Written by: Melody Charles
As you sit here reading this, actress Tika Sumpter has transitioned from one set to another juggling a variety of film and TV roles, most recently kicking off the second season of Tyler Perry’s ratings smash OWN series, “The Haves and the Have Nots”, and gearing up to promote her starring turn in the brand new Ice Cube and Kevin Hart comedy flick, RIDE ALONG.
It’s hard to imagine that the 33-year-old has had the time to get a good forty winks in given her dizzying schedule, but she still generously made time for a chat with Knowshi about her most trying characters, who she treasured time with most on the set and how she’s anything but a pushover or an overnight success.
KNOWSHI: You’re the leading lady in the new Ice Cube and Kevin Hart flick “Ride Along”, what was that like for you?
TIKA SUMPTER (Tika): It was a long process; screen testing with Kevin, going in for multiple readings, I’m just so thankful that Universal picked me and that the producers believed in me. I spent most of the time on set trying to take in anything I can from these men, both of whom have been in the game already for a long time, and I got to laugh while doing it. The movie is a lot of fun, but it’s also about accepting people, especially when they come into your life one way and suddenly show up as someone else and even surprise themselves, I hope you all love it!
KNOWSHI: What’s working with Ice Cube like?
Tika: We’re both Geminis, but we also have these quiet sides, so he’s really quiet at first. Very professional, definitely a big-brother type and a cool cat, he makes sure everybody’s good. He’s very chill and relaxed.
KNOWSHI: Your character in “Madea’s Family Christmas” took so much from her domineering mother Eileen [Anna Maria Horsford], was that a challenging role to nail down?
Tika: (laughs) That’s the first time I’ve ever had to play a docile character: I’m the type of person who would be like “Mom, I can’t, you need to sit down,” and Lacey allowed her mother to walk all over her for a WHILE. Even in character, it was hard for me to watch Eileen come in, act a fool and totally disrespect my home.
KNOWSHI: Tell us about your part in the upcoming James Brown biography, “Get On Up”.
Tika: It’s a small role; I play one of his love interests in real-life, Yvonne Fair. I actually spoke to friends of her’s and people who were around her at the time [Fair passed away in 1994] and I looked online at her performances, which were sickening. She was strong, she could sing and as a protégé of James, Yvonne actually cut ‘I Feel Good’ first before he re-cut it the way he wanted it to sound. She was definitely a powerful force—he had a lot of women around and she still tried to play it off like she was the only one, and at the end of the day, she really wanted to be a star.
KNOWSHI: That makes me think of your singing sister role in the film “Sparkle”. How did it feel to work so closely with the late great Whitney Houston?
Tika: She was ‘The Voice,’ she was a beautiful brown girl and from the beginning, you couldn’t deny her talent, she just shined. When I sat next to her at the first reading for the film, my knees were just shaking under the table because I thought, ‘OMG, she’s Whitney Houston.’ She was funny, loving and light-hearted, she treated all of us like we were her kids. I wish I would’ve asked her more questions because she was like an open book, honestly.
We would all just sit around talking a lot and if anything felt wrong to her, she would ask ‘Baby, are you okay? We gotta try to fix this, what’s wrong?’ She was a blessing to be around—she’d say ‘hello’ to everybody first thing in the morning, listen to her gospel and Michael Jackson in the dressing room…. It was a blessing to have that kind of contact with somebody that I grew up on and it’s something that I’ll be able to tell my kids; ‘I worked with Whitney Houston, she played my mother.’
KNOWSHI: Would you consider Candace from “The Haves and the Have Nots” as a strong character? That chick is a real piece of work!
Tika: (cracks up) She is diabolical and doesn’t use her smarts for the good of the world, but I love playing this girl! You will see more of where she’s coming from because she’s trying to become a lawyer now and that will introduce a lot more people from her past this season. There will also be some surprise guest stars that will leave you saying ‘Omigod, are you kidding?’ Just expect juicy goodness because Candace keeps everyone on edge.
KNOWSHI: Most def! I know that Hollywood isn’t the easiest place for women to work, especially women of color. How do you handle the challenges that being African-American presents?
Tika: I don’t give it that much weight because it’s too big of a burden to carry when you’re already in a field that not too many people make it in. I think we forget that as women, especially black women, we’re all in this together. My mother, who has a lighter complexion than me, always used to tell me that ‘just because you’re light doesn’t mean you’re cute,’ and vice versa. You are who you are and beauty is really in the eye in the beholder. I just go into auditions thinking that I’m smart, I’m beautiful, I have the skills and that they’re going to love me for me. I had nothing to do with me being the color I am, I think people put that burden on you as you’re growing up and you’re like, ‘why is this important, what do you want me to do about it?’
KNOWSHI: So when you’re not going over scripts and lining up auditions, do you date or have a relationship?
Tika: I’m very much single and open to dating. I’ve dated men who are in the business, those who are not…..they really have to be a great guy, have goals, somebody that I don’t need to support, someone who believes in themselves who doesn’t mind being side by side with someone who is doing well for themselves. I know my worth, spiritually and outside of my acting career, so a man would need to show me respect in that manner. I also want someone to protect me so that I don’t always have to be strong.
KNOWSHI: I feel you on that point. Before we wrap it up, what advice would you share for folks that want to get into acting on the big or the little screen, any pointers?
Tika: I’m always a little wary about answering people who ask, ‘How did you get into acting?’ because if you really want to get into it, you figure it out. I had no one there to tell me what to do, I had to read books and educate myself on it, whether it was about head shots and how to hire the right photographer…I think the more you find out on your own, the more passionate you are about your craft, the harder you work and the more grateful you are for every single moment.
Nothing happens overnight, NOTHING. I started on One Life To Live, doing commercial ads and print work before I was able to get full time gigs acting. It doesn’t work like you’re walking down the street, someone points you out and that’s it—that happens one time in a million and people think it happens everyday, but it takes a lot of perseverance and hard work. I’ve been in this game for a while, but I wouldn’t change anything about the struggle, not ever.