Tika Sumpter Dishes On Her Trek From Hollis To Hollywood
From Hollis to Hollywood, Twizzler-loving Tika Sumpter has spread her infectious personality like the #occupywallstreet movement. It's unexplainable yet refreshing how this confidently sashaying young actress is spotted at the brightly-lit who's who events of Tinseltown. As if having not one care in the world or one personal conflict, Sumpter ignites instant likeability.
As primetime's sweetheart (One Life to Live's Layla Williamson), VV first caught a true glimpse of Hollywood's "It" girl while she schmoozed with the girls of the Upper East Side. Then, almost like a vow to always stay down, she sniffed out a role on fan-resurrected sitcom The Game. Between the three major TV salutes? She stomped out other actresses to be the lead sorority girl and main lady in Stomp The Yard 2. So yes, in conjunction with acutely chasing the fame, she's actually been working. And hard.
Now, as a socialite gaining silver screen recognition alongside funny girl Anna Faris in What's Your Number? and a fashionista spreading her stylish wings on the red carpets of every coast, it's hard not to notice her. For you to still be ignorant to this striking northern rose is to be out of touch with this Twitteration's rising stars. Ask Russell Simmons about her. And while you wait for a response from Uncle Rush, this starlet has got her well-manicured hands on the likes of Jason Derulo and Trey Songz. Her boy toys? Never! She's single, sassy and as sweet as a Queens girl can get.
There's really just something about this 20-plus-year-old cocoa-skinned thespian that we absolutely adore... Oh, and there's more. Check it. - Niki McGloster
VIBE VIXEN: What sparked your love for acting and the arts?
TIKA SUMPTER: I was born in Hollis, Queens. My mom was married to my dad for 13 years, and I grew up in a single-parent house after my mom and dad divorced. After school, I would watch Rudy Huxtable [Keshia Knight Pulliam] from The Cosby Show. I remember looking at her and saying as a little girl, 'I wanna do what she does,' [but] my mom was working so hard that the thought of being an actor was so far from my thoughts. My claim to fame was Run DMC living down the block, LL Cool J living down the block [and] my sister dancing for MC Lyte. When I moved to Long Island and my mom remarried, I was more aware of figuring out what I wanted to do when I grew up.
How old were you when you were watching The Cosby Show and wanted to be Rudy?
Probably 5 or 6.
Growing up in a single-parent home, were there any struggles that molded you?
Not growing up with a dad was really hard, but my mom was so on point. She was a lover, and the authority that basically gave us whoopings. If you missed that bus to school, you were walking. I saw my mom struggle a lot which made me not want to do the things normal teenagers do. I was super prude in junior high and high school; the prudest person in the pack. I was so active in school that I wasn’t even thinking about sex. Even my girlfriend and I, who are best friends since junior high, we were talking and she was like, 'Tika, nobody knows what they’re doing in junior high, middle school or high school with sex, so why is everybody in a rush?'
[Laughs] Would you say that you were shy or just conservative about those activities?
I think I’m both. People might think I’m not shy, because when you see me, I talk, but I was kind of shy. I was shy, and I was scared. I was like, 'Oh my God, I don’t wanna get pregnant; I have too much to do in life right now.' It scared me a little bit.
Okay, so fast forward. What was your first break into the industry, through acting or singing?
Before I started acting, I got my first record deal at Universal. I was a teenager, and I was not ready for a record deal. I was in a group really young and had no clue. I was just freaked out. I knew I wanted to sing, but when you have no control, and you don’t really understand how everything works; it’s a little confusing. Acting wise, when I got my first national commercial, I was so excited. One Life To Live definitely opened the door to other things. I was definitely working before One Life To Live, but it was my first big contract and very cool.
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]
Like you said, your character Jenna Rice had a lot to live up to. Do you feel that you have a lot to live up to in the acting world? Do you feel like you have to maintain a standard?
I think there’s pressure on everybody; let’s not deceive ourselves. It’s definitely a beauty business. It [matters] how your face looks, how your body looks, how everything looks. All the blogs talk about it, and they pick on people. The blogs and magazines will be quick to show what’s wrong with a person, so I think there’ s a lot of pressure on everybody to try to maintain themselves as much as possible.
So you do bend to the pressures and standards?
