If your mother is an icon celebrated the world over, how do you emerge from her shadow to make a mark of your own? For Tracee Ellis Ross, daughter of the inimitable Diana Ross, the solution is simple: Love your mama, follow your heart, and become a star in your own right.

This month Tracee returns for her fourth season in the critically acclaimed comedy Girlfriends. Tracee, who grew up sharing a bedroom with her two sisters, Rhonda and Chudney, says that working with a female cast is like having a built-in support system: “Whenever I’m going through something, I want to be with them. I’m the one who’s always knocking on their dressing-room doors calling out, ‘What are you doing? Where are you? Where is everybody?’ ”

When you’re in the public eye, women want to hug you. I hug everyone I can, but there are times when I just can’t. If you say no, though, people’s reaction is just unbelievable. I remember sitting beside my mom on a plane once. She was sleeping and this woman woke her up to get an autograph, and my mother said, “I’m sorry, I’m sleeping.” The woman was like, “Pheff, whatever!” and walked away. The really crazy part is you feel bad. You feel like, Oh God, now someone hates me. It’s a weird catch-22.

Everyone calls me an old lady because I go to bed early, make my own meals and don’t know the names of any clubs. I live alone, and I like my little life. Sure, I would love the intimacy of a relationship. I’d love to wake up every day with somebody and all that kind of stuff, but I’m okay without it too.

When it comes to men I think you only get the top three things on your list, so women need to be very clear about what’s important to us. If we want a gorgeous guy who has money, then other things may have to drop off the list, like, I don’t know, trust, a sense of humor, fidelity.