When getting to know the actress Tika Sumpter, there are a few things to keep in mind: first, she is dedicated to honing her craft; second, she’s a newly vulnerable person who used to be quite private; and finally, her real name is Euphemia — but she can’t remember a time when she wasn’t referred to by her nickname, Tika. And she’s now ready to reintroduce herself.
The name “Euphemia” means “well-spoken,” which Sumpter is. Although she originally hails from Hollis, Queens, barely a trace of the hard O’s and nasal speech synonymous with New York accents appear in her voice.
“Euphemia’s been spoken over my life for so long. That’s why I think names are important,” she adds. “That’s who you are. You’re being called by a name of meaning.”
The actress, known first for roles in series such as“Gossip Girl” and “The Game,” earned global attention in 2016 for her portrayal as Michelle Obama in the independent film “Southside With You.” Her years of hard work having finally caught the eye of Hollywood, Sumpter is now reaping the rewards, with a slew of projects hitting.
Sumpter spent years in the entertainment industry trying to get her foot in the door, first in two musical girl groups, then modeling and doing commercials, hungry for any work she could find.
“During that time, when you have nothing, you’ll put on a bunny suit if you have to. You’re just like, ‘Give me a job, anybody! You want me to sell Kit Kats, I will do it!’” she yells, her belly laughter breathy and deep. “What that set me up for is my grit and my passion. You have to really love it. I knew that I did because I was making no money and I still wanted to get up and go. I had to do an overnight at work [at a movie theater], work at a hotel and then get up and go on auditions.
“But it made me want to be in this industry even more. When you taste it, you can’t just have it one time.”
This year, the tides are shifting: 38-year-old Sumpter has been busier than ever, and has a jam-packed schedule slated for 2019. She plays Maureen Hunt, the loving wife and backbone for the Hunt family in what is rumored to be Robert Redford’s final film, “The Old Man and the Gun;” costars alongside Tiffany Haddish and Whoopi Goldberg in the upcoming comedy “Nobody’s Fool,” and has begun filming the live-action “Sonic the Hedgehog” in Vancouver. Plus, her regular gig on Tyler Perry’s primetime drama “The Haves and Have Nots” has her nose placed squarely to the grindstone. But it’s a position she’s used to, she says. A strong work ethic is ingrained in her, and many jobs are better than none. At this stage in her career, directors are approaching her. They want to talk to her, to FaceTime with her, or want to see a tape so they can get a feel for how she is on screen.
“And it’s fine — there’s no ego here,” Sumpter says. “I seek out great scripts with great directors attached to it. It starts with the script. It starts with the writing, and the character. If those are great, then it’s a possibility that I’ll do it.”
That’s how her role in “The Old Man and the Gun,” released today, came about: director David Lowery reached out to Sumpter after watching “Southside With You.” On the phone, Lowery and Sumpter talked about the character Maureen, the script and the intimacy between Maureen and John Hunt, played by Casey Affleck.
Sumpter says she was aware of the allegations against Affleck, who was accused of sexual harassment by two women during the filming of the movie “I’m Still Here” in 2010, when she took on the role.
“In my experience, when I worked with him — of course, I went in like, ‘What is this going to be like?’ — he made me feel comfortable and included. He never made me feel weird,” Sumpter says. “I can’t speak to his past allegations, but what I can say is that he has given his apologies and paid the price for what he’s done. He’s not running away from it. All you can do for a person is make sure they acknowledge and are responsible for whatever wrong they did do.”
Since becoming a mom to two-year-old daughter Ella-Loren, Sumpter has found a strength that has empowered her to open up to an audience and an industry against which she’s had a wall up.
“When I had Ella, I was in this weird position of, ‘OK, are people going to accept me, after I become a mom? Are they still going to love me?’” She stops suddenly, almost surprised by her own strong reaction to this revelation. She jerks back in her seat slightly, then begins to cry. Sumpter asks for a tissue, cleans up her tears and continues. “What I’ve learned is Ella has made me want more for myself — take care of me first, and then make sure she’s OK.
For the first time in her life, Sumpter says she is gaining confidence and self-assurance through the love and support of others. But let’s not discount the work she’s doing on herself.
“Tika Sumpter is many things,” she says, adjusting her Red Valentino outfit. “But ultimately, if the glitz and glamour went away, and all I had was: ‘Give me a job, I just want to act and somehow affect other people’s lives,’ that would be fine with me. I don’t need all the glory. I’m just a hard worker who loves my craft.”
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