Tichina Arnold is determined to find a solution. She accomplished it as Pam James in Martin more than two decades ago. Arnold discusses the impact of the sitcom and why she was never intended to win the part in the first place in a lecture before the opening of The Last Black Man in San Francisco – a new film produced by Brad Pitt in which she co-stars and which is already being acclaimed as a “haunting triumph.”
“Originally, the role of Pam was a more heavy set role. All the jokes were fat jokes … and so I’m like, ‘Whoa! This is weird.’ You know? How am I going to go in and audition for this? But … I wanted it,” she said. Arnold hoped something in her audition would get the casting directors to change the direction of the character. She paused for effect before cracking: “Obviously, they did — because my body was banging back then!”
She said that the cast members of Martin, which aired for five seasons on Fox in the 1990s, had no idea how influential the program would be when it was created.
“Martin did not get any recognition, really, until we were in syndication. … We did about 25 episodes a season, and by the time we made it to the hundredth episode, we were pretty worn down,” said Arnold. “[But] once [Martin] became syndicated, it was exposed to a lot of different genres of people.”
As a result, her career skyrocketed. Arnold has starred in a number of television shows, including a fictionalized version of comedian Chris Rock’s mother in Everybody Hates Chris and the mother of a superstar basketball player in LeBron James’ Survivor’s Remorse. She is now starring in CBS’ The Neighborhood. Arnold, who has been working consistently since she was 15 and was cast in the 1986 film Little Shop of Horrors, credits her stability to her generosity.
That and tenacity. “My father made me work,” she said. “He had a snack truck and then he had an Icee wagon. Other than that, I’ve never had a regular job. Never. Never had to wait tables. This is all I’ve done. When something is your bread and butter, you put it in high regard. So as much fun as I have, I take it very seriously.” She says that everything is a relationship.
“I make sure that I’m not an a–h—. I can be an a–h— if you want me to be, but I don’t think a–h—s survive long. It’s nice to be nice to people even when they’re not nice to you. People that used to deliver my scripts are now major, major directors and producers.”
But, after all of her hard work – she claims that success is relative — she hopes to see more chances for black women. She believes that the current climate, which is receptive to truly black film experiences, will help to move the needle even farther forward.
“Very rarely do I get a script written for black women. Very rarely,” Arnold said. “ Last Black Man in San Francisco, this was a role written for a black woman. But the opposite side of that is we as black women want more opportunity, roles that we can … sink our teeth into. That’s why I wanna be able to go out for white girl roles. Why can’t I play a white woman? Not a white woman, but figuratively. Because we come in all different colors, creeds, sizes. We’re everything. We really are. And I know that I can play anything.”