Tichina Arnold has been performing since she was a child, but it wasn’t until she played ‘Pam’ in the popular ’90s sitcom, “Martin,” that people began to take notice. The character’s sassy, take-no-nonsense attitude and slick talk solidified Arnold’s status as an edgy and gifted actress.
When “Martin” ended abruptly in 1997, people wondered if Arnold would be able to recover. The actress responded by taking traces of Pam and fought to win. She stayed relevant by appearing in various TV shows and movies until landing the role of ‘Rochelle Rock’ in Chris Rock’s “Everybody Hates Chris.” The New York native played a sassy but wise mama, based on Rock’s own mother. After a four-year run, the show was cancelled, but is in syndication on Nick at Nite, weeknights, with back-to-back episodes from 10 to 11pm. In addition, “Everybody Hates Chris” also airs right here on BET!
The award-winning actress, mother and Essence magazine blogger recently starred in an Off Broadway production of “The Wiz,” a London stage production of “Ghosts,” has a talk show and reality TV show in development and just completed her first dramatic role for a forthcoming TV movie. Here, she reveals what keeps her spunky spirit going and how she manages her busy life as a Hollywood mom.
You just received the NAACP Spirit Award. Elaborate on what it means to receive that honor.
I felt really humbled and privileged. I know what it feels like to have gotten awards, but for me to receive that award was humbling because in the email, they wrote out why they were giving me the award and it damn near brought a tear to my eye because I just try to focus on what I’m doing at the moment. I’ve been doing this for so long. All I’ve done is show business all my life and for someone else to spell it out for you and tell you what you achieved — because I never think about what I’ve achieved — is an honor.
A lot of people were upset about the cancellation of “Everybody Hates Chris.” Do you see a series renewal beyond syndication?
No, we’re done. It’s unfortunate because I think we had another season left in us even though the kids were getting bigger. The show could only go on for so long because it takes place during a certain period of time, so once Chris Rock becomes a comedian, the show is over [Laughs]. But we definitely had one more season. The show was prematurely dropped but that’s the nature of show business. I’m not upset; I think four years is a great length of time for any Black show to be on air.
Speaking of TV shows, Jamie Foxx mentioned that there was going to be a Shenehneh and Wanda movie. Would you consider reprising your role as ‘Pam’?
You know I would! Pam was a lot of fun to play because she was close to who I was and I just brought elements of different friends that I had. I loved playing that role because we had a lot of moments and developed the characters as we went along.
When Pam and Martin would exchange insults on the show, how much of it was improv?
Most of it [laughs].
How did you keep a straight face when you interacted with any of the characters?
I couldn’t keep a straight face. If you go back and listen to the soundtrack you would hear me laughing. I almost peed on myself a few times.
I always thought it must have been hard for you to keep going without laughing.
Yeah. My favorite episode was the one where we did the Wesley Snipes thing—the “New Jack City” [parody] when Martin had the dog doll and he kept barking with the doll. I fell out. If you listen to the soundtrack on that one you can hear me going, “Uuuuuuuh.” I knew how to laugh without moving my mouth because our challenge to each other when we did “Martin” was to make each other laugh and see who was going to break first.
[Laughs] I have to go back and watch that episode. Who’s your favorite “Martin” character?
I love Otis. I know so many old men that are funny like that. Watching Martin develop these characters was just funny within itself because you would see him get the characteristics as he was doing it. If he heard people laugh, he would really expound upon different traits on characters, so I loved it.
The show ended abruptly, so do you feel that it was cut too soon?
Yes. I don’t know why it happens, but it happens and we had a good run. Five years and 100 episodes is a good run for a television show, especially for an African-American show.
You just shot a pilot for a talk show on BET. Can you elaborate?
I don’t know how much I can say but it’s about motherhood and I think if it gets picked up, a lot of people — a lot of women are going to enjoy it. It’s informative and positive and it’s something that’s definitely needed.
You’re also recording an album. What’s going on with that?
This will be my first album because the music industry really sucks. I’ve just been taking my time with an amazing producer named Rufus Blaq and we’ve been making some beautiful music together. I’m 10 songs in, I got about five more to go and I’m just going to shop it myself and see what happens.
You’re very blunt about how you’re suing your daughter’s father for child support. Have you made any progress?
No. I just left it alone. I just took the steps to do what I needed to do because it’s not for me. It’s for my daughter. I never wanted to say, 20 years down the line that I did not exhaust all resources to make sure that she has an opportunity at a good life that both her parents could give her, but I’m one of those people that pulls myself up by the boot straps and does what I have to do. Even with the Carvin situation, I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to put another Black man down but this is a major issue that we’re dealing with. There are so many women that are dealing with deadbeat dads; there are so many men that are dealing with deadbeat women. It goes both ways so it’s an issue that we have to address and I didn’t do it in a declassifying way, I did it in a way to where people would understand and relate to what I’m going through and know that they’re not alone and that there are ways that you can handle a situation without going and busting somebody’s windows. I still love him as a friend but he’s got to step up to the plate and be a better dad. I can never be her father. I can’t be a man. I can only be her mother and I’m going to do everything it takes to be the best mother that I can with the tools that I have, bottom line.
Ashanti got some criticism for her role in “The Wiz” but as someone who’s a veteran, what did you think of her performance?
I think Ashanti, vocally, did something that not a lot of singers can do. That girl blew every night. I only had one song and my throat was tired. People take theater for granted but theater is where you build your muscle and when you’re on that stage and you’re live, it’s completely different from being in concert and being in a play. I think Ashanti did a great job. I didn’t have any complaints about her. I think the more theater she does then she’ll get that muscle working and it will become more natural to her.
Tell us about “The Lena Baker Story.”
Turner Broadcasting picked it up and it’s a movie where I did my first starring dramatic role. It’s a true story about the first Black woman to be executed in the state of Georgia and I believe it to be some of my best work. I’m excited about it so look out.
Even though you’ve won awards throughout your career, do you ever feel that you’re taken for granted as far as everything you’ve accomplished?
I have moments where I feel that way. I think it’s a lot different for Black actresses, and I do believe the road is a lot harder but I ain’t complaining. We have to work with the tools we got. Sometimes I feel unappreciated but who cares. I keep it moving because if I sit there and I concentrate on what I don’t have, I’m going to miss the stuff that I do have.