJ, you’re a radio host, you’re a reality-TV person — you can’t do anything else.’ I was adamant in proving to people that I could.” She scored her first major role as hairstylist LaKeisha Grant in the TV show Power in 2014, a character she would play for six seasons. “I’m proud that I was able to break those barriers and show people I can be good at more than one thing,” says Anthony, who’s teaming up with Power creator 50 Cent again on the upcoming Starz series Intercepted (she’ll executive-produce as well as act). “You have more control when you create your own content, because you’re not waiting for someone to give you a chance.”
Next up, she’s eager to bring a new story to life on Season 3 of Lena Waithe’s Showtime series, The Chi. “I play a chef from the hood who’s trying to be respected in her field, but people don’t take her seriously,” she says, revealing that while she relates to her character’s drive, she’s far from a culinary whiz. “I can’t cook for shit,” she admits, despite looking quite kitchen-savvy in this photo shoot. “I’ve been trying to learn for the show because I realized that I’ve been relying on my son to feed both of us. He took a cooking class in school and makes a great breakfast.”
Quality mother-son time is a constant in Anthony’s hectic life, which allows for “maybe four or five hours” of sleep each night. “I’m always making sure Kiyan’s on the right track, and we have a great relationship because he respects me,” she says. Still, no matter how cool his parents are, Kiyan has started to set some typical preteen boundaries. “He told me I can’t go into school to pick him up anymore, so I have to wait outside on the corner in a full-on outfit.”
Although she’s no longer with Kiyan’s dad, Anthony has nothing but praise for him. “Hands down, the father-of-the-year award goes to Carmelo Anthony,” she says. “He is so supportive — this man flies from coast to coast just to sit in on a violin concert for 10 minutes. In no way am I a single parent, because I couldn’t raise my kid without him.” Personality-wise, Kiyan takes after his dad. “They’re both super laid-back,” she says. “But Kiyan is also pretty shy and quiet. I worry because I don’t want him to keep everything inside; I want him to feel like he can talk to us about everything. I also want him to be careful, because some kids want to be his friend for the wrong reasons. We’ve had to make him understand that, which has been interesting.”
Fortunately, when things get tough, Anthony can call up some of her famous best friends — Serena Williams, Kim Kardashian West, Kelly Rowland, and Ciara — for advice. “We motivate each other,” she says. “We ask each other business questions and lean on each other. I’m grateful for that, and I never take it for granted.” Anthony also partners with her pals on projects. She recently guest-rapped on Ciara’s hit song “Melanin” and occasionally appears on Keeping Up with the Kardashians. “Kim and I have been friends for almost 12 years now, so I saw [her fame] build — it’s not a new thing for me,” she explains. “We used to just walk in and out of airports with no greeter, no cameras. Now we go on trips to get away from everything and zone out, focusing on each other and our kids.”
Reflecting on how far she’s come helps Anthony feel secure going forward. “I remind myself where I started, where I’m at now, and what I’ve created through hard work and perseverance,” she says. “I’m in a business where you’re constantly being told no, and if you don’t have a backbone, that shit will break you.” It also takes stamina, something that Anthony has plenty of. “There will always be people who are better at something than me,” she says. “But I can guarantee you there’s only a small percentage of the population that could ever outwork me.”
Hair: Myss Monique. Makeup: Porsche Cooper. Prop styling: Emily Adar. Styling: Maeve Reilly.
For more stories like this, pick up the February issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Jan. 17.