Tichina Arnold Says Playing This TV Character Was “A Defining Moment In My Life,” But It’s Not The One You Think
Tichina Arnold stays busy.
The 50-year-old actress, singer and Queens native is back in New York to prepare for a concert she’s putting on for lupus awareness. On Friday evening (as in tonight), Tichina, her We Win Foundation and a few talented friends are hosting a show in NYC to raise money and to “soothe, heal and entertain.”
“A lot of donations have dwindled down so I wanted to come up with an event that will feed people, and not just feed them, but feed their spirit and give them something to hold on to.”
Tichina, who will be singing, was inspired to start her foundation after her sister Zenay was diagnosed with lupus, and six other autoimmune diseases. Her baby sister was told she wouldn’t live long or have kids, and she’s managed to do both.
“Zenay is a fighter,” she said. “And if you have someone who fights like that, you’ve got to fight just as hard for them.”
All of this is happening in the same week that her hit CBS sitcom, The Neighborhood, returned for a second season. The show follows a white man (actor Max Greenfield) and his family, the Johnsons, who move into a predominately Black neighborhood in L.A. The man struggles to get the people who’ve been living in the community to warm up to him, including his neighbors the Butlers. Tichina stars alongside Cedric the Entertainer as the matriarch of that family.
The show, which debuted last fall, uses humor to take on the hot-button issue of gentrification, which Tichina says is the best way to do it.
“What better way to tell stories about our cultural differences than through laughter and comedy? It’s more palatable for the audience to be able to understand what we’re trying to convey,” she said. “Gentrification is a real thing, not just in America but around the world with Black and brown people. It’s happening everywhere. So to have a show and a sitcom on a major network that’s able to tell that story and other stories through comedy, I think it’s a wonderful way to teach people about each other.”
For Tichina, it’s her fifth leading role on a series in the last 10 years, including Daytime Divas, Survivor’s Remorse, Happily Divorced and Everybody Hates Chris. The fact that the work hasn’t slowed down for her is a big deal when you consider that she’s been in the industry professionally since she was a teenager.
“I think part of my success is being able to work with people, build relationships with people, don’t burn bridges and you do your job at 200 percent,” she said. “Show business is all I’ve done since age 11 so I respect it. I put it in high regard. I tell young people that want to get into show business, show business is like your boyfriend. Will you love it back when it doesn’t love you and it doesn’t pay your rent and it doesn’t feed you? Do you still love it?”
And for the award-winning actress, despite her deep catalog of work, there have been a number of times where the industry wasn’t so kind and profitable. Nevertheless, it has been the love of the work that has kept her going — and made her an ever-present face on TV and movie screens.
“It’s been rough quite a few times,” she said. “People are so used to seeing the finished result, the final result, and that is the artist in makeup and on stage and performing. But the work it takes to get that done is far beyond what people can even imagine. We’re real people. We’re everyday people. I’ve always said, I’m not in the industry to be a star. Stars fall. I don’t want to be a star. I want to leave a legacy of good work because I respect what I do.”
“Different actors, we’re in show business for different reasons. My reason is that I just always wanted to entertain,” she added. “Even when I was a child I would work for free and do whatever just to get on that stage and perform. It’s something I was always just called to do. There’s been plenty of times where I didn’t have two nickels to rub together, but it wouldn’t change how I felt about the industry and being able to be afforded the opportunity to perform.”
It’s that mindset that Tichina is currently trying to instill in her daughter, Alijah, 15. You’ve likely seen the bright-eyed beauty on social media, singing with a beautiful voice alongside her famous mom. She is hoping to officially enter into the industry soon, but already has acting credits to her name.
“You let her tell it, she is the industry [laughs],” she said. “She’s danced in the Debbie Allen Dance Academy since she was three. She made some debut appearances on most of the shows I’ve been on. She’s been on Survivor’s Remorse, Everybody Hates Chris, and she’s been on the show One on One. So since she was born she’s been an industry kid. I had thoughts of, ‘My daughter’s not going to be in the industry,’ but it’s almost like she couldn’t help it because she was surrounded by it.”
She says she’s teaching her daughter the things she had to learn as a child actor who had to take three trains and a bus from Queens into Manhattan for auditions by the time she was 12: a lot will be required of her.
“I’ve been teaching Alijah that there’s a sacrifice you have to make,” she said. “Every year I would have to go to summer school because I would miss classes doing theater and different shows. I made those sacrifices. It is a sacrifice, so I’m teaching her that now.”
The sacrifices made certainly paid off for Tichina, who has played a number of memorable characters on some iconic shows. When asked if she had a favorite character, she said she instead had one that meant the most to her.
“I really enjoyed playing Rochelle on Everybody Hates Chris,” she said. “It was the first time that I was number one on the call sheet on a television show. It was the first time I played a mother. Being on Everybody Hates Chris represented my first of everything that came after. It was a defining moment in my life. I was a new mother, my daughter was only two going on three, so it was a new experience for me but a wonderful experience.”
Still, who doesn’t know Tichina for playing Pam on Martin? Fans tend to call her Pam more often than they do her actual name when she encounters them on the street.
“We didn’t know that we would make such an impact on pop culture,” she said of her work on the hit Fox sitcom, which ran for five seasons.
There has been talk that the show will come back in some way, and Tichina says those discussions haven’t ceased for the cast. However, she wants to make it clear that it would definitely not be a reboot.
“I would say it would never be a Martin reboot because Tommy’s no longer with us. The Martin show will never be the same,” she said. “If it can still happen it would be a ‘rebirth.’ We’re still talking about it. We’re actually weighing options on it being animated as well, so we’ll see. We don’t know, but if it doesn’t happen, some things are better left alone.”
Whatever work she does from here on out though, the actress says it needs to add to that aforementioned legacy she’s working to leave behind, and has been working on since she was an ambitious kid.
“I look at my life right now, I’m nine years away from 60. It’s all uphill from here,” she said. “What I do right now in these next 10 years, it has to be important and it has to mean something, because it’s once again, part of my legacy.”