Of course, of course. People don’t go to see George Clooney because he’s ugly. They don’t go see Michael Ealy because he’s not the cutest guy on the block. They go to see a beautiful, strong-looking man. Of course you go see them because they’re acting and everything, but it’s a fantasy. You want to take people out of their world for a little bit if you can. I feel like everybody has some kind of beauty in them, regardless if they look like Halle Berry or they don’t. I don’t believe that everybody has to live up to this Hollywood beauty standard, because everybody’s not that.
Are you in a relationship yourself?
[Laughs] As of right now, I am not in a relationship. Right now I’m scared to death of marriage, because there are so many divorces. I know I want to get married, I know I want to have children, I want to do all the great things, but how am I going to make it work for my life? I think right now I am a little boy crazy. I’m just having a good time, enjoying dating and that’s it.
Any scoop on who’ve you been dating?
[Laughs] No, there is no scoop.
[Laughs] Well give us another scoop: What are your hopes for Jenna and Malik's relationship during the next season of The Game?
I would hope that they explore the world of being in a functioning, viable relationship. I think there’s a lot to write about, especially with two addicts and two people in the entertainment business. I think that there would be a lot of hurdles, a lot of successes, but a lot of drama. I think she has insecurities, obviously, so it’s going to be interesting with her being in this world of football now. From groupies to thinking he needs to pay for everything, just so many different aspects of that life. It’ll be interesting seeing how his mother gets along with Jenna and how she feels about that whole situation. Also being in a circle of women who are married and she’s not married. I hope they explore that world. I think people like them together, and I’m so grateful [that] girls and guys like Jenna Rice. I think it could be a fun situation this season.
Tell me about your personal style and how you brought that to the set of Gossip Girl for Raina?
Honestly, they don’t need any of my help. They have that down pat. They get the best of the best, so everything fit perfectly, and was tailored to me. It just felt good. They opened up my world up to fashion, because before Gossip Girl, I kinda cared about fashion, but they definitely educated me fashion wise.
Who would you say your favorite designers are?
Of course the regulars: Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, just their artistic craziness is amazing. Versace? Amazing. It’s beautiful art pieces to wear. I love Alice + Olivia [and] Tracy Reese. I love Giuseppe Zanotti shoes because they’re actually one of the high comfortable shoes. I kind of do everything. I go from one end of the spectrum to the next. It’s not like I’m only wearing, blah, blah, blah. I don’t care who I’m wearing, as long as I look good and feel comfortable.
What would be your everyday “I’m just wearing this to go to dinner with my girls” outfit?
I might do a cute, high-waisted H&M skirt or maybe some Giuseppe’s and a cute top from Alice + Olivia. That’s me. I don’t discriminate against what I where. I’m a Gemini, so one moment I might look like this hobo chic chick, [and] the next minute you might see me with this classic, dressy look. However I feel that day, that’s how I’m gonna dress. I’m a pretty neutral, natural kind of person, but it just depends on how I wake up in the morning.
What are some of your beauty must haves?
MAC foundation, for sure. Keri Lotion! I have 15 bottles under my sink. Anytime that’s going out, it’s time to get some more Keri. I use Neutrogena Face Wash. That and some Ambi products too.
Name three actors that you’d love to work with.
Cicely Tyson, for sure. She is one of the reasons I do what I do. Robert De Niro. I would also love to work with Thandie Newton or Viola Davis. Thandie in For Colored Girls, I’ve never seen her so gangster before. We always see her in a conservative or James Bond situation. I would love for her to play my sister. Viola Davis? I don’t have to say much. She’s fantastic.
What would be the dream role for you to tackle?
I would love to do a film like Angelina Jolie in Salt or something where I ran a sports team and just did not take anybody’s BS. Like, my father owns the sports team, but I run it. I wanna play something powerful with a bunch of dudes who are amazing actors and little old me comes out and tells them all off. [Laughs]
What are your upcoming projects?
I just did a small part in Act Like a Lady, Think Like Man, which was so fun. I got to work with Michael Ealy. He is so handsome and sweet and cute and all that good stuff! I’m working on music right now with an amazing producer-writer, and good things are about to happen. Of course, there are some acting projects in the works, so I can’t really talk on those right now, but that’s what’s going on.
When can we expect the music to come?
Hopefully a single sooner than later, we’re working on it right now.