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Tika Sumpter on Playing Michelle Obama in ‘Southside With You’: ‘She Doesn’t Apologize For Being Who She Is’

Tika Sumpter’s career has ranged from acting in “One Life to Live” and “Gossip Girl” to modeling and appearing in music videos. This month, she co-stars with Parker Sawyers in the film “Southside With You,” about the early romance of Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson, which marks Sumpter’s debut as a big-screen producer and opens Aug. 26.

What inspired you to begin acting?

When I was younger, I loved “The Cosby Show.” Phylicia Rashad stood out because of her strength and vulnerability and complexity. And that she was an attorney. I was like, “I want to do that!” I didn’t know how it was going to happen, but I just remember as a little girl wanting to be on TV.

How did you become a producer?

When the synopsis of “Southside With You” was given to me, I thought, “Whoever wrote this is a genius.” So I met with the writer [Richard Tanne] and I was like, “Write the script!” Once he’d finished, I was in love with it. I gave it to my agent, and the ball started rolling. It wasn’t about having a vanity producer credit — I really worked hard to put all the pieces together, to pitch it to people, to get people excited, and to actually get it made.

How will the public react?

I hope they’re excited! We played it at Sundance to a crowd that loves films, but we also played it to an outside crowd, and they reacted just like the Sundance audience. You don’t have to be a Republican or a Democrat. It’s about love, it’s about connection, and it’s about understanding human relationships.

What makes it more than just another romantic comedy?

To me, a lot of romcoms are about the woman chasing the man. From the very beginning, Michelle Robinson is the prize, and I love her intelligence, and how she doesn’t apologize for being who she is. Her parents gave her so much self-esteem, and instilled in her so much depth. She just spoke her mind and was open to change.

Does Hollywood devalue romances between characters of color?

I don’t think it’s necessarily devaluing; I just think there’s not enough of it. It doesn’t have to be one particular way. We’re not all singers and dancers and athletes.

Have the Obamas seen the film?

I don’t know! But John Legend is a part of a lot of their initiatives, and he’s an executive producer — so I’m sure they know about it.

What you didn’t know about Sumpter: AGE: 36 RAISED IN: New York City ALMA MATER: Marymount Manhattan BIG BREAK: Playing Layla Williamson on “One Life to Live”     UNEXPECTED NOTORIETY: Her tweets during a 2015 Democratic debate were noted by The Washington Post

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