Tika Sumpter Dishes On Her Trek From Hollis To Hollywood
Explain the magnitude of being a brown girl on One Life To Live. What does it mean being on a soap opera and working with all these major names in that lane?
It’s like a first big job; you’re getting a real contract, [and] you’re getting paid money. I was walking down the street one day, and my agent was like, ‘You booked a job.’ They told me [which job], and I screamed. I was blown away. It’s a great ground to prepare yourself and learn fast. You’ve got to learn your lines quickly; you’ve got to get into character fast. Everything moves so quickly. When you’re on a movie set, like when I was doing Stomp The Yard 2 or What’s Your Number? with Anna Faris. They were like, ‘Oh we got such a long day; we’re doing five pages?” What?! [For One Life To Live] We were doing a whole script in one day. It’s so hilarious when I hear people say that. Not in a make-fun-of way, it’s just like, that’s a lot? That’s not a lot [Laughs]. [Television acting] trains you, trains your mind. They’re like, ‘Look you have three takes to get this, and that’s it,” and it’s been helpful in that way. I’m so grateful for One Life To Live, and everything that they offered me.
As an African-American woman, are you trying to be a “Rudy Huxtable” to somebody else out there watching you?
I spoke at Black Girls Rock!, and these little girls inspired the crud out of me. I told them that I do what I do for them. Because a lot of the time, we don’t see ourselves on the covers of things. We don’t see ourselves as the main characters of different shows, and media is huge in that way. Who’s telling you that you’re beautiful? Who says that it’s okay to be this, this or that? I love all women. White girls rock too. My main goal is to inspire as many little girls and women as possible to go after whatever it is they want, as long as they really work hard. I’m a little girl from Hollis, Queens who had no connections in the industry at all, but through my persistence and a lot of rejection, I figured it out. If I can be that to somebody, that would be awesome. My goal in life is to uplift other women and be the ladder, so they can stand on my shoulders and be greater. I love sisterhood, and I know how great we can be if we stuck together. I was invited to the White House to go and watch a sneak peek of The Help. When Michelle Obama walked in that room… She reeks of power, but there’s warmth and exclusivity. If I can have a drop of whatever she has, I’ll be good for life. I want to give that off to people. I look up to her to inspire me to give other people strength. Just from her talking to us and walking into the room, I was literally blown away.
Being a cocoa-skinned lady, did you ever struggle with your complexion when you were younger?
No, not really. My sisters are way lighter than me, and my mom is light. I have a lot of light siblings, and we’re from the same dad. I’ve never really had that issue because I’ve always had friends; I’ve always been involved and active. I was the president of my class, so I didn’t think of that. I’m a beautiful woman. I know I have talent, and I know that I’m smart and I know that’ll be enough to hold my weight. That’s where I am.
You’ve had a variety of roles–Raina Thorpe on Gossip Girl, Jenna Rice on The Game, Nikki in Stomp The Yard 2 and so on. What do you love about those characters and the portrayal of them?
The things that bind all my characters is that they’re all strong in some aspect, whether they’re very strong or they have to find their strength. [Jenna Rice] is vulnerable a lot. She’s in this modeling world where you have to be skinny [and] there’s a lot to live up to. She has strength in certain areas and in other areas she doesn’t, but she speaks her mind still. I think all of my characters are able to speak their mind, even if they don’t totally know the right answer. With Raina Thorpe, I think she’s a fierce girl. I feel like Gossip Girl is not for everybody, but I think what it did for young women, in general, is show the strength [of Raina]. She was vulnerable, but she didn’t need anybody’s money. She’s the richest girl on the block, she owns a company with her father, she’s the vice president, she went to Wharton, she’s very sexual, and she knows what she wants. I love that. I love when little black girls come up to and say, ‘Oh my God, I love Raina Thorpe!’ If I can show my strength through that character and inspire little girls, regardless if it’s standing up for themselves or having their own money, that’s major. Not saying I don’t need a man because I love men and I want a man. Look at Jada and Will! I would love that. But as a young single woman, if a basketball player does want to date you, you don’t have to give up your whole life for that person. It could be an executive, just make sure you have your credit card with you on that trip! [Laughs]