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