Hollywood Star Tichina Arnold Talks about…
Her New Movie with Whoopi Goldberg!
There’s a fantastic new movie airing on Lifetime this weekend called A Day Late and a Dollar Short, the movie adaptation of the popular book by Terry McMillan. Whoopi Goldberg produced the film and stars in the lead role, and it includes such luminous Hollywood veterans as Tichina Arnold, Ving Rhames, Mekhi Phifer, Anika Noni Rose, and Kimberly Elise. Stephen Tolkin directs the film, which tells the story of “[the] irascible matriarch Viola Price,” who, according to the film’s official site, “learns that her next asthma attack will likely kill her, she is determined to fix her fractured family before she leaves this world, from her relationship with her husband to the lives of her four children.” The film airs several times this weekend — the first showing is on Saturday at 8pm on Lifetime. Check out the full schedule here.
I had the wonderful joy of interviewing Tichina Arnold to discuss her role in this new film. And if you’ve been paying even a little attention to films and television over the last 30 years, you’ve seen Tichina Arnold. Her earliest roles include such American classics as the beloved musical-turned-film Little Shop of Horrors as well as the greatest TV show ever (or one of them), The Cosby Show, in which she appeared as Delores. She has some of the funniest lines of episode 21 in season 5 (one of my favorite episodes of the whole series) of The Cosby Show, including one where she suggests to Justine that she should hit the cheating Theo with a cane. In the ’90s, she was especially known for playing Pamela James, one of the main characters alongside Martin Lawrence in the hit TV show Martin, which was one of Fox’s highest rated shows of that decade. She would go on to appear in many other amazing projects — films like Big Momma’s House with Martin Lawrence, Preaching to the Choir, Wild Hogs with John Travolta, Drillbit Taylor with Owen Wilson, The Lena Baker Story: Hope and Redemption, and popular TV shows like Everybody Hates Chris with Terry Crews and Chris Rock, Raising Hope, and Happily Divorced — just to name a few. She won the NAACP Image Award twice for her work in Martin and Everybody Hates Chris, and she’s been nominated for about a million awards it seems like (you can read the full list here). She’s done musicals and off-Broadway hit shows, including the lead in the smash hit If These Hips Could Talk as well as Love, Loss, and What I Wore, in which she co-starred with Fran Drescher. She’s also very involved with charities (which I’ll cover after the interview).
In other words, she’s awesome.
If all that’s not enough, her personality and her faith in Christ behind-the-scenes is awesome too. We need more actors like her in Hollywood, and I believe God has put her there for a reason, as I discovered in my chat with her:
First of all, it’s an honor to speak with you, you’ve been in so many great movies and shows, and from what I’ve seen in the preview, A Day Late and a Dollar Short has a great mix of comedy and drama. What drew you to take the role of Charlotte in this movie?
The role itself — I love the fact that the character Charlotte — her attitude and characteristics — are most like Whoopi’s character, but she’s the one child who doesn’t want to be anything like her mother, so I was excited about playing that dynamic because it’s kind of how I am with my mother [laughs]. It’s like the older I get I’m turning into my mother! So it’s every black woman’s fear — “oh my god am I turning into my mother” — and it’s the fear of a lot of women, period. But this movie was awesome. I’m really happy to be a part of such an amazing cast. Everybody brought their A-game to this flick, and you know, of course to have Whoopi producing as well and acting in it, and out of everybody — I mean we all knew each other — but I’d only worked with Whoopi, I’d never worked with Ving Rhames — the amazing Ving Rhames — and I’d never worked with Mekhi, and I know him way back in my New York days. I’ve never worked with Anika; I’ve only seen her at events, and Kimberly and I have the same agent. [laughs] So we would only see each other in passing, but to be a part of such an amazing cast and such an amazing script and screeplay, and Terry McMillan, she put her foot in it. I purposely didn’t read the book because I did not want to have any ideals for Charlotte. I didn’t want to have any preconceived notions of her. I wanted to bring something new and fresh to it, so I kinda work opposite than a lot of actors do. I was telling [someone in] another interview I did, when I did this movie called The Lena Baker Story: Hope and Redemption, which is about the first black woman to be executed in the state of Georgia, and it’s a true story, but she was dead before the book was written about her. So I purposely did not read that because I didn’t want to put in my brain what I think or how I thought she was. I’m one of those actors I like to be directed I like for the director to say you know I love it that way so try it this way. I like going through the process of figuring it out and allowing the role to take on its own life.
