8.27.2010

One-on-one with actress and director Kim Fields: "Staying motivated is a big obstacle"


(Kim Fields is an actress and television director. She is best known for her roles as Tootie Ramsey on the NBC sitcom "The Facts of Life", and as Regine Hunter on the Fox sitcom "Living Single". She was recently the keynote speaker at the annual One Woman Business Conference hosted by the Texas Business Alliance in Houston. I caught up with her to go one-on-one about motivation, making the transition from on-screen acting to directing, business tactics and more. This is Part 1)

Brother Jesse Muhammad (BJ) : With over about 30 years experience in show business, tell me what has been some of your greatest obstacles you have faced to reach where you are today?

Kim Fields (KF): Greatest obstacle. Staying motivated is a big obstacle and I think that it’s not really exclusive…..an exclusive obstacle to people in the entertainment industry. I think for anybody who has been blessed to do whatever it is that they do, for a decade or two or three, while it’s a blessing…you have to keep finding new reasons why besides bills and rent to wake up in the morning and go do your gig or to keep doing things within you gig for example, in my work, it’s auditions or meetings with casting directors or producers and network executives and things like that. Overall, just staying motivated…How do you keep that.

Of course, your mortgage, your rent, your bills, your car note, insurance….those are certainly some strong motivators. (Laughter.)

Aside from that, there has to be that ever present ‘I Love Doing This” and “I Still Have A Love For This”…so my passion and my love for it helps me to kind of overcome that obstacle. And sometimes too, it‘s that feeling of “I’m Not Finished Yet” …..My pastor once said “when you feel you no longer have that taste for something that means that maybe God has had you move on from that“…….and so, for me…..I still love acting and I’ve not in any way retired….even though my work as a director, a producer and writer has really exploded in the last 5 to 8 years….Knowing that I still have a hunger and a thirst for this helps me to overcome the obstacle.

I think the second obstacle would be reinventing yourself. Again, I don’t think that this is new to or unique or exclusive to my field. I know plenty of people in the corporate world, in the academic world…. Just people who feel they have to either keep getting better or keeping up with the times or technology or new generations that you are exposing yourself and your work to. So, being relevant and thereby reinventing yourself is a huge obstacle.

Now, what is unique to my field, I think, is, I’m in an industry that is very much so a visual medium and so there are ways that I have keep relevant in reinventing myself that some people or some women may not have to. In terms of my appearance, my body type, my hair, or my wardrobe or, whatever. So, those things sometimes become obstacles because sometimes you are like ugh, I don’t feel like that right now.

BJ: We have seen over the years, many actors and actresses who were child stars who have eventually gone through some kind of tragic or dysfunctional moment in their lives and they seem to never really recover. Would you say that the things that you previously stated were some of the things that have helped you to continue to evolve from your role as Tootie on The Facts Of Life?

KF: First and foremost I think a great deal of my sense of being grounded and my recovery from when I have my own dysfunctional moments, which may not have been as tragic or a grand as those of some of my colleagues or friends even but that is certainly not to say that I haven’t had them. But, what has kept me in my right mind, and I mean that literally as well as emotionally, is my faith. What has kept me is my support. The support I get from my family and my friends is invaluable and I know that the spirit in them is helping to support me as well. So, for me, that’s what helps me when I’m trying to overcome those obstacles but also when I am faced with some of the issues that plague people who have been doing what they do for a long time and most especially if they’ve been working at it since they were children in an industry that can at times, most of the time, be quite heartless and thankless.

BJ: Excellent points. Let’s get into another television show. Myself and others grew up watching and still watch the reruns of you as Regine on the sitcom Living Single. How much did you enjoy doing that show and how has the quality of television shows changed over the years from your perspective? Is it safe for children anymore?

KF: Well, a few things. Thank you, first of all, for watching the show and to everyone who continues to watch Living Single, even in syndication. I enjoyed playing Regine immensely because she was so unlike me in so many ways. I would never, at all use the word Diva to label myself. Ever. Ever, ever, ever, never ever. Forever never? Forever never. (laughter). That is just not me at all. From the grand scheme of things to things like all the hair, shopping and the love of clothes. I’ll tell you, I don’t like trying on clothes. I don’t like shopping for clothes. I’d much rather go to Home Goods and get something for my house.

BJ: Wow…..

KF: Yea. I am so THAT person. I am so NOT Regine in those regards. The other fun thing about playing Regine though was the things that I understood about her emotionally. I understood that she was insecure and she used all of those things - the hair, the clothes, the makeup- to kind of cover up those insecurities and I loved the producers and the writers because no matter what she used to cover up all of her flaws still hung out and that’s what made her so much fun.

