Actress Tasha Smith Tells True Rags to Riches Story Actress Tasha Smith left a hard life in New Jersey to chase her dreams in Los Angeles. Tinseltown has delivered. Smith recently starred in the Tyler Perry film, Why Did I Get Married? She talks to Farai Chideya about making it big and teaching the trade she loves.

Actress Tasha Smith Tells True Rags to Riches Story

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TONY COX, Host: FARAI CHIDEYA, Host:

COX: Here's another listener favorite from 2008.

CHIDEYA: Now, to a true rags-to-riches story. Tasha Smith grew up poor in Camden, New Jersey. She and her twin sister were raised by their mother who struggled with a drug addiction. Then Tasha started using drugs and hanging out with the wrong crowd. At 18, she moved to Los Angeles to start over. She worked her way up the ranks of stand-up comedy. And now she's a making a name for herself in Hollywood. If you don't know her face, you'd probably know her voice. Here she is starring in Tyler Perry's film "Why Did I Get Married?" as the boozy, tell-it-like-it-is Angela.

(Soundbite of movie "Why Did I Get Married?")

Ms. TASHA SMITH: (As Angela) I'm sick of dealing with you ghetto baby mama.

Mr. MICHAEL JAI WHITE: (As Marcus) Do you mind? Excuse us.

Ms. SMITH: (As Angela) Man, what the hell are you talking about do you mind? Y'all ain't never seen black people on the train? You ain't never heard of the underground railroad?

Unidentified Man #1: Looks like we got a ghetto Harriet Tubman.

Unidentified Man #2: Ooh, let my people go.

Ms. SMITH: (as Angela) You heard me.

Unidentified Man #1: Snap.

Mr. WHITE: (As Marcus) She's drunk.

Unidentified Man #2: Yeah, we can tell.

Unidentified Man #1: Probably a 40.

Unidentified Man #2: Malt liquor.

Mr. WHITE: (As Marcus) Do you always have to embarrass me?

Ms. SMITH: (As Angela) Look at you, Marcus. You are an embarrassment, OK?

Mr. WHITE: (As Marcus) Could you live with that for a while?

Ms. SMITH: (As Angela) Could you go to hell for a while?

Mr. WHITE: (As Marcus) Already there.

CHIDEYA: Tasha, it's great to meet you.

Ms. TASHA SMITH (Actress): Thank you.

CHIDEYA: So, people can't see you, but you look fabulous and glamorous. And you look calm, unlike your character in the last Tyler Perry movie.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: I'm sure people must come up to you and say you're a lot nicer...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: In real life. I mean...

Ms. SMITH: They do. Like, that's my alter ego.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: Mm-hmm.

Ms. SMITH: Angela was my - you know, I think every woman has an Angela on the inside of them that they would love to let out if they could, and if there were no repercussions.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SMITH: OK.

CHIDEYA. Right, right.

Ms. SMITH: So, I had fun playing Angela.

CHIDEYA: What did you like about her?

Ms. SMITH: I loved how open and forward and aggressive and tough and fearless Angela was. I loved how she said everything that everyone was thinking.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SMITH: And I just - I mean, she's a strong, wonderful, full of life, full of energy black woman.

CHIDEAYA: We got a chance to talk to Janet Jackson and Tyler Perry while they were promoting the film. And they both said how much they loved working as an ensemble. What was it like working together with that cast? So many great people.

Ms. SMITH: Can I tell you that they spoiled me. I don't know if you saw "The Corner" - I'm going to digress a little. But when I had done "The Corner," and while we were researching the characters, every time we talked to a person that was addicted to heroin, they said it's always, you know, they're always trying to go back to get the first hit. That's how I feel...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: Mm-hmm.

Ms. SMITH: About "Why Did I Get Married?" I feel like every job I've had, I'm always trying to get the first hit of "Why Did I Get Married?" because the cast was so amazing.

CHIDEYA: You bring up a drug metaphor out of one of your roles. But you also started out on a pretty rocky path. You didn't come into acting out of, you know, XY&Z after-school program and a silver spoon in your mouth.

Ms. SMITH: No.

CHIDEYA: Tell us a little bit about some of the challenges that you faced growing up.

Ms. SMITH: Although I did do drugs growing up. But so, I guess every person that does drugs has that same - they asked me to go to rehab, and you say no, no, no mentality.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SMITH: Or you act as if you got high, but you weren't as bad as a crack header. You weren't as bad as a heroin addict. But you know, you smoke weed every day and sniff cocaine every day, but I'm not really a drug addict like they were, you know. It's the same thing, really, at the end of the day, although I can't necessarily recall the feeling of I-got-to-get-back-to-the-first-hit, you know. It wasn't that experience for me.

Grew up in a very rough neighborhood. You know, drugs, alcohol, prostitution, you know what I'm saying? Just that urban ghetto I-gotta-to-make-money-however-I can lifestyle. And it is a blessing that I've gotten a new opportunity in life to be restored, to be able to become something positive, to be able to have a platform, to be an influence to other people that may be living in that environment right now. That I could come in and encourage and inspire them to know, no matter what your current circumstances are, they will change if you have a dream.

CHIDEYA: How does acting bring out different phases of the human experience?

Ms. SMITH: Well, I've got to tell you, like, acting changed my life. I say God, and then acting. Because becoming an actor, I've gained a new respect for humanity. And I believe that it's also helped me to grow as a person. It's been one of the biggest blessings and expressions that I could have ever been gifted with.

CHIDEYA: I want to talk about what you do with actors. You've got the Tasha Smith Actors Workshop. Tell us about the techniques you use, who you work with, why do you like teaching?

Ms. SMITH: My teacher, who is Ivanna Chubbuck, who has been my teacher and mentor, she took a lot of time to really lay some wonderful foundation and technique in how I approach my work. And in going through that process, I've learned how to confront my life and how to not necessarily suppress everything that I've experienced, but just use it and look at it as an experience that will allow me to be able to identify with something within every character.

So, what we try to do in TSAW, which is Tasha Smith Actors Workshop, is to help the actor get to the core of who they really are and how they really feel. So, we may have them do a dump, where you just basically express everything that you feel that you have not been able to express, whether it's good, bad, or ugly. The freedom that we can get through the art of acting is priceless. And I just enjoy helping people get there. I enjoy encouraging and inspiring people to pursue their purpose in the arts. To help cultivate and develop their instrument. And to know I had a part with helping someone change their life. Because if they cultivate their instrument and allow themselves to be developed, guess what? Their life is going to change because they're going to get success.

CHIDEYA: Where I'd love to leave it is, your family had such hard times in the past. And now, in addition to your personal success, it sounds like everyone has been lifted up. Tell me a little bit about how your family's doing.

Ms. SMITH: My family is doing great. My mom, first of all, is on her 20th year clean. She is a sponsor to many people that are coming off of drugs, that are in the midst of the battles that she's overcome. She is The Bomb.

OK, we're actually going to be working on some books together, and doing a tour, a mother-daughter tour, to be able to empower people whose parents may have been addicted to drugs, and the children who are dealing with their parents that have been addicted to drugs. My sisters are amazing. My sister is my business partner, my twin. She's an amazing producer, writer. You know, we're just grinding and trying to make my mother proud as well as God.

CHIDEYA: Tasha, it's been so great talking to you. And thank you for your time. Actress and acting instructor, Tasha Smith. You can hear more about her acting career and how she found God on our website nprnews┬Čes.org.

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