She’s an award-winning actress, a singer, an activist, and an entrepreneur. She’s also the recipient of the Caribbean Heritage Organization’s (CHO) Living Legacy Award.
Tatyana Ali, who rose to fame playing the role of “Ashley Banks” on the television series “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” has appeared in numerous films, including “The Brothers,” “Glory Road” and most recently, “Mother and Child” with Samuel L. Jackson. A two-time NAACP Image Award winner who holds a gold record for her debut album “Kiss the Sky,” her recording of “Precious Wings” for “The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland” soundtrack also won a Grammy Award for “Best Musical Album for Children.”
Born to a Trinidadian father and a Panamanian mother, Ali, who stars in the TV One sitcom “Love That Girl!” and “The Young and the Restless,” talks to Samantha Ofole-Prince about people, politics and projects.
In addition to acting, you also run a production company called HazraH Entertainment. Can you tell us more about the company and the name behind it?
My sister (Anastasia) and I started the production company two years ago. At the time we were forming it, my grandmother passed away and Hazrah is her name, which in Arabic means presence.
Was it the mission from the onset to use the company as a vehicle to create content for minorities?
That’s what we wanted to do with the company. I have been in this business for a really long time since I was four, and I wanted to play more multidimensional characters. I knew writers, directors and other actors and producers who were incredibly talented, and we were all knocking our fists against the same doors. Just trying to get projects made that will show that we as African-Americans are not a monolithic group. There are still a huge variety of stories to tell that haven’t been told yet. All of my friends are incredibly talented people, and it kinda dawned on my sister and I to get together and create content ourselves.
Your first project under the HazraH Entertainment banner was the very successful series Buppies?
Yes, “Buppies” was a web series on BET.com. It was BET’s first web series.
Web series are certainly becoming more popular. Is that the new phenomenon?
People are watching television shows on the web now. It’s so new and it benefited us, because we could go to the network and say we are the audience they are talking about. You are able to go after niche audiences. There are a lot of projects that don’t make it to television and you see a lot of stories that without the internet, you won’t see those stories being told.
After the television sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” ended, you were noticeably absent from the industry. Did you take a break from acting and was it hard to make a comeback?
I enrolled in Harvard and majored in political science and African-American studies. For a time when I graduated and got back, I thought maybe I made a mistake, but deep down inside, I knew that sounded crazy. How can cultivating yourself as a performer be a bad thing? You would hope that what it means is that in your performances, you have more to offer. I did have to take some time to reintroduce myself to casting directors and the business, but I don’t think I would have my production company right now. Education is something no one can take away from you.
“Love That Girl!” is the television series you currently star in, which premiered on TV One earlier this year. Talk a little about the character you play and if you share any similarities with her.
She’s a woman on her own trying to figure out her life. The character, Tyana — they used the last five letters in my name — got married very young and is trying to figure out who she is. It’s been doing very well since it premiered. She’s a bit neurotic and I hope I am not quite like that. One thing I do love about her is that she is really multidimensional. I think it’s nice to have a female character that is portrayed in [a] really holistic way.
Most actors in the industry are constantly searching for that ideal role. Is this it for you?
It’s pretty much a dream come true. I just love her as she’s incredibly well written. As I get to know her better, I think she is so brave and interesting and not afraid to be vulnerable and I really like that about her. I also love singing and would love to be able to do something with that where I can sing as well.
When was the last time you visited Trinidad, and what are some of your favorite Caribbean foods?
I haven’t gone as often as I should. I have never been for Carnival. For some reason in February, I am always working, so I haven’t been able to go. My favorite food is Roti. It has been since I was little. That’s just like heaven. There’s one restaurant in Los Angeles called The Caribbean Treehouse and it’s where all the Trinis go. My dad and I have been there together. It’s delicious.
You are an Obama supporter and you were quite active as a volunteer during his 2008 presidential campaign. How do feel about the backlash he is getting?
I think it is really important for him to stay his course. He wants to really cross the aisle and see unity, and I think at the end of the day, he has to push forth his agenda. I like the fact that he is a forceful person. There are things that have come at our country from the day he took oath, and I don’t think anyone else who was running at the time could have handled it as well as he did.
Are you dating anyone at the moment?
I am single at the moment. I want to focus on my career, but I do want a family someday.
What qualities would you want that ideal man to have?
Somebody who is intelligent, kind and funny, and someone who is passionate about their work like I am.
“Love That Girl!” airs Mondays @ 9pm(ET) on TV One