In the Loop With... Tatyana Ali
The once-upon-a-time child star succeeds on her own terms now
Tatyana Ali first caught our collective attention as a fresh-faced member of the Banks clan, the legendary television sitcom family of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" that shot rapper, actor Will Smith to fame. Now in her 30s, she's aligned herself with another legendary comedic surname: Wayans.
The saying goes that behind every great man is a greater woman, and in Ali's new role as assistant Maya on BET's latest comedy series "Second Generation Wayans," she joins Craig and Damien (the real-life nephews of famous Wayans brothers Keenan, Damon, Shawn and Marlon) and actor George O. Gore II (who you may remember from the Damon-created show "My Wife & Kids") as the glue that holds the men together as they attempt to make a name for themselves in Hollywood.
We asked Ali how she managed to go from a child actor among many, to an established star in the industry.
MUST READ: 8 Actresses Who Could be 'James Bond'
What's it like being the only girl on the cast? Any benefits?
I grew up with sisters, so being the only girl on set is definitely a bit different for me. Working with the guys makes me wish I had brothers. I’m learning a lot about the ways guys think.
How do you differ and how are you similar to Maya?
Maya and I are really different. I’m much more of a laid-back, go-with-the-flow person. She likes to be in control. I do understand her ambition, especially because our show is set in Hollywood. It takes serious focus to make it, and Maya’s got that in spades.
"Second Generation" is a pseudo-reality show, but would you ever consider doing a real one? And do you have any faves?
I wouldn’t do a reality show. The opportunity has crossed my desk a couple of times, but I enjoy the illusion involved in being an actor. I think it would be difficult to ask an audience to believe I’m different characters if they know too much about who I really am. That being said, there are some reality shows that I love to watch. "The Real Housewives" franchise is my number one!
Are you satisfied with the opportunities and roles offered to women of color on television and film?
I think that there is always more work to be done and more ground to be covered. The goal is to break old archetypes and create new ones with multi-dimensional, unique characters. As an actor you try to imbue every role with that sense of uniqueness, but if the writing and “powers that be” don’t support that, it can be really challenging. Right now is a great time. "Deception" and "Scandal" are making incredible strides. We just have to make sure that continues.
You knew Will Smith at the age that his daughter Willow is now. What do you think of her success, and of how the media has treated her?
I think Willow is gorgeous and brilliant. The media loves young performers and hates on them at the same time. They can be so harsh, and they fail to realize that they’re talking about and dealing with children. It’s painful for me to watch. But she has an amazing family and a real sense of independence about her. She needs to keep doing what she’s doing. She’ll be just fine.
MUST READ: Black History in the Making: Actresses
What is your advice for child actors?
To educate yourself. It gives you power beyond the choices any casting director may make, and it allows you to really take hold of your own future. The trick is to know that you are valuable with or without the work.
You rarely make headlines unless it's career-related. How do keep your private life out of the spotlight?
I’m a pretty private person. It’s not on purpose, it just is. I have fun, have done stupid things and have made mistakes, but I’m lucky to have a really close family and group of friends who protect me when I fall, and I do the same for them. We all make mistakes; it’s just much harder to learn from them and recover if everyone and their mama knows about it and judges.
As an industry vet, what do you think of the various ways fans can now access celebrities now via Twitter and tabloids?
I think Twitter is really fun. I like being able to get instant feedback on what I’m putting out there, and I like being able to talk to my fans. Their support and kindness have given me the energy to keep going when things have gotten rough. With Twitter and social media, artists can speak for themselves, but tabloids are different. They exploit and pry.
If you were to return to music, who would you most want to work with?
I’m working on music now, so…
Whose career do you admire or want to emulate?
There are people I admire for many different reasons: the work they produce, their work ethic, the way they live their lives, etc. All those people -- Oprah, Tyra Banks, Will Smith, Ava DuVernay, Madonna, Eartha Kitt, Cicely Tyson, Quincy Jones -- live and work the way they want. They are aware of what they’re saying and the message they are sharing. They don’t let boundaries or boxes hold them in. They break any preconceived ideas of what people think is possible. I’m living my life that way for the first time and it feels really good.
Watch 'Second Generation Wayans' on BET Tuesdays at 10:30 p.m. | Season finale March 19!