And you kind of come to it with a clean slate.
This movie has so many other great actors, including Ving Rhames, who is a personal favorite of mine in the Mission Impossible franchise. Is he going to put in a good word with Tom for you so you can star in the next Mission Impossible?
Oh wow, [laughs] I don’t know you know I should do that more often, I should push myself when I’m with people but I never do. Yeah when it comes to pushing myself and promoting myself, I suck.
Well, I’m the same way — I understand that dilemma. [laughs] As far as being a veteran actor, when you’re on set how do you prepare for the intensity of performing, I mean, do you still get nervous before the camera starts rolling?
No, well, you know what, with film it’s a little different, television it moves a lot quicker, so television and stage makes my heart beat a little faster only because you only have a certain amount of time to do it. With film you get a little more relaxed because you can say, “Ah, cut, let me do it again!” But with stage, that’s where I got all my training; you get one shot, you know. If you mess it up you can’t take it back. So I enjoy kinda thinking quick on my feet. I get a rush from it. [laughs] And it just helps your brain think faster. But doing this film, it was a breath of fresh air for me because I was able to bring my own element to it; but I like the fact that it has comedy but it also has drama and to be able to bring both dynamics to one film I think is awesome. It’s been a great experience. But it’s actually harder to do! It’s easy to do an all dramatic film or all comedy because you’re in the same zone. But when you have to switch modes, you know, that’s a lot more challenging.
Yeah, that is hard to do [and I say that from the perspective of a movie buff who has seen plenty of movies not do that well], it’s hard to really have the timing and the feel for that, but just from I’ve seen in the movie clips so far, everyone was just nailing it perfectly. I was laughing out loud just from the trailer so that’s always a good sign. [laughs] But, changing gears a little, according to your bio on Wikipedia, you sang in church when you were younger. Does faith and spirituality play a role in your life?
Oh most definitely, that is the base of my life. I don’t know where I would be, I would’ve fallen off the wagon so many times [laughs]. Lord have mercy, but I was born and raised in the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), and coming from a very strict Christian family, my mom kinda changed the course of that whole stigma of “Oh you know we’re holy rollers.” She changed the dynamics of that because my mom always allowed me to be me. She gave me a great base of, “Tichina, you gotta always put God first,” — she taught me all of that, but when I got out there and my booty was out there on my own, you know I had to see God for myself. [laughs] And that is a completely different world. I was prophesied over a long time ago, one of the ministers in my church, he got up and pointed at me. And I was thinking, “Oh my god what’s happening,” and I was only about 11 years old. And he said, “I want everybody to point to Tichina,” and I was like, “oh my god what did I do.” I’m trying to think of all the bad things I did in my life, and he said, “You all leave her alone. You don’t judge her.” And he said, “This woman is going to minister to millions.” So I started crying because I was like, “I don’t wanna be a preacher!” [we both laugh] I’m thinking and equating it with preaching, but it did not dawn on me until 20 years later when I was on the set somewhere and I was in my dressing room and I was thinking, “Ugh, I’m so tired.” But then I thought, “Wait a minute. That’s what he meant!” I’ve ministered to millions through television. I’ve been on television so long, since a child — that’s what he meant. You can minister within whatever realm it is that you do. You know, if you are a secretary you can minister through being a secretary, if you drive buses, you can minister while you drive buses. It’s what you give to people, what you put out there, what you teach, and what you learn and pass on. So I’m kind of in that stage. God creates a straight path for us, but it’s us who go off the path — it’s human nature. I’m one of those people where I don’t want to make the same mistake twice and I don’t want to be a taker, I want to be a giver. I think if we had more givers in life, life would be a lot easier and we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in now.
Amen to that, that’s awesome — very inspiring. And I actually come from a prophetic church [meaning a church that believes that the gift of prophecy still exists in the church to both edify the Body and testify about Jesus to the world] and similar things will happen like that [referring to her minister prophesying]. And I don’t know if I’ll put this in the interview, but as you were sharing about that, I just felt the Holy Spirit speaking to my heart that God really has made you to be a mouthpiece for Him, and I heard specifically “words of life” — that He’s using you to speak words of life to people, and that you will be a vessel through which He speaks many more words of life to people in Hollywood and to the public.
