You’re not guaranteed anything in this business. You get this one little shot. When you get your first shot, whatever you do with it basically sets up what’s going to happen in the future. You’re not even guaranteed the first shot, so you’re certainly not guaranteed a second shot. So if you are fortunate enough to get your shot, you’ve got to take it, you’ve got to roll with it. You’ve got to expand it. I was fortunate that I took my shot and made the best of it. I think that’s why I’ve been able to sustain a consistent career in television to this point.
My mom, Delores Robinson, is a manager who has carved out an amazing business in a white-male-dominated industry. Before I became famous, I had a little preview of fame, because I had the chance to watch my mother manage the careers of actors who came and went. I got a good chance to watch these actors make mistakes before I had to make them.
So when I got my chance, I was able to step up to the plate and say, “Okay, this is my shot.” I knew proper etiquette. I knew how to treat people, and I knew how to deal with the public. I was very fortunate in that way because not everybody gets that opportunity. They get it thrust upon them, and they’re not ready. There are a lot of people who are not ready for success. I really think you’re either prepared to deal with it or you’re not. But one of the ways to become prepared is to watch and learn from the people around you, and to work hard to make the right decisions and the right impression.
One of the most important things I’ve learned is that you better be nice to people who you see on the way up because you will definitely see those same people on the way down. It’s the oldest clich├ę in the world, but there is nothing more true. Be nice to the people you see on the way up because they’re going to remember, and when times are hard, they will help you.
For example, I have a friend who is now a very successful studio executive but used to be an actor. He always told me that you have to be a people person, you have got to be respectful of people. When he was an actor, he had a small part on a major television show in the ’70s. The lead actor on the show was very nasty to him. Years later, when that actor needed a career boost, he approached this executive to try to pitch a show and get back on track. But the exec remembered all too well how rude the former star was to him some 14 years before. It had really hurt him, so the executive said to the actor, “Do you remember me?” and the actor said, “Of course. You’re so and so. You’re a