Tichina Arnold, who stars as Chris Rock’s iron-fisted mother, Rochelle, on “Everybody Hates Chris,” has never met her character’s real-life counterpart. Yet she hardly lacks for inspiration.
“At first it was a little scary,” Arnold admits, on the difficulty of portraying Mrs. Rock. “I didn’t want to misrepresent her. Mostly I gave her the characteristics of my own mother, my aunt and my grandmother all rolled into one.
“You see, I come from a line of very dominant women.”
Like Jane Kaczmarek before her, Arnold has drawn raves for her depiction of a tough-loving matriarch, nabbing an Image Award at the NAACP’s 2005 kudocast. But for Arnold, the skein’s unsentimental domestic comedy and 1980s Bed-Stuy setting provoke nostalgia, and perhaps greater identification with the character.
“I was raised in the ’80s, and times have changed,” says the mother of one. “Back then there were no ‘timeouts.’ I just got my behind beat.”
Arnold clearly relishes the character who, as an outsized authority figure seen through the mythologizing eyes of her young charge, has license to go straight over the top. “Rochelle is all over the place,” she says. “Reading and auditioning for the part was a joy. I remember the first day the cast sat down to table-read, (co-star) Terry Crews and I kept looking up at each other like: ‘Oh my God, this feels so right.’ ”
The Queens-born Arnold has been in the biz nearly all her life. Early training in dance and music landed the then-15-year-old an adult part in the film adaptation of “Little Shop of Horrors.” She parlayed that initial coup into a steady role on sudser “Ryan’s Hope,” for which she earned a Daytime Emmy nom in 1988.
But her breakthrough came in 1992, when Martin Lawrence tapped her for his onscreen nemesis in “Martin.”
“I’ve had the best of both worlds,” Arnold says of her sitcom credentials. “Martin was more slapstick, so you never knew what the hell he was going to do. Chris is very wry, so you never know what the hell he’s going to say.”
“Everybody Hates Chris'” marquee creator and distinctive style — single-camera, montage-heavy, prone to sudden script changes — could pose a headache for an actor, but Arnold welcomes the challenge. “That’s where the fun comes in: the not knowing,” she says. “I know not to memorize the script until the last second. It keeps my chops up.”
Favorite scene of last season?
“When Rochelle and Chris are sitting on the steps in the funeral episode and he comforts me. It’s a very un-Rochelle moment, but I love it.”
” ‘American Justice,’ ‘Forensics Files,’ ‘CSI’ — you can tell I’m a forensics fan. I was watching A&E before it was even popular. And I love ‘Drawn Together,’ which is one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen.”
“Adam Rodriguez (‘CSI: Miami’). He’s sexy, he’s cool, and with one-hour dramas you never focus on one character. So he’s still an unsung hero.”