The couple speaks candidly about the vicious rumors and raising their autistic son, Xen
T.M.: We’ve seen each other and been in the same places. They were thinking about doing a movie, but at that time I was trying to do a series and I didn’t want it to coincide with that. It’s been ten years, so it’s like water under the bridge. We’re so much older it’s like, Who cares? I don’t talk badly about anybody, and the only thing I will ever say about Martin is that he gave me an opportunity and taught me a lot about comedy.
D.M.: I judge people on their recovery—if anybody did anything that they’re not proud of and they are able to recover from it. That’s how you judge a person. I don’t really think about it and I don’t have any beef with him. I saw him at a celebrity basketball game and he came over and said, “I just want to say that it’s all love.”
Essence.com: You’ve addressed the bloggers, but what do you think about the shock jocks who’ve also been discussing the rumors on the radio?
D.M.: A lot of shock jocks are bottom feeders because they live off s---. They go after the low hanging fruit, the lowest common denominator, because they can’t get off the bottom and they are trying to feed off others to get to the top. My family in New York called me and told me they wanted to call Wendy Williams because she was talking negatively about me and Tisha. I told them, “For what?”
Essence.com: As a Hollywood power couple and entrepreneurs, how do you balance it all so you have the time to devote to your 6-year-old autistic son, Xen?
T.M.: We don’t have a nanny. It’s one of the reasons we choose to do television because it’s like having a teaching job. You get to go home after work. Our families and my dad help take care of my son.
Essence.com: Raising an autistic child can be extremely difficult; how is Xen progressing?
T.M.: We truly believe that he is going to conquer all of this, and he is every single day. Five years ago, when you met him, he couldn’t even speak and now he’s holding conversation.
D.M.: He reads on a fourth grade level and he’s only six.
T.M.: Autistic children are extremely bright if you can connect to them and bring them into our world. Socially it’s really hard for them, but it can happen. Xen is doing great socially because we caught it very early.
Essence.com: How early?
D.M.: Eighteen months.
T.M.: He was officially diagnosed by 23 months, but at 18 months is when it was first brought to my attention. I don’t know how I knew, but I attribute it to the fact that I’m an actress and my job is to master human emotion. So when my baby was born I might have been a lil’ bit extra into his being a lil’ different.
Essence.com: What was your initial reaction to learning of his autism?
T.M.: It almost felt like I was mourning the loss of my child. I remember letting out a bloodcurdling scream. I didn’t even realize it was coming from me. I was like, Who is the dog making all that noise (laugh)? I was screaming at the top of my lungs, “Why, why, why?” You don’t know what will happen because there are so many questions. Is he going to be independent of me? Will he ever say my name? Will he ever say, “Ouch?” All those initial hopes and dreams that you have for your child you fear will never happen, and you don’t want your child to struggle anymore than he has to. God really doesn’t give you more than you can handle, and Duane and I went into this mode—most of the time this kind of thing can break a family apart. But we went into this mode where it was like, “Check this out, homey. I got you here. I’m leading right here.” There was a point even with family and friends—you have to get everybody on the same page because they can mess your child up if you don’t. Duane gathered a whole bunch of people together and told them, “Check this out. If you can’t listen to my wife talk about autism and can’t say that my son is autistic, you will not be seeing my son.” He was a soldier. My husband just really put it down for us. And whenever I needed to lean and say, “Is everything going to be okay?” he’d simply say, “Yeah, no doubt.” He never, ever flinched. We really fought this fight, and my son is getting this victory. Not only can you not tell that my son has challenges with autism, but also he’s overcoming it every day. It just makes you more humble and more appreciative of every single moment, because there are little things that most parents take for granted, like a child playing, saying your name or saying I love you, smiling or looking into your eyes.
Essence.com: Did you ever feel resentful about Xen’s condition?
T.M.: No, but there was a time when I couldn’t stand to hear parents complain about their kids. Unfortunately, they would be complaining to the wrong person. I don’t want to hear you complain about your kids because you have a blessing.
