By Darlene Donloe
In the upcoming Lifetime feature, The Simone Biles Story: Courage to Soar, set to premiere Saturday, Feb. 3, veteran actress Tisha Campbell-Martin plays Nellie Biles, who is technically Simone Biles’ grandmother and, after officially adopting her, becomes her mother.
It’s a role that Campbell-Martin said several actresses shied away from. But, it’s one that she ran toward, full force, in an effort to exercise her dramatic chops.
That’s because Campbell-Martin, who was singing by the age of three and acting by the age of seven, has spent most of her career as a comedic actress, best known for her roles in Martin, My Wife and Kids and Dr. Ken.
|Duane Martin and Tisha Campbell Martin|
The actress, who is married to actor/writer/producer Duane Martin, said she doesn’t get to work her dramatic muscle very often, so she welcomed the opportunity.
The film about Biles is based on the Olympian’s book, Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance. Biles is played by Jeanté Godlock.
|Jeanté Godlock and Simone Biles|
The film tells the story of Biles’ rise to fame in gymnastics, which garnered her 19 Olympic and World Championship medals – making her one of the greatest gymnasts of all time.
Biles’ trajectory toward gymnastic stardom began after a field trip to a gymnastics training center when Simone was six years old. She caught the eye of a local coach who recognized that Simone had a remarkable gift for the sport. But pursuing her dream of becoming an elite gymnast also meant giving up high school football games, prom or starting college at UCLA.
With her parents Ron (Julius Tennon, How to Get Away with Murder) and Nellie Biles (Tisha Campbell-Martin, My Wife and Kids) and younger sister Adria (Raven Bowens, The New Edition Story) supporting her every step of the way, Simone’s journey from foster care to the Olympic podium, can serve as an inspiration for every little girl with a dream.
I recently caught up with Campbell-Martin to talk about her latest project and her career.
DD: What drew you to this project?
TCM: As an actress being able to take a chance on me. People look at me as a comedic actress. I started out in theater, musical theater and drama. I couldn’t get arrested doing comedy. To work that instrument again felt good. For me, it was wonderful and challenging to use this instrument again. Tasha Smith coached me for this.
DD: Was this role challenging?
TCM: As the character – being able to stretch and play someone older than me was great. Technically, the character I played was a grandparent, but Ron and Nellie eventually became her mom and dad. Some people shied away from playing that. They looked at other actresses before me, but they didn’t want to play a grandmother. I live for that kind of role. As a mother of a child, my child has special needs. I drew from being a mother. Nellie and Ron had to encourage Simone, who was challenged with ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder). I related to that with my own story because when you get a diagnosis of autism, ADHD or anything, you have to be tough and encouraging. This isn’t the end of the story for you. You’re going to be successful. That’s the kind of parents they are, but they teach independence. They taught her independence.
DD: She obviously didn’t let her circumstances limit her abilities.
TCM: Your environment and the crackhead on the corner doesn’t dictate your life. This is the story of a family. I love that’s it’s coming out during Black History Month. Simone Biles, I remember watching her during the Olympics and cheering and crying. This young woman with all of this power and drive and her mother. Getting to know them and watching their interview and knowing that they really encouraged her to have fun was wonderful. Don’t forget while you’re there – take the journey. It’s ok to fall. You can do some pushups while you’re down there. And then get right back up. Ups and downs in life are supposed to happen.
DD: You’re a very positive person. When are you going to do your life coach seminar?
TCM: It’s so funny. There is a gentleman who coached some prominent motivational speakers. He wants to send me to school. Eventually, that is what I’d like to do. Right now these other journeys are happening. I am not perfect. I’m going to make mistakes, but I’m excited about living life. I think that I live life for others. I didn’t want fame. If it came, fine. I didn't do it for money –unless it helped someone else. If it came that was gravy.
DD: When did showbiz begin for you?
TCM: I was three-years-old. But I have a kind of funny story. I’m five-years-old and I’m begging my mother to enter me in this contest. One of the prizes was a color TV. I really wanted that TV. I didn’t win the TV, I won a car. I’m five and I’m pissed that I won the car because I wanted to win the television. My mother is crying and my dad is jumping up and down and screaming. That’s when I realized I liked making other people happy. That’s when I decided to be of service to others. I’m also enjoying taking some time and serving myself in a way that is progressive. It’s about spiritual growth.
DD: You’re going to be very busy in February.
TCM: Yes, I am. February 2 is when my single comes out. It’s called I Don’t Want To Be Alone Tonight. It’s independent. I’m putting it out myself. I’m also distributing it myself. You can find it on platforms like Apple Music. On February 3 is the premiere of The Simone Biles Story. On February 16, my episode of Empire comes out. A week after that, a song of mine will be placed on Empire. February has always been a good month for me.
