HOLLYWOOD – Tyler Perry’s latest film offering, A MADEA’S CHRISTMAS, features Tika Sumpter, in this holiday comedy, set in a struggling Midwest community hit by hard economic times yet bound together by dedication and faith.
The synopsis describes the fast-paced, 90-minute romp thusly; Madea accompanies her niece, Eileen (inveterate funny lady Anna Maria Horsford), to pay a surprise visit to Eileen’s daughter, Lacy (the attractive and insightful Sumpter), who has mysteriously informed her that she is not coming home for Christmas.
Not hearing any of that, Madea and Eileen head to Buck Tussel, the small town where Lacy teaches grade school and lives on a farm with hubby, Connor (Eric Lively). The marriage has also been kept a secret from Eileen for fear of judgmental backlash.
The funny is sandwiched between the comedic antics of Larry the Cable Guy and Kathy Najimy as Buddy and Kim, Connor’s parents, straight from good-hearted, ol’ boy central casting, joined with Horsford and Perry for a barrage of quips, one-liners and signature Madea-isms.
During press interviews in New York, I sat with Sumpter–who centers The Haves and The Have Nots, Perry’s arrestingly good primetime drama on the OWN channel–to discuss the film and the future.
Your character in A MADEA’S CHRISTMAS is a very caring teacher with affinity for Bailey, a young male student torn between family commitments and his love of learning. What type of student were you?
T. Sumpter: I was a very happy student; friends with everyone; every group, whether they were the black jackets, or wore the long black trench coats to the cheerleaders, to the really smart people. I was just friends with everyone. Pretty much a B student but I was also president of my class for three years and the first black cheerleader on the squad. I was probably the glue that sort of brought people together if somebody didn’t like someone. I always felt people shouldn’t put down anyone else because they’re just like you.
It sounds as if Bailey, the student, could easily have grown into Lacy, the teacher.
T. Sumpter: Yes! That’s a good connection. That totally could be Lacy. Lacy is just trying to help people out, a school that she loves, the students that she loves and the town that she’s grown to love with her husband. She just wants things to be right but sometimes she goes about it in ways that are not the direct path to doing the right thing.
When we talk about choosing paths let’s talk about the path to love. You’re the perfect package: beauty, brains, successful and for some, they may find the whole of you a bit hard to get their arms around. Have you had a problem in that regard…getting the right relationship?
T. Sumpter: Well, thank you so much for thinking of me so highly. You know, it’s funny because I don’t want to say people are intimidated because I think that’s silly but I do think that I give off an, “I’m taken” kind of vibe, maybe. Maybe people think I’m not single because they’re thinking, ‘how could you not be single?’ To that, I go to bed by myself every night. Yeah, I mean, it would be great to share all of this with someone but, of course, they have to be the right person. They have to come correct as we may say. I would love to be able to share all of this with someone.
You do have a glossy veneer, I mean, you were a model. Did you feel any connection to Lacy and farm life?
T. Sumpter: It’s so weird because ‘you say’ a model but I modeled for K-Mart. I wasn’t like Naomi Campbell (laughter). When I think of model I think of Naomi, Cindy, and that whole era. My family is from North and South Carolina so I love being in the dirt. I love just wearing boots and hanging out, playing and laughing in the fields—that was how it was. We were laughing the whole time on set and it was easy, no pretentious vibe, nothing. That’s my kind of people and I like that.
Eileen and Lacy didn’t always agree on how she was living and who she chose to marry. Describe the relationship with your mother and advice she gave that seems to go along with you every step of the way?
T. Sumpter: My mom is like my backbone, she’s my best friend. You know, it was the things that she didn’t say, it was her actions that spoke way louder to me, she persevered through a lot; she didn’t complain about it, she did what she had to do for us, for her kids. I think that stuck with me. Times seeing the car break down and she had to make another way; when we didn’t have much food, she had to make a way; every time that she had to make a way, she kept going and that spoke volumes to me. I was a little girl and remember seeing it over and again so it was what she didn’t say.
With her example in front of you, what imprint are you making?
T. Sumpter: I’m still trying to make an imprint and trying to figure out what I am here to do? I know it’s a higher calling than anything I could ever dream of and I’m not just talking about money and success. I feel there’s a bigger reason why I am here and I get inspiration from women everywhere. Sometimes there’s a lot of negativity amongst women and sometimes we tear each other down or there’s even other people tearing us down, making us think we don’t deserve what we should get but, I want to inspire women across the world to be the best. You are your only ‘you’ and your only competition. Nobody else has your DNA, unless you’re a twin. I want to inspire others to just live their best life.
Joy is the centerpiece of the holidays as it should be. How do you define joy?
T. Sumpter: Joy? I feel joy is an inner peace, a knowing. Perhaps, it’s knowing two things: no matter what, it’s going to be alright and that I can do all things. I don’t know if that blends in with faith and all of that good stuff but joy is just something that makes you smile even when there’s nothing to smile about It’s that place inside where you know that it’s going to be good; that’s what joy is to me.
You are fortunate to realize the essence of joy at an early age, for many, it takes a long time to figure that out. Let’s move over to the beauty and the glamour of life. Tell me about your health regime.
T. Sumpter: I’ve been getting more into working out because I want to be able to live a full life. I have family members who have diabetes and things like that; my step dad just had hip replacement surgery and I’ve inspired him. He started juicing and lost 50 pounds. He and my mom are excited about life again. They walk around the neighborhood. I want to be able to enjoy life with my family now and whenever I have a family of my own to be able to run with my kids and play with them. It’s not even about the look of it, it’s really about the health of it.
With the success and I use that word loosely because people define success on their own terms, will you play Santa this year in a different way?
T. Sumpter: I would love to play Santa; my mom was single mom for a long time and my sister was a single mom; I have a thing for single mothers. I feel like they work so hard and they fight for their children; they do the best they can. I would love to bless a few single moms or something like that. I’ll discuss the idea with my mother and see how we can do something with women in her church so hopefully I can be a Santa in that way.
Tyler Perry has been a type of Santa for many not just during the holiday season. Does having his model enhance your appreciation for the blessing of being a success in this business?
T. Sumpter: It’s easy. Social media is so active that you’re always seeing what other people are doing so you think you have to catch up when really you’ve just got to be still and do the work. Life will happen the way it’s supposed to happen. I love that about Tyler–he’s not just about career–he’s really about giving back.
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Celebrity Profiles by Sandra Varner/Talk2SV