Essence.com: Duane, is it difficult for you to see your only child struggle?
D.M.: Yes, but he’s made such big steps. When I’m on the road I’ll call to speak to him and he’ll talk briefly and say stuff like, “Hello, Dad,” “I love you, Dad” because he doesn’t feel connected. But the other day my niece called him from college and he had a conversation with her. I was just so happy to see him having a conversation on the telephone.
T.M.: I remember the first time he said, “I love you, Mommy.” He was playing and then he just stopped and said it. I was so overwhelmed and began crying so hard because I didn’t know if he’d ever say it.
Essence.com: Do you ever blame yourself?
D.M.: No. Having an autistic son helps you have more empathy for others. Whenever Tisha isn’t having a good day, I tell her, “You saved your son’s life with that victory. You should never have a bad day.” Because I can’t take credit for that and if I had that kind of track record or victory for saving my son’s life, you couldn’t tell me nothing.
T.M.: This has been one of the hardest things that I’ve ever encountered in my life, but it’s almost like my whole life I’ve been preparing for this. I became an actress and studied human emotions so that I could give the gift of feelings to my son. This is what my whole journey has been about.
Essence.com: Do you have any parting words for your detractors?
D.M.: We’re forgiving of the people writing this bulls---. They don’t know any better. You don’t go after your people out front who are trying to change things. When you bring me and Tisha down, you’re bringing down hundreds of jobs, but they don’t think like that. We employ so many people when we’re shooting shows and movies and with the sports agency, so you don’t want to bring us down like that; it’s not a good look.
T.M.: For the most part, even though this rumor was all over the place, most people were concerned and showed a lot of love for us and we appreciate it.
Photo Credit: Arnold Turner/WireImage.com
After 11 years of marriage, celebrity couple Tisha Campbell, 38, and Duane Martin, 42, find themselves facing one of their biggest challenges. Essence.com spoke with the actors about the rumors swirling on the Internet and radio about the fate of their marriage and what matters most—fighting for their autistic son and developing their real estate empire.
Essence.com: For the past month, the blogosphere has been filled with rumors about the future of your marriage. How are you holding up?
D.M.: Mark Twain said it best: “A lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” So I’m not going to defend myself against a gay rumor when I’m trying to defend my son against autism. We would look really stupid trying to take our focus off autism, which affects all of us, to fight a gay rumor. The reason we are talking today is because what we will defend is our 17-year relationship. Nobody is touching that. So whoever wants to rumble, let’s rumble.
T.M.: (Laughs) My baby’s smart! My baby daddy’s smart. My baby daddy reads.
Essence.com: (Laughs) How long have you been married?
T.M.: Only 11 years, but we’ve been together for 17.
D.M.: Yep and I’m not going anywhere.
Essence.com: So for the record, are you getting a divorce?
T.M.: Hell no!
D.M.: Listen, let me tell you something. I will chew her ass up and swallow it before I let somebody else have her.
T.M.: (laughs) Jeffrey Dahmer-style!
Essence.com: Some in the industry went so far as to speculate that you put out the rumors yourselves to gain publicity.
T.M.: Eww, who wants that kind of publicity?
D.M.: That’s foul. Please, I almost lost a deal because of all this gossip. Tisha and I own about six commercial buildings in Studio City, California, and were looking to acquire two other buildings. The realtor went online and read that we were getting divorced and called our clients and said, “Y’all need to get out of this deal because these two are divorcing, and you don’t want to get caught up in the separation of funds and all that kind of mess.” So they called me trying to get out of the deal.
Essence.com: So how did the rumors get started?
T.M.: Duane and I usually attend Charlie Mack’s Party 4 Peace Celebrity Weekend in Philadelphia. This year he couldn’t make it because he had to be in Turks and Caicos scouting for locations for the hotel we’re building there. So I went to represent with Tichina (Arnold). After I left Philly, I heard that a radio disc jockey announced we’d had an amicable split. Then Duane got a call from Cedric the Entertainer saying, “I just want y’all to know, Dawg, y’all broke up.” (Laugh) So it progressed from he and I having an amicable split to Duane verbally abuses me to Duane physically abuses me to Duane has a girlfriend on the side to Duane has a boyfriend on the side to I also live an alternative lifestyle.
