Actress Tichina Arnold has a knack for landing roles on TV shows that become cult favorites. Most people probably remember her as “Pam,” the sassy, wisecracking best friend on Martin or from playing “Rochelle,” the no nonsense mother who worked hard to keep her family together on Everybody Hates Chris. After a brief hiatus, she’s back on the small screen, co-starring in Fran Drescher’s semi-autobiographical TV show, Happily Divorced (Weds, 10/9c), which debuted on TV Land last year to over 4.4 million viewers and is currently in the midst of a successful second season.
Arnold plays “Judy,” a character based on Drescher’s best friend in real life. The twist, though, is that the real Judy is a White woman, but Drescher was so impressed by Arnold that she just had to cast the multi-talented actress in the role. BlackEnterprise.com caught up with Arnold at a busy Manhattan restaurant and experienced her infectious charm that keeps fans coming back for more. Here, the busy mom and soon-to-be wife chats about her new show, her cover band and how she remains humble.
Martin is now a cult favorite and it looks like Happily Divorced is headed in that direction, too. What’s your secret to landing roles on successful series?
I don’t choose the shows. I think the shows choose me. It’s a blessing. I’ve felt what it feels like to not have money, to not have any prospects of a job and then you get a job. Like, you have to be able to turn stuff down and say no and I’ve done that all my life. If it doesn’t feel right or if I feel like a certain job compromises my morality or I’ll be wasting my time doing something that doesn’t feel good to me, then I won’t do it.
Talk about Happily Divorced, for those who might not be familiar with the show.
It’s based on a true story with Fran’s life and what happened to her. She was married to a man who woke up and told her he was gay. Fran’s ex-husband is the executive producer of the show, so they came up with this idea for the show and I play Judy, her best friend.
It speaks volumes to your talent that you got this role considering that Judy wasn’t a Black woman.
I tell my agent all the time to send me out for roles that are written for White women, green women—I don’t care, because you know, I may bring something different to the role.
And it must be cool that you character actually gets to sing, how did that happen?
Fran had a talk show called The Tawk and by me going on that show it allowed us to meet each other, and I actually sang. When I went up for audition [for Happily Ever After], she was like, “Ooh, I want your character to sing, I love your singing!” So, that helps me getting roles, but it also helps me trust her in delegating the role and bringing another asset to me because Judy is a real woman, which is what I like about her. Judy is a Jewish redhead girl, who’s really her best friend. On my first day at work, I met Judy and she was like, “I’m so glad you’re playing me. You’re the best me I ever saw.” [Laughs]
For those that haven’t seen the show yet, what’s would you say was one of the best things about it?
I love this show because it’s such a real scenario that not a lot of people would talk about but it’s a true scenario especially with the economy. I’ve been meeting a lot of people who they’re divorced but they still live with their exes. You can’t afford to move out and get your own spot. You’ve coexisted for so long that when times are hard, you got to rely on each other. I thought it was a great story plot because there are so many stories that can be told.
When I asked the real Peter [Fran’s husband] how this felt—because his life is exposed as a gay man—he said it’s actually been very rewarding because now he has young people following him on Facebook who are gay and afraid to talk about it but they talk to him and ask him questions, so it’s actually opened up a whole new door and it’s helping people that you never expected it would, so we have a lot of young kids that are watching now because you have a gay man in a situation that’s just a normal everyday life kind of situation.