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Q&A with Tina Andrews

Exclusive Interview by Karen Beishuizen
Photos courtesy of Tina Andrews

Tina Andrews is an American actress, television producer, screenwriter, author and playwright. She played Valerie Grant on “Days of Our Lives”. After playing in “Roots”, Alex Hailey became her mentor. Tina won The Writers Guild Award and two NAACP Awards for the mini-series about Thomas Jefferson’s mistress Sally Hemmings. She is currently working on a Chaka Khan musical in London, called “I’m Every Woman”.

KB: Did you always want to be an actress growing up?

No. I wanted to be a ballet dancer. I was well on my way in Chicago until I took Daddy’s car out trying to teach myself how to drive and slammed the door on my left foot injuring one of my toes. I walked around on it for four days until my parents saw I was limping and trying to hide pain, and when they took me to the doctor, I was told it would never heal properly enough for me to stand in pointe-shoes again. So, I changed my dance career to modern, then chorus dancing in theatre, and finally, I got a role in “Hello Dolly” as “Ermengarde”. That show brought me to Hollywood where I was cast two days later in “The Brady Bunch,” and my career took off.

KB: Who were your acting idols as a kid and are they still your idols?

Diahann Carroll. She remained my idol until her passing in 2019. I wrote the role of Sally’s mother “Betty Hemings” for her in my CBS production of “Sally Hemings, An American Scandal.” I was honored to have become one of her friends. She was scheduled to be in one of my plays the year she died. My other acting idol was Cecily Tyson.

KB: How did you get the part as Valerie Grant on “Days of Our Lives”?

That was happenstance. My agent called and set up the audition. I went into the room, felt the role, and did it. I was cast the next day.

KB: Who was Sally Hemings and why did you want to write the miniseries about her? You won The Writers Guild Award for this.

Sally Hemings was the slave mistress of the third American President Thomas Jefferson…who, sadly, was a slaveholder. He had gone to Paris for five years in 1784 as American Ambassador to France and had not seen her in those years. He’d taken her brother James with him but wanted to have his 9-year-old second daughter, Polly, with him. So, Sally’s mother Betty chose Sally to be Polly’s chaperon knowing slavery was abolished in France. Sally was 14 at the time. In those days women married very young as life expectancies were so much shorter (like Mrs. Jefferson’s).

When Jefferson saw Sally again in Paris, she so reminded him of his dead wife for whom he was still mourning and the reason he accepted the job in France, that he began to dress her up and pamper her as almost a way to have his wife back. Sally looked like his dead wife because they were half-sisters. Sally’s father had raped Betty Hemings repeatedly resulting in six mixed-race children of which Sally and James were two. Then later, both Sally and Jefferson developed genuine feelings for each other supported by a French social system that did not recognize slavery…and the rest was, as they say history. Sally bore Jefferson seven children. When they returned to Monticello, Jefferson’s American home in Virginia, Sally had exalted status. But he never freed her. . .

No one knew this story fully and I love projects that depict and celebrate our historical accomplishments and contributions to world history as people of African descent. There is not enough of that on TV or film. Ultimately, one of my greatest sources of pride was in becoming the first African American to win the WGA award for longform writing, as well as two NAACP Awards for writing both the miniseries and a book on writing and producing the production.

KB: You worked with Alex Haley after you played in “Roots”. What kind of man was he and how was it working with him?

Oh, how I loved Alex. He gave me a great opportunity to be in Roots as an actress. Then years later he hired me to write my very first teleplay with him. That project for PBS and my association with him opened the door to my writing success in Hollywood, and he became my mentor. Sadly, he died before