Tika Sumpter may play bad girl Candace Young on The Haves and the Have Nots, but the New York native credits being nice to her continued success in Hollywood and appearing in many of our favorite shows and films. For the August issue of ESSENCE, she rocked fall’s hottest denim trends and shared how she became one of the hardest working women in show business.
Name: Tika Sumpter
Hometown: Queens, New York
The gig: I’m an actress, model, and singer. Currently I play Candace Young on OWN network’s The Haves and the Have Nots. I also played Raina Thorpe on Gossip Girl, Layla Williamson on One Life to Live and Jenna on The Game.
The journey: I used to work at a movie theater and sold hams at Honey Baked Ham during the holidays. I sold a ton of hams, and they offered me a regular job there, which I turned down. I feel like anything you do, just do it 100% because then that work ethic will bleed through when it’s time to work on your dreams. I was working in customer service and had a verbally abusive boss. One day I decided to quit and pursue my acting passion with everything I had. One week after quitting I booked One Life to Live.
Her mantra: Be grateful If you’re given little and you are grateful, when you get big, you’ll be even more grateful for that. Like, I was grateful for the little apartment I had in a drug-infested environment. I took care of it and I made sure it was clean, so when I bought a house, I knew how to take care of it.
Confessions of a Black woman in entertainment: It’s hectic. It’s fun, but it’s mostly just work, work, and work. Everybody’s like, “Oh, do you joke around on set?” I mean, sometimes, but our schedule is so strenuous on that show, so we work really hard and have to just move, but it’s great. I watch Tyler [Perry]. I watch Oprah [Winfrey]. All the people on her team are dream builders, and they believe in other people’s dreams. I feel like this is a home where I feel safe to expand my dreams because these are people who are accessible. They scraped their way to the top. They worked really hard, and they support other people in their camps who want to go beyond just what is right now.
Historical character she’d love to portray: There’s so many amazing Black women with stories to tell. It can go anywhere from a musician like Whitney Houston to Sojourner Truth. That would be a really good movie…just called Truth.
Her guilty pleasure: Some reality TV when I don’t want to think about anything. But even that’s becoming a headache because you’re like, “Oh, my God, they have so many problems.”
Her power look: I feel most bossy in jeans, a white t-shirt, a leather jacket and some heels. I just feel bossy that way. I also I feel confident in a sick dress at a premiere. Like most women, as long as I’m comfortable in it, I feel confident.
Her first splurge: I bought a Louis Vuitton bag, and then I bought Giuseppe Zanotti shoes. It was crazy for me, like, “Oh, my card’s not going to decline.” Everything doesn’t have to be super-expensive, but if you do spend, invest in shoes and a bag.
Lesson learned: The biggest thing I’ve learned from Candace is don’t let anger and life’s experiences eat you up, where you start becoming bitter and not caring about anything because when you don’t care about anything, there’s really nothing to live for.
Her staying power secret: My work ethic and being nice. People want to enjoy working with you. Producers and directors tell me all the time that people call and ask about how it is to work with me before I get offered a job. It pays to be nice.
Her theme song: Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” When I first started auditioning, I would play that before going in the room: “Lose yourself. You only get one shot. Do not miss your chance because opportunity comes once in a lifetime, so you better lose yourself in it” I would then take up every inch of air in the room. Even if I don’t get the role, you’re going to remember me. I think it’s just losing myself in my art. Just being courageous.
For more from Tika Sumpter and her stunning fashion spread in Central Park, pick up the August issue of ESSENCE now on stands.