Anthony Anderson is both a producer and star of the popular ABC sitcom Black-ish playing the upper-middle-class ad executive Andre “Dre” Johnson, Sr. who oversees his family through various issues of race and class. Anderson was recently nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. But this marks the star’s second year of receiving an Emmy nomination for the role. And indeed he already won two NAACP Image Awards for the part of Dre.

In a GoldDerby interview, Anderson says he relates to his opinionated character especially because Dre is based on an over-the-top version of himself. The show’s creator, Kenya Barris, is also the co-creator of America’s Next Top Model. Both Barris and Anderson shared the same manager, and when the two talents were introduced, they quickly developed a friendship. The two men realized how much they had in common. Both were first-generation success stories in their families; they’d grown up in inner-city Los Angeles homes; both had children in private schools; and they were the only African-Americans currently residing in their neighborhoods.

Just a few weeks after that meeting, Barris presented Anderson with an idea for the show Black-ish based on their shared personal experiences. For example, Dre worries that his children are not connected with their African-American heritage. Similarly, Anderson’s own son approached him before his thirteenth birthday confiding that he didn’t feel black. In fact, he wished he could have a Bar Mitzvah like some of his peers were having. While this kind of celebration didn’t fit into the Anderson family’s traditions, Anthony met his son’s need by throwing him a “Bro Mitzvah” for his next birthday. This proved to be a great celebration for the teen and his friends. As for his connection to the role of Dre, Anderson explains, “This is one of the few characters that I’ve been able to portray where I can fully breathe life into as a character and as Anthony Anderson.”

Both ABC and Disney Studios proved to be supportive of Anderson and Barris. The network and studio gave them the green light to honestly voice to their points of view for the show. And Anderson sat through all of the casting, and read with prospective cast members. Now he beams, “I got to handpick my family. And I picked the cream of the crop.”

As for Anderson’s path to becoming an actor, his mother worked as a movie extra, and so young Anthony often found himself on film sets. At the age of five, he started appearing in TV commercials. But he really started to develop his acting chops at the age of nine. In a 2002 interview on the Femail magazine website, he described the neighborhood in which he grew up, saying, “You were either made a ward of the court, on parole, or dead at 21 if you grew up in Compton, Los Angeles.”

But the determined budding talent graduated from Hollywood High School Performing Arts Center, and then earned a drama scholarship to attend the prestigious Howard University. After his college graduation, Anthony made guest appearances on an assortment of television programs, and then landed his first major job as a regular on the teen sitcom Hang Time. This lead to his breakthrough with the films Life starring Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence as well as playing opposite Lawrence in the hit comedy Big Momma’s House. Anderson’s other films include Barbershop, The Departed, and Transformers.

Anderson encourages others to “Set your heights more than what you see around you, see beyond,” and to “Be ready for when your time comes, you will have that window of opportunity, so seize the moment and capitalize on it.” Certainly, Anderson has proven to be a role model in these regards.