Interview: Tasha Smith
Her memorable performances in two Tyler Perry pictures last year, "Why Did I Get Marriedâ€? and "Daddy's Little Girls,â€? led this critic to name her the best African-American actress of 2007 in my annual film Blacktrospective.
Tasha Smith is a larger than life actress who brings an endearing combination of chemistry, raw intensity, vulnerability and sheer sensuality to every character she portrays on the big screen. In other words, she's a consummate thespian who is just loved by the camera. And her memorable performances in two Tyler Perry pictures last year, "Why Did I Get Married” and "Daddy's Little Girls,” led this critic to name her the best African-American actress of 2007 in my annual film Blacktrospective.
Previously, the beguiling beauty has played a wide range of roles in such feature films as "ATL,” "The Good Mother” and "The Whole Ten Yards.” Tasha is also well-known for her critically-acclaimed portrayal of the drug-addicted Ronnie Boyce in HBO's Emmy Award-winning mini-series, "The Corner,” directed by Charles S. Dutton.
She has guest starred on such popular television shows as "Nip/Tuck,” "America's Next Top Model,” "Girlfriends,” "Without a Trace,” and "Strong Medicine,” among others. Plus, she's served as the executive producer and host of her own talk show for the Oxygen Network, "Tasha Vision,” guest hosted, "Later with Greg Kinnear,” and recently appeared as a field correspondent on "The Tyra Banks Show.”
Away from the set, she divides her time between sharing her inspirational life story as a motivational speaker and mentoring aspiring actors at the Tasha Smith Actors Workshop in Los Angeles. Here, Tasha talks from the heart about both her career and her fears.
BSN: No, I'm honored to be speaking with you. In my opinion, you were the best actress last year, hands down. I'm just surprised your work wasn't widely acknowledged during awards season. But I guess, like the way it was for Philip Seymour Hoffman and some other great actors and actresses, it takes awhile to get recognized. Afterall, Christian Bale still has never been nominated for an Oscar.
TS: Yeah, I understand that. I really do. I just thank you for all your wonderful comments.
BSN: Those were simply my honest appraisal of your performances. What did you rely upon to create the characters, Angela and Jennifer, that you played in those Tyler Perry movies?
TS: Well, sometimes other actors do or don't agree with my process in terms of the approach that I use and teach to my students. But I feel that once you look at and discover what a character's need is within a scri pt, every character is already in us based on their need, whether that need be for power, love, acceptance, forgiveness or something else. You follow me? So, after I discover that for the character within the scri pt, then I find things within myself that I can activate that could help me to tell the story of the character.
BSN: Do you research a character, too, or is it all an internal process?
TS: I did do research for Daddy's Little Girls, because of Jennifer's belief system in terms of selling drugs. So, I spoke to a bunch of different drug dealers who really didn't want to reform. They didn't want to change. I was just trying to understand the mentality. We all have a psychological reason why we have adopted the belief systems which determine our perspectives and directions in life, and our actions. I try to understand that mental part of the character in order to figure out how I might relate it to myself and to similar people I've seen and experienced. I end up with layers of things, but overall, and I don't know how people will feel about this statement, overall, I think that there is a part of us in every character we play, a desperate part of all of us that we could utilize. Not that, if someone plays a murderer, there's a murderer within that person, but there's a seed to get power back within that person.
BSN: That makes me think of Javier Bardem's frightening portrayal of the killer in No Country for Old Men. That was quite a despicable character.
TS: Yes, but, as an actor, you have to stay true to the character. We can never judge our characters. All we can discover is why they so badly need to do what they're doing. And everyone has a reason why, even a murderer. For example, when I did The Corner, everyone may not necessarily be a drug addict, but everyone has a vice that's in the life of a drug. You follow me?
TS: Everyone has something that they desperately need that makes them feel good, that they don't want anything to get in the way of. Whether it's a man's golf game… whether it's a woman's cooking… I have a friend who has to clean. She's addicted to cleaning. That's her drug. When she becomes upset and frustrated that she's not getting enough sex. So, everyone has their addiction.
BSN: I think you also did an excellent job as Angela in Why Did I Get Married.
