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As a child of the nineties, there was nothing I loved more than coming home from a long day of school to a Capri-sun and the latest episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Will Smith may have been the star of the show, but the Banks family-- Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro), Hilary (Karyn Parsons) and Ashley (Tatyana Ali)--provided just as many fond memories.
It’s been 14 years since The Fresh Prince ended its run on television, and while Will Smith has enjoyed the most success at the box office, Tatyana Ali is looking to stake her claim in Hollywood.
Unsurprisingly, Tatyana was as sweet and friendly over the phone as we would all expect. And after talking with her about her new film, her job as a producer and actor on a popular internet series, and her leading role in a new comedy, my consensus is that Tatyana Ali is one busy girl.
After taking a few years off to study at Harvard, Ali is back in the game, and has been for some time. But just in case you weren’t paying attention, her role in the new film, Hotel California, will have you taking notice once again. And if you’re looking for that little girl who played Ashley Banks on Fresh Prince, you won’t find her here. In Hotel California, Ali plays Jessie, a hardworking college student and the girlfriend of a Los Angeles drug dealer. The tale weaves a tragic web of drugs, deceit, murder, and pain that finds Jessie in the center of it all.
I asked Ali about preparing for such a dark role, and she told me it required “a lot of alone time and soul searching;” particularly for a brutal rape scene which she admitted made her nervous. She confided that she had a friend who had been a victim of rape, and she was able to draw from her friend’s experience, a lot of research, and “digging” within herself to get through it.
On a happier note, Ali had nothing but bright things to say about her costars and director Geo Santini.
“Geo is an amazing director,” she boasted.
As for her costars, Tyson Beckford, Simon Rex, and Eric Pallidino, Yancey Arias and Raymond J. Barry, Ali calls them a “really cool bunch of guys.” In particular, she applauded Pallidino, who plays her boyfriend Troy, for his “great performance.”
Ali admitted that she was attracted to this film partially because of its dark nature, and the opportunity to try something different, although she admits it made her nervous. The one thing that doesn’t seem to make her nervous is the reaction of her fans.
“I’m not sure how they’ll react, but I have a very cool relationship with my fans. They’re very supportive of everything I do.”
This means, they probably support her endeavors as a producer and actor in the web series “Buppies,” as well. Ali produces the web show on BET.com with her sister, Anastasia, and plays the part of Quincy, a wealthy socialite who recently lost her fiancé and father and is left to cope with the help of her friends, a group of young black urban professionals. Ali says she absolutely loves producing, and what’s more, she adores working with her sister.
“Working with my sister is wonderful. She’s so on point.”
On top of her other projects, Ali is currently playing the lead in the new comedy Love That Girl, produced by Martin Lawrence. TV One aired four episodes of the show in January, and Ali happily reported that it had just been picked up by TV One to resume airing in the fall.
Love That Girl started making headlines before it even ran due to what many deemed a rather unconventional production style. All four episodes were filmed over the span of five days, using an unbelievably low budget and without the help of any studios. In order to get that done, Ali said, “basically we didn’t sleep; it was intense,” but that producers like Martin Lawrence, “are experts at what they do” and helped bring the show together. Due to their tight production schedule, Ali says that they began by “running through the jokes and making sure they popped,” and now is the time where they’ll “go back and tweak it.”
In the series, Ali plays Tyana Jones, a young divorcee who moves back home to go into business with her father. Ali says she enjoys playing the character because, “it has its sexy elements, as well as its family elements.”
When comparing her role as Tyana to that of her role as Jessie in Hotel California, Ali says, she enjoys both drama and comedy and that both are “equally challenging.
“Getting a joke right is as difficult as getting ready for an emotional scene.”
As if Ali didn’t have enough on her plate, she’s been spending some time in the studio, writing and recording and working on her music career. Unless you lived under a rock in the late 90s, or someplace that denied access to Total Request Live, you’ll probably remember hits like “Daydreamin” and “Boy You Knock Me Out” from her album Kiss the Sky.
I wondered how it was possible for one person to take on so many projects at one time, but Ali humbly assured me that she wasn’t quite as overworked as it may seem. And whether or not that’s true she admits that she likes being busy, because as she says, “it’s the best kind of busy.”
Image by Quillard Inc. Photography