Wow! Well put it in the interview, man, don’t leave it out! If God spoke to you and that’s what you heard, then you better put it in the interview dude!
I’ll put it in for sure, but yeah I heard the phrase “words of life” [which comes from the verse Proverbs 18:21] like a loudspeaker in my head. I really believe the Lord wanted me to share that with you.
Wow, well I receive that. I receive it!
I know you’re a musical person and you have an amazing voice [and our readers can hear Tichina sing “The Look of Love” here, the National Anthem at a Knicks game here, “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow” on the show Martin, and a music video for “Don’t Ask My Neighbor” with Tisha Campbell here]. Are there any musical projects on the horizon for you?
I’ve been working on my album for 20 years, but you know what, I’m the kind of person who says, “If it happens, and it’s supposed to happen, it’s gonna happen.” I started singing first, and then I got into musical theatre, and musical theatre took me into soap operas; soap operas took me into sitcoms, and sitcoms took me into film, so it’s all been an amazing ride and an amazing process, but I’ve been blessed to remain in the industry that’s very hard and it’s not a pretty industry by any means. There’s a lot of ugly inside of show business. So I’m happy that I was instilled and prayed over and protected in that sense. God knows, I’m the number one heathen [laughs] I think it’s when you know you’re a heathen–
I think that’s a good place to start [laughs].
Great place to start! [laughs] It keeps you humble, and to be able to have a platform to minister to people the best way that I know how and that’s through song and it’s through comedy and it’s through drama now, and I want to hopefully do more drama. But to be able to have that platform I think it’s a great responsibility. When I became a mother, it became an even bigger responsibility to make sure that I didn’t compromise my morality or compromise who I was or who I am and who I’m trying to be. I think it’s important that I display that and that I convey that to other young women and other young men. I want to make the path for them a lot easier. But I still want them to experience the ugly side. When you don’t experience certain things how do you know? That’s how you learn. I think God has blessed me to be in a position to help people and to help myself in the process.
That’s awesome, and that leads perfectly into my last question. Our website, Rocking Gods House dot com, has a fairly strong 18-25 year-old demographic; what advice would you offer aspiring young actors who are thinking of giving Hollywood a shot?
You better love it. You better love it. Show business is like a boyfriend. Are you still gonna love it when it’s not good to you? It’s like a love affair. If it doesn’t pay, I mean, I used to work for free as a kid. I’m still workin’ for free! [laughs] But you gotta love what you do because if you don’t love it when it’s not good to you, you’ll crack. It will break you. And I think it’s important that you don’t go into show business wanting to be a star. Go into show business wanting to do good work. Go into show business knowing the power you will have to [influence] other people. And a lot of people don’t use their power correctly. And I always pray, I say, “God, just allow me to use the power I have correctly.” And now that I’m a mother, it’s really important for me to use that power correctly because I’m a representative of what other young women are trying to be. They’re watching my every move. They’re reading my tweets, looking at my video posts. So it’s a huge responsibility. The only reason I’m on social media is not to be a star and known to people. I got on there because when my daughter was three she picked up my iPhone and with one hand she went straight to YouTube. I didn’t even know how to use an iPhone, and I thought, “Oh wait a minute now, uh uh, I don’t want her to be showin’ me how to do it, I gotta show her how to do it.” So I got into it. It’s important to recognize those moments, those life teaching moments, so you can move forward in a positive light, not have something drag you down and control you. I am not controlled by show business. I control show business. I control the destiny of my life.
“I think it’s important that you don’t go into show business wanting to be a star. Go into show business wanting to do good work.” –Tichina Arnold
Wow, and that’s a really huge difference [having something control us vs. us controlling it], that’s a great point.
But it takes time though. It takes time. You get knocked, you get punched, you get knocked down, you get kicked, you get dragged, I mean you go through it. And some people may not go through it. A lot of people who don’t have that experience or don’t have experience of the lows, when it happens to them they’re not going to be prepared for it.
Be sure to check out A Day Late and a Dollar Short on Lifetime this weekend beginning on Saturday, April 19, 8pm. Tichina is also very active in some amazing charities, including Hire L.A., Voices for America’s Children, The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation, Rally for Kids with Cancer, First Star for Children’s Rights and Fran Drescher’s awesome organization, Cancer Schmancer (coolest name for a charity ever!). Please check these links out and consider supporting them!