We all know her. That neck-rolling friend who isn’t taking crap from men and won’t let you take any either. In Tyler Perry’s “Madea’s Family Reunion,” it’s Tanya, expertly delivered by actress Bobbi Baker who is thankfully much softer than her on-screen persona. The North Carolina native got her big break on “The House of Payne,” as KiKi, just a few months after completing her studies at Julliard and getting hitched. She dishes with ESSENCE.com on making her way from late-night security to Hollywood.
ESSENCE.COM: You are making your big-screen debut in a big way! Now your character Tanya may not be liked by everyone for her in-your-face attitude. What was your first impression of her?
BOBBI BAKER: When you do those characters that people have an acquired taste for, you have to find their truth and can’t judge them. I had to find what made her the way she was and I came to love her. We all have that friend. When you need somebody to be brutally honest, that’s who you go to. I can imagine she doesn’t give someone too much the benefit of the doubt, which can be good. As women we are sometimes so forgiving to an extreme, so it doesn’t hurt to have someone say these are the facts, point blank.
ESSENCE.COM: That’s true. So before joining Tyler Perry on the big screen you started working on “House of Payne,” as KiKi, a few months after finishing Julliard. Now how’d you manage that?
BAKER: I auditioned by tape on a Tuesday and I was in Atlanta on Thursday getting ready to tape. I was terrified of the role of KiKi at first. I went out for the role of manicurist, so I had tapped into my sassy, flirty and sexy side. Coming from Julliard, I was used to playing queens and princesses, so when they called me and said, "You won’t be playing the girly girl, but KiK,i the thuggish girl," I was scared. But being in New York for four years, I immediately tapped into all the little girls I had seen on the train and remembered them and their swagger. God bless them because KiKi is them.
ESSENCE.COM: So how had you been pursuing your dream before Julliard?
BAKER: In college in North Carolina I had a lot of lead roles. And after school there was always something that was just missing from me getting the part and that’s when I applied to some of the top schools to get better. That time between college and Julliard was really tough. I worked three jobs, a substitute teacher by day; early evening I taught modeling and acting; and late evenings I was a security guard for this empty bank. (Laughs.) I had the whole outfit—the bow tie, the tight pants like Otis from “Martin,” the shiny Black shoes, and every day I couldn’t find black socks so I had the white ones sometimes. I was trying to make it. That was feeding me during my audition for Julliard and gave me the drive to fight for my dream.