Our favorite TV girlfriend currently stars as Judi alongside Fran Drescher on the new TV Land show, “Happily Divorced.” The show is about Drescher’s character, also named Fran, and her husband, Peter, who woke up one day and told her he was gay. Tichina’s character, Judi, is Fran’s longtime bestie who is single with no kids and lives with a cat.
We caught up with Tichina, who celebrates her 42nd birthday today, to talk about her new role, Black women’s challenges in Hollywood… and why you won’t see her making an ass of herself on a reality TV show.
ESSENCE.com: The real-life Judi is actually a Jewish woman with red-hair. How did you get cast in this role?
TICHINA ARNOLD: There are so few roles written specifically for Black women. I tell my agent to send me out on everything. When [Black women] go out on things, there are a lot of roles that are labeled “ethnicity” and all ethnicity means is that I am not only competing with Black women, I am in competition with Latinos and Asians — I’m in competition with everyone. I’ve probably seen one or two roles pass my door that are actually written for Black women. There aren’t many roles for us at all. I don’t mind playing an Asian role, I don’t mind playing a Latino role as long as it’s a good character.
Reality TV has taken a lot of television space. And unfortunately, television is not the way it used to be. Reality TV shows have a lot time slots. There has been a problem in the industry with White women playing roles that were meant for Black women like Cleopatra and those types of roles. A lot of African-American women have a problem with that.
ESSENCE.com: You mention reality television and it seems now that a lot of these celebrities have become the “new Black actress.” Do you think more Black women are aspiring for that type of notoriety than going the traditional route that you or other Black actresses have taken?
ARNOLD: My motto is everyone wants to be a star and nobody wants to put the time and care into really being a star. What being a star is, is being good at what you do. Putting out good work; representing yourself well. I want good work. I want good roles. I want to be able to work until I’m 90 or when I just don’t want to work anymore; and to do that I can’t just take any role. I’m not knocking reality, but to me it’s about the work. To me it’s good work.
ESSENCE.com: Fran and Peter live together on the show, even though they’re separated. Is it possible for exes to live together if they’re no longer romantically involved? Could that get a little messy?
ARNOLD: When you’re not sexually attracted to a person but you love that person, your relationship relies upon your friendship. What makes a great relationship and a great marriage is a good friendship. So if you can remain friends then why wouldn’t you be able to live together?
ESSENCE.com: You and your real-life best friend Tisha Campbell met before you both starred in “Little Shop of Horrors” in 1986 and long before you played BFFs on “Martin.” How do you maintain that type of friendship, that’s over 20 years?
ARNOLD: You just continue to have fun. And you stay out of each other’s way. You give each other honest opinions and you just be there to rely on each other.
ESSENCE.com: You turn 42 today, you’re engaged to Rico Hines, an assistant basketball coach at St. Johns University, and you describe your daughter, Alijah Kai, as going on 75. It seems like your 40s are treating you well. I hear the 40s are pretty hot and is something for younger women to look forward to.
ARNOLD: I stay actively busy. It just keeps my brain fresh. I have moments where I’m really “feeling” my 40s and as soon as I start feeling that, I do the mind over matter thing. I’m constantly on the move and I’m constantly traveling. And I’m doing a bunch of things that I want to do that I haven’t done before and I love entertaining. At 40 I’m just grown. I feel like an adult and I feel like I’m applying all of those things that I learned and I got my butt kicked for.
Happy Birthday, Tichina!