Tasha Smith: “People Should Celebrate Tyler Perry”

The "For Better or Worse" star defends the movie mogul to critics and says she’s can’t be typecast.

Actress Tasha Smith has made a name for herself playing outspoken, strong Black female characters. One of her onscreen personas, Angela, will be back for the third season of Tyler Perry’s original series For Better or Worse on the OWN network this fall. The actress, who's  also known for her roles in Jumping the Broom and Couples Retreat, had plenty to say to about her work on the TV series, Perry’s contribution to Black actors and her acting workshop.

Angela, the character you portray on For Better or Worse originally appeared in the Why Did I Get Married movie franchise. What did you think when Tyler Perry told you he wanted to spin her off into her own show?
I first thought, "Yay!" But then the second thought was, “Oh my God! What are we going to do with her?” I was always concerned about Angela because she was always so loud. I didn’t want her to stay consistent with who she was in the movie. I felt like people would get tired of that week after week.

So how is Angela different on the TV series?
I was excited to explore the different dimensions of Angela after Tyler explained the different things he wanted to do with her. And I really feel we’ve accomplished that. She’s softer and she’s a little silly. She’s more fun. She’s not that combative even though she's definitely a strong woman. She’s a little gentler, especially when it comes to her family and her friends. You see her as a best friend, as a businesswoman, as a mom and as well as a wife.

You’ve collaborated with Tyler Perry on several projects. What’s the best thing about working with him?
He’s been a wonderful friend and an ambassador of giving me opportunities as an actress. It’s been great to have someone like that in my life. My relationship with Tyler is also like musicians that work together. I understand Tyler as a leader, director and producer. I know how he likes to lead his band, and I know how to flow with him. He works a very specific way, everybody doesn’t work that way nor can they. I feel that he’s mastered his style and I’m one of those band members he knows that he can call on and I’m going to play my part. 

He’s a groundbreaking movie mogul, yet always the target of lots of criticism. What do you say to Tyler Perry naysayers?
You have to respect him. He is a trailblazer, bottom line, he really is. If you even look at the way he works, people are looking at his [TV series show production] work model and are trying to duplicate it even to this day. Are We There Yet? with Terry Crews and Essence Atkins is one show that’s doing it and several other shows are modeling the Tyler Perry brand. Not only are they able to accomplish a lot of shows in a shorter period of time, but also the model is creating a lot of opportunities for actors that need to be employed. The truth is when it comes to actors, we need the Tyler Perrys, Salim Akils, and the Mara Brock Akils of the world because if we didn't have their shows, our actors wouldn't be able to make a living doing what they love to do. We have more reality TV shows that we do scripted TV shows. So what does that mean? You have a lot of amazing, talented unemployed actors. People should celebrate people like Tyler Perry.

You’re also an actress who is giving back. Tell us about the Tasha Smith Actors Workshop, your acting school.
My school is amazing — I’ve been doing it for over ten years and it’s the biggest blessing.  It’s a part of my purpose. Magic happens every time I have a TSAW workshop. It’s something I love to do and I’ll be doing it for the rest of my life. Many actors have come out of it, like Kiki Hanes, who stars on my show, plus Lance Gross and several other people. I love to empower actors to pursue their purpose and dig into another dimension of their creativity. I sometimes say I’m a better teacher than actress and I think it’s because I just care. And it’s so fulfilling to see people become confident and clear in their work in their pursuit of their artistry — it’s just amazing. If you go to you'll see dates for workshops that will be coming up soon in New York, Dallas, Miami, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta.

As an actress, you’re known for playing strong, opinionated and outspoken women. Are you afraid of being typecast?
Of course. I’m looking for other on-screen opportunities but I also know how to embrace what I do really well. Julia Roberts, when she started out, she was funny. People called her to be funny. Angelina Jolie is sexy. They know if you need a sexy woman, you get her. Angela Bassett, she’s strong and righteous. And if they need that, they're going to call her. I look at Vince Vaughn, who is funny and his funny is a homerun every time. So I embrace the thing that has created success and notoriety for me. And I don’t knock it. I am grateful that I have that. I don’t look at it as I’m being put in a box. I look at it as I created that part of me that I do well and that people embrace. It’s created great opportunities for me as an actress and has allowed me to have fun and do what I love to do. I will always continue to pursue my career and grow so that other opportunities come my way. And one day, people will get a chance to see the different parts of me they may not have seen yet.

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(Photos from left: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images, Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

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