Tika Sumpter talks Aretha, carving her own path
The actress, who appears in this weekend's 'The Old Man & the Gun,' was tired of waiting for opportunities so she created her own
Toronto — Being a castmember on Aretha Franklin's favorite TV show had its perks.
It was summer 2015 and Tika Sumpter, star of OWN’s soapy drama “The Haves and the Have Nots,” received a phone call from a member of Franklin’s team. Sumpter was told Franklin was a huge fan, and she was invited to be Franklin’s guest at her upcoming concert at Los Angeles’ Microsoft Theatre.
As a lifelong fan of Franklin’s, receiving an invite from the Queen of Soul was enough to blow Sumpter’s mind. But during the show, Sumpter received the unexpected: a special shout-out from the stage.
“I’m just looking up at her on stage singing, and all of a sudden she goes, ‘and the diva, Tika, is here!’ I was like, ‘she said... me? Like, my name? She said my name?’ ” said Sumpter, recalling the incident during last month’s Toronto International Film Festival. “And then afterwards, I got to go backstage and meet her. I hugged her, and she’s like, ‘I really love your show and I love you,’ and I was like, ‘I love you, Aretha!’ ”
Franklin isn’t the only icon Sumpter has shared space with. This weekend the 38-year-old actress appears in “The Old Man & the Gun,” in which she stars alongside Robert Redford.
For Sumpter, who turned heads with her portrayal of Michelle Obama in 2016’s “Southside With You,” the role is another building block in a career she’s molded through grit and determination.
Sumpter, who speaks with the buzzy energy of a caffeinated morning show host, was born in Queens, New York, and lived there until she was 10, when her family moved to Long Island.
She was taken with acting at an early age; she idolized Lark Voorhies’ Lisa Turtle on NBC’s “Saved by the Bell.”
But on Long Island, “you don’t see anybody making it big in the world that we’re in,” she said. “There’s nobody coming back and saying, ‘You can do it.’ ”
That made her claw harder, she said.
“I was never the girl that was given anything,” said Sumpter, born Euphemia L. Sumpter. “I have had to fight for everything that I have gotten. If you tell me, ‘no,’ that’s just going to force me to do it.”
Sumpter began modeling and appearing in commercials before landing a hosting gig on the short-lived dating series “Best Friend’s Date” in 2005. She then played Layla Williamson for five years on the ABC soap opera “One Life to Live” and landed roles in the film “Stomp the Yard 2: Homecoming” and CW’s “Gossip Girl.”
In 2012, she nabbed a part in the Detroit-filmed remake of “Sparkle” and joined the cast of “The Haves and the Have Nots” the following year.
She felt like an outsider in the system, however, watching as starlets graduated from indies to blockbusters to Academy Award wins. She felt like she wasn’t being given the same opportunities as her peers.
In Hollywood, “there’s a pipeline that happens, but for black women, it doesn’t happen like that,” said Sumpter, who also appeared for two seasons on BET’s “The Game.” “We can be digging and digging and digging away for years and years and years, and do all the same work just like everybody else and not get the same payoff. And I was like, instead of complaining about it, I’m just going to figure it out and do it myself.”
Watching “Haves and Have Nots” creator Tyler Perry build his empire empowered Sumpter and showed her how the showbiz game is played.
“He wasn’t waiting to get permission from anybody. He did it himself,” said Sumpter, who is engaged to her “Have and Have Nots” costar Nicholas James. “And so once I stopped feeling like I needed permission, that’s when I got my confidence to go and be great.”
She taught herself to be a producer, learned how to line up financing and how to pitch a project.
She helped create “Southside With You” from the ground up, linking with writer-director Richard Tanne, whom she “forced to write” the film, about Barack and Michelle Obama’s first date.
“Southside With You” premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and earned strong reviews from critics.
Since then, Sumpter has been busy: she has roles in next month’s “Nobody’s Fool” with Tiffany Haddish and in the upcoming “An Acceptable Loss” with Jamie Lee Curtis. She’s also set to reprise her role as Angela in the third “Ride Along” film.
Sumpter will also star in next year’s video game adaptation “Sonic the Hedgehog,” alongside Jim Carrey and James Marsden. (“Sonic” filming commitments kept her from attending Franklin’s funeral with the rest of the “Haves and the Have Nots” cast.)
Shooting the breezy caper “The Old Man & the Gun,” in which she plays the wife of Casey Affleck’s cop character, was “unforgettable,” Sumpter said.
“I’ll always remember it because I brought my daughter to the set when she was first born,” said Sumpter, whose daughter, Ella-Loren, turned 2 this week. “And Mr. Redford just lit up when he saw her. He grabbed her and was like, ‘How old is she?’ He was just so into her, and she just stared at him. That is something I’ll never forget.”
Sumpter is putting on her producer’s hat again for the sports drama “The Nomads,” as well as another project that has her beaming with excitement.
It’s too early to talk about it yet, “but you’ll know it when you see it,” Sumpter said with a smile.
“I couldn’t go to sleep one night, there was an idea on my mind, so I got up and I wrote everything out,” she says. “I built the world, I figured it out, I went and pitched it, and I sold it.”
It’s another example of Sumpter taking her career into her own hands and creating her own opportunities.
Aretha would be proud.
'The Old Man & the Gun'
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language
Running time: 93 minutes