Do I think that television has evolved? Absolutely. I think that television, not just for the urban community or for women but even from a technology standpoint. Television has certainly evolved, in terms of the writing, in terms of the style of directing….not to say that I don’t think that television has hit horrendous speed bumps. I never really was a fan of reality TV and I can’t wait until it finds its way off of the planet. (Laughter) I’m not really a huge supporter of some of the ways that the decisions get made in terms of some of the shows that have been cancelled. But at the end of the day, you’ve got the internet, you’ve got social mediums, you’ve got a lot of people now that have access to the equipment and to be able to tell their stories. So I think that yes, in some ways television has continued to evolve. Having said that, there’s still not enough roles for people of color, there’s still not a lot of roles for women….there’s always that “tricky” balancing act that I don’t really think they’ve found just yet. Most especially when it comes to people of color.

Do I think it’s safe for children? Well, if you are dealing with responsible parents there are tons of amazing things for children. I’m the parent of a three year old and I applaud some of the networks. Nick Jr. is one of my favorites and I’m always telling my friend Kaye, who runs Nick Jr., that she’s doing an amazing job with the hearts and minds of preschoolers. The fact that it’s 24 hours and the fact that it’s commercial free; that takes a lot of work and a lot of effort and I see how my son’s development has really been helped and influenced by it. Video On Demand is amazing. The internet is great because you can find so many different types of educational products, and shows and content. You can access National Geographic for Kids and different things. The other really great thing about the internet as a parent is that the world becomes a much smaller place for a child. So, when you trying to get them to understand a big concept like ‘you’re a global citizen’ then you can look up whatever….My son love animals, so he’s familiar with Africa or Europe or Australia, the Artic ,based on animals and based on what we were able to access online. But, I am a responsible parent. Are there parents out there who are not responsible…Absolutely. Have we seen on YouTube, clips of children who are 3 and 4 who can barely speak but can cuss up a storm……Absolutely.

What’s wrong with that picture? A lot. Is TV or the internet to blame? Of course not.

BJ: Let’s get into the business aspect. You have now been directing, most notably Tyler Perry sitcoms House of Payne and Meet the BrownsWhat is it like working with Tyler Perry? How did you make the transition from on camera talent to producer and director? Did you have to take on a more entrepreneur mindset to make the transition?

KF: Yes, I had to take on a much more entrepreneur mindset when I started directing and producing in the sense that entrepreneurs don’t wait for people to hand them anything. They don’t wait for opportunities to come to them. They assess the situation and see where they can carve out an opportunity or they keep talking to God about what their needs are, realizing that the Spirit is not just going to ‘plop’ something in your lap. You get an opportunity then it’s what are you going to make of it. So , I started directing back in ‘94 and it was birthed out of me becoming really frustrated as an actor and as an audience member. I was not seeing what I wanted to see on television or in movies. And I certainly wasn’t being offered the roles because they weren’t there. It’s not like they were being offered to other people, I wasn’t being offered things because they just didn’t exist, in terms of roles in movies and other TV shows. So, sometimes, instead of sitting around and wishing someone would do something, maybe that someone is you.

BJ: Right

KF: So, for me, I learned to direct, I learned how to write. I would hang out with crew members from shows that I worked on as an actor so that I was a sponge, really absorbing and learning as much as I could. That’s how I started directing.

I adore Tyler. I love working with and for him (so to speak). We were friends long before any of this happened. We were friends when he was on the theatre circuit and he was just starting to attract the interest of Hollywood and he was constantly at a place of ‘I don’t want them to change me. How do I stay true to the vision is of what I feel I‘ve been given?’ I applaud the entrepreneur in him. He has created templates , at this point, that major elements of the industry have been changed or have adapted based on how he’s doing things. So, I have so much respect for him and so much admiration for him and I’m very inspired by what he does. Very inspired.



BJ: That’s great. Now, how has your acting career and experiences influenced your directing style?

KF: My first thing is, when I’m directing a show, I didn’t ever want to be what they call an “Actors Director”, which means that as an actor, I know how to help the actors but then I’ve got dozens and hundreds of crew members standing around asking me questions and I don’t have the answers because I haven’t learned the technical aspects. Part of my directing style is making sure that my crew know that they can trust me and depend on me. That I do have a vision. I have been given a vision for whatever project it is that we are all on. The way that being an actor has influenced me as a director is that I make sure that everything feels as honest as possible.

As a whole, the audiences are very, very sophisticated, even young people and if you get to a point where the audience feels like ‘that’s not real’ or they don’t believe you……they don’t believe you in this character or they don’t believe that that could happen then, they tune you out, they turn you off, they walk out of the movie or they jump on Facebook and tell everyone not to go see it, or whatever. So, making sure that dialogue is as real as possible. Making sure that the interaction between people, whether they are husband and wife, brother and sister, coworkers, friends, whatever the case may be, is as real or organic as possible. And then, out of that comes lots of comedy. Out of that comes lots of pain.

Part 2 with Kim Fields coming soon.