TS: Thank you. I tell you that role was interesting for me in that it helped me get freedom, because I was going through my own divorce at the time, and I think that we can live vicariously through our characters. So, the stuff that I might not have been able to say or do in real life, I could live all that as Angela. And I joke with women a lot, because they come up to me and say, "I love the way you spoke up and got him. My intention was for her to be every black woman's hero. I wanted her to be that woman who would put every ho in check. You know how we've all had that kind of woman come into our lives? Well, we needed a spokesperson, and I wanted Angela to be that for us.
BSN: What I liked about your treatment of Angela was the richness you brought to the character. She wasn't merely the stereotypical, sassy, superficial, one-dimensional sister we usually see on the screen.
TS: You know what was the best thing to me about Angela? That she got a chance to say everything she needed to say, because sometimes, as women, we don't get a chance to do that. She got a chance to say everything she needed to say, and to allow herself to be frustrated, angry and hurt, but she still was able to get her man back. That was a blessing. I love that I was able to do that, because personally, for myself, divorce was really sad. I felt bad to have to get divorced. I wasn't proud of that. But, in that role, I got a chance to see what it feels like to win. It was great to see that these two could have all their differences, and all the drama… Hello! Yet, then they had the restoration. It was wonderful! I was so happy about that, I couldn't tell you.
BSN: I see that you're playing another character named Angela in Something Like a Business, an ensemble comedy with Keith David, Kym Whitley, David Alan Grier, Clifton Powell, Kevin Hart and a bunch of other folks.
TS: You know what? Something Like a Business, I'm going to tell you Kam, was my "fun" movie. That was kind of like me going to the amusement park with a bunch of my friends. It is a funny, silly comedy. I play a completely different character. She's a broke escort who moves from New Orleans to Washington, DC. Her escort company doesn't have any money, so they're trying to figure out ways to make some money. It's a little spoofy and very different, but I think it's entertaining and people will get a good laugh.
BSN: What are you filming now?
TS: Comeback, with Ice Cube. It's a wonderful movie. Keke Palmer plays my daughter. This film is absolutely fantastic. It's such an uplifting story. And I'm enjoying it so much because I don't have any children, and everything is about my daughter. I just love it because I want to have children one day. So, I enjoy playing this woman Claire who's trying to help make her daughter's dream come true. It's beautiful. I think you'll get a kick out of it.
BSN: Is she producing anything with you in mind?
TS: Yeah, we have a few projects we're working on right now. She's actually producing one of E. Lynn Harris' books, Not a Day Goes By. We're also working on an amazing film of hers called A Luv Tale, based on a short that she wrote and directed about a lesbian relationship between an older woman and a younger woman, and how it affects everyone around them. And we got another fun scri pt called Who's Got C-Dog's Money.
BSN: I recently reviewed a new book by Terrie Williams called Black Pain which says that in African-American culture there's pressure on the brothers to adopt a macho swagger and on the sisters to be supportive superwomen who often deny their own needs. She says black people need to let down their defenses and to show some vulnerability.
TS: I agree with that.
BSN: Speaking of books, bookworm Troy Johnson wants to know what was the last book you read?
TS: Well, actually, one that I'm still reading is called Developing the Leader within You by John C. Maxwell. I love a lot of self-help books, and this one has been wonderful. The one I read before this was Becoming a Person of Influence, also by John C. Maxwell. I feel that with these opportunities I have, I want to not just be a celebrity, but to be an influence. I'd like to help empower and encourage other people to pursue their purpose, whether it's through me telling the truth of my life, like what I just shared with you about fears, or just being open and transparent and encouraging and compassionate towards humanity in general.
BSN: Tell me a little about your school. How can aspiring actors enroll to take a class with you?
TS: It's called Tasha Smith Actors Workshop. They can check out the website at http://www.tsaw.com/. It's been going on for almost six years now. It's been a blessing for our community, that's all I have to say, because I've seen so many actors with the dream, young people who haven't had a chance to cultivate their gift. And now I see them on TV shows, and with agents, and really moving in their dream. And that's awesome.
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