Essence.com: Bloggers even wrote that Duane and longtime friend Will Smith are an item?
T.M.: (Laughs) Our theory is that it’s really a slave mentality. Whenever the Black community has leaders, potential leaders or a family unit, we emasculate them. You don’t ever see them do that to Ben Affleck or Matt Damon. They can be friends, and be powerful individually or collectively and do amazing things.
D.M.: It’s a Brat Pack when White people do it.
Essence.com: So how is it different when it comes to Black men?
T.M.: When two brothers are successful or have influential and powerful friends, we have to emasculate them. On the real, we even did it to Oprah and Gayle. We have to get over that because at the end of the day who really cares? We have Katrina, autism and children killing one another in my hometown of Newark. I don’t know what the obsession is with celebrities, but maybe it helps people feel better about their own situation. We just know that it’s something that comes along with being in front of the camera.
Essence.com: Did you hear the rumor that Will Smith bought you a sports car?
D.M.: I’m not even into sports cars. I’m a sedan kind of guy, so I never heard that one, but I did hear the one in 2000 that Will Smith bought me a Bentley for my birthday. I was so disgusted with the rumors that I sold it. What happened is, the Bentley, which I paid for myself, was delivered during my birthday party, and when it arrived, Will, another friend and I jumped in there and turned the music up. Those attending just assumed he’d bought me the car.
T.M.: Right. They couldn’t understand how a “struggling actor” could afford such a whip. I thought the same thing when we came to see the house we now live in. I thought he was trying to impress me, but like most people I had no idea about all the other outside businesses he has, such as real estate property and a sports agency.
Essence.com: Of course, you’ve heard that you and LisaRaye’s husband, Michael Misick, allegedly are head over heels for each other.
D.M.: (Laughs) Yeah, I heard. I’m thinking, What is LisaRaye saying? Is she going for this? I knew Michael for two years before we got in the business together. He and LisaRaye have been married for more than a year. He’s trying to be the Gucci of the Caribbean islands. You’ll never see a McDonald’s or Burger King (in Turks and Caicos), only high-end restaurants and hotels. He has the luxury of not making the mistakes that some of the other countries made, selling out to tourism and lower-level tourism. So here’s an opportunity for all of us to go down there and have a piece of paradise. People like to be around like-minded people. That’s all it is at the end of the day. Michael, Will, and Cedric the Entertainer are going to build a hotel in Studio City, California. We’re also doing Turks and Caicos.
T.M.: When it comes to our friends, we try to keep fam together. We’re all in business together and trying to be entrepreneurs together and uplift one another. I hang out with people who are amazing parents and really value a rich living. I’m not talking about monetarily. I’m talking spiritually and mentally, and we help make sure that each one is on their game for their spouses.
Essence.com: And Tisha, you and your longtime friend Tichina Arnold are supposedly a hot couple?
T.M.: (Laughs) Yeah, I’ve heard that one before. It’s hilarious.
D.M.: (Laughs) Very…
Essence.com: What were some of the reactions you received from your friends?
T.M.: (Laughs) The Wayanses told Duane that he matches too much and he should stop matching his clothes so much and maybe people wouldn’t think he was gay.
D.M.: I said to Shawn, Damian and Craig Wayans, “Whassup, y’all didn’t call me. Yo that means y’all believe that s---! I didn’t get no jokes on my machine or nothing.” Craig said, “Yo man, we were scared.”
T.M.: (Laughs) They said Marlon (Wayans) said, “Man, we were in Above the Rim together; I need to call him.”
D.M.: (Laughs) Marlon said, “Man, I’m mad at you! We all family. We love you, but the problem is, man, if you been gay all this time, I’m mad because you never hit on me. I’m handsome.”