“If you’re looking for a movie about the important things in life with a good storyline and soul-stirring singing, then this is the movie for you,” says the stunning new ‘it girl’ of Black Hollywood, Tika Sumpter, who stars in Sparkle, now in theaters.
Sumpter, 32, plays middle sister, Delores “Dee” Anderson, in the remake of the 1976 classic film about three sisters who form a singing group in 1960s Detroit. Like the original, the 2012 version takes viewers through the joys and pains of these young women and culminates with the younger sister, Sparkle’s (Jordin Sparks) breakout success. The movie has an impressive cast with the late Whitney Houston as the girls’ mother, Emma, and Carmen Ejogo, as Tammy “Sister” Anderson. The film also stars Derek Luke, Omari Hardwick, Mike Epps, Cee-Lo Green and Tamela Mann also star in the film.
Sumpter had a small role in Think Like a Man and is known for her TV roles as Layla Williamson on “One Life to Live”, and as Raina Thorpe on “Gossip Girl” and Jenna Rice on “The Game”, this movie is kind of like a coming out party of her in many ways. Sparkle is her biggest film role to date and people get a chance to see that Sumpter can really blow.
EBONY caught up with Tika Sumpter on what would have been Whitney Houston’s 49th birthday and chatted about the differences between the two Sparkle movies, what she learned from working with Whitney Houston and her upcoming projects.
EBONY: In this film’s version, we see more of the Delores character fleshed out than in the 1976 version. How would you describe Delores’ character?
Tika Sumpter: I have to give it to Mara Brock Akil for making this character more present in this film. In the original she really wasn’t fleshed out and you don’t really know what she’s about. In this film you’re definitely going to know what Delores is about. You will know her voice, where she stands on things and what her dreams are. It’s not going to be the dreams of Sparkle and Sister; you’re going to see what Delores’ dreams are as well. She’s feisty and strong. She draws strength form her mother. She’s outspoken. She has vulnerability but she doesn’t let many people see it. And she loves her family. She would do anything for her family.
EBONY: Did you watch Sparkle growing up?
TS: I didn’t. I didn’t actually even know about it until my (older) sisters told me about. They’re huge Sparkle fans. And I didn’t grow up on Sparkle, I didn’t even see it before I did the film because I didn’t want it to affect any choices I made acting wise. My sisters and my mom said it was a big influence in the ‘70s because we didn’t really see ourselves on the screen so that was major—it’s like a cult classic. So people are definitely looking forward to it. I didn’t grow up watching it.
EBONY: We know that Delores’ storyline is expanded in this newer version. What other changes can moviegoers expect?
TS: We took the essence of what the original Sparkle is and made it our own. It definitely was a great movie but it definitely had room (to grow) whether to make improvements or fill in the story or flesh out the story more and expand characters. Like Mike Epps’ character Satin Struthers, his role is more expanded and Delores is more expanded. So the roles are more fleshed out and there’s different takes on the story but it’s basically the same theme about a family and their struggles just to follow their dreams wholeheartedly and the ups and downs of those dreams.
EBONY: You mention that the cast was like one big family. Do you still keep in contact with Carmen and Jordin?
TS: Me and Carmen, we keep in contact more. But as soon as we get together it’s like family again. It’s laughs and fun. We were able to bond during the times we had to learn choreography and be in the studio. And then on set it was such a great positive set that we were all working toward a great goal. We knew that we had a great script and that it could be a cool movie. It could definitely be a movie for a new generation. I think it’s nice that we see a story about a family and about dreams and about pursuing your dreams and not dimming your light for other people. On set it was definitely like one big family and me, Carmen and Jordin, I think you can see that sisterhood on screen. At least that’s what we’re being told by critics who’ve seen it. They say, ‘It’s definitely evident that you guys feel like real sisters.’
EBONY: Did you treat them the same way you engage with your own sisters?
TS: Yes. I’m actually the only one of the three of us who actually has sisters. So I know what that relationship is like. And it’s funny because it all fell into place. We spent such a saturated amount of time on set that at times we love each other and at times we’re like ugh, I want to be by myself. There were times when we were not in the mood. But at the end of the day, all of that you could see it on screen. And that’s what was necessary. It was very necessary, it was organic. But we’re like one big happy family.
EBONY: Few people know that you’re a vocalist who can actually sing. Did you grow up singing?
TS: I did, I did. My mom was an opera singer and she gave up her career to raise a family. But she also taught my sisters how to sing. My mom didn’t know I could sing until I was maybe 16 when she saw me have a lead part in the choir. And then I was signed to a record deal when I was younger and also on “One Life to Live” we did a few musical acts on the show. They asked me to sing and perform, and I did. And also I did this “Broadway Cares” charity event on Broadway. I’ve performed many times but not many people know. So I guess this is the great coming out party.
EBONY: Do you plan to star in more musical roles?
TS: I am definitely pursuing music now. Some opportunities have presented themselves so I’m definitely going to take advantage of every opportunity. Nowadays things are wide open. It used to be that film stars didn’t want to do TV and actors weren’t singing and singers weren’t acting. Everybody’s kind of crossing over to whatever they want to do. So I feel like if you have it use it. If God’s given you this talent then use it.
EBONY: What do you want people to take away from the movie?
TS: I hope that people laugh, they cry. I just want them to feel something. I think the best part in going to the movies is you feel something and you relate whether it’s to family struggles or dimming your light for someone. I would say to never dim your light and to really, truly follow your dreams. I know it’s cliché to say when you do something you love you never work a day in your life. But it is true: When you do something you love, life gets to be a little bit easier and enjoyable. So I just want people to follow their dreams. Whether they relate to Dee or they related to Sparkle or whether they related to Sister, it’s definitely a cautionary tale. It’s definitely a tale of not just relying on your looks and having hollow talent. It’s really relying on something you can offer the world. It’s definitely a cautionary tale mixed with love and laughs and not dimming your light for others.
EBONY: What is your favorite on-set memory of Whitney Houston?
TS: Just hearing her laugh. She had one of those hearty laughs like me. A lot of people say I laugh really loud. Well Whitney also laughs loud and her smile is just magnetic. And a star is a star. Highs, lows –whatever you go through – a star is a star. When she walked through the door she just had this magnetic energy and you just want to be around her. And she was so funny. She was ridiculously funny. When the cameras turned on she was professional and ready to go. But when the cameras were off man … there were a couple of times when the director was like, ‘Tika! Whitney!’ in a sweet way but we were definitely giggling a lot. She definitely had a sense of humor. It’s something that I’m going to be able to tell my grandkids and my future children about. It’s an experience that I have on tape and it’s an experience that will never be washed away. Ever.
Aisha I. Jefferson is a writer and multimedia journalist who splits her time between Chicago and Atlanta. You can follow her on Twitter or visit her at aishaiman.com.