DD: Talk about meeting Simone.
TCM: Funny. To hear her speak with all this knowledge – you can see the influence her parents had on her. She’s a typical young woman who isn’t affected by all of the celebrity of it all.
DD: What kind of direction did Tasha Smith give you?
TCM: She said, ‘It’s going to be easy for you to drop in and do what you do – even though you haven’t done drama in a long time.’ My method is the Stanislavsky Method. Her method is the Ivana Chubbuck method. We combined the two and broke down every scene. Tasha is an amazing director. I’ve known her since she was 15. I knew when I met her that she was going to be somebody.
DD: Talk about meeting Nellie.
TCM: No pressure, you’re playing someone who is alive and watching you. I asked her about my playing her. She said she was excited. I was nervous. She came the day I had to do a dramatic scene. Then I just kept telling myself to just do what I do. At one point she said, ‘That’s exactly me and what I do.’ That made me feel so good.
DD: What did you learn about Simone?
TCM: She has this level of drive to be great. You have to work hard. Her drive isn’t selfish either. It’s one that you want to do not for yourself, but for your team. She told herself, ‘I have this challenge, but I’m going to fight through it.’
DD: There is a lot to watch on television. Why should people watch The Simone Biles Story?
TCM: It’s something you sit down with your kids and watch. It’s one of those things that makes you proud. There is the recipe for you to survive in a great way. We’re doing it with love and support. She is the epitome of greatness – no matter what came her way. It’s a formula that everyone can get.
DD: The Simone Biles story is coming out less than a month from the time Simone revealed that she had been sexually assaulted, is incredible. Tell me what you think about what Simone did this week regarding her assault.
TCM: I’m so incredibly proud of her. It takes a lot of courage for a person to do that. It’s sad that it happened in her formative years. I was sexually assaulted at the age of 3. I’m open about it. I get the shame and the guilt and the secret that you hold. I understand how a child would keep it to themselves. As supportive as this family is – a predator can get in their head. They would say stuff like “You’ll disappoint your family and let down your team.’ I have to drill in my kids that they can come to me. ‘I’m going to kill your parents’ –that’s the one I got.
DD: You revealed that you were also abused. You were three. How did that experience change or shape your life? How did you work through it?
TCM: At first I didn’t realize it. I knew I didn’t do anything wrong. Thank God I was a tattler. You know who your parents are. I went to my dad. They were told by doctors that I wouldn’t remember anything - so nobody helped me through it. I grew up thinking – ‘Nothing bad happens to bad people.’ I couldn’t breastfeed my first child because I thought that was wrong. It would pop its ugly head out in different situations.
DD: What would you tell young girls now about protecting themselves or about using their voices?
TCM: My father was very clear about how he would protect me. He drilled me in that. There’s always somebody to tell. You gotta figure it out. You can’t hold on to that. For the parents, we have to continuously work on trying to get them to understand it’s not their fault.
DD: So, you’re a Hollywood actress. Are you part of the #MeToo or #TimesUp movement? What do you hope comes out of that effort?
TCM: Gone are the days that people think its normal to navigate around certain things. It has already started. I’m happy for women in the workplace who have always had to deal with this stuff. It’s an exciting time to know there is the potential for change.
|Martin Lawrence and Tisha Campbell Martin in Martin|
|Tisha Campbell Martin and Damon Wayans in My Wife and Kids|
Tisha Campbell Martin in Dr. Ken
DD: You’ve done a lot: , At this point in your career – what really moves you toward a specific project? ,
TCM: It's a communication. Every time you do something, it's communication. Art is a communication. We are communicating God’s word. I’m just being obedient. As an artist, we get to heal people, make them laugh, reminisce, hum a song, and change a mindset. I’m communicating in a different way. I’m humbled by it.
The Simone Biles Story: Courage to Soar also stars Kathleen Rose Perkins as Aimee Boorman, Kelsey Scott as Shanon, Marilyn Norry as Martha Karolyi and Nakai Takawira as Young Simone.
The Simone Biles Story: Courage to Soar is executive produced by Howard Braunstein, Tom Patricia, Simone Biles, Janey Miller and Kyell Thomas for Octagon. Vanessa Parise directs from a script written by Kelly Fullerton. The Simone Biles Story: Courage to Soar will premiere on Lifetime's international territories later in 2018.
THE SIMONE BILES STORY: COURAGE TO SOAR
Premieres February 3 at 8 p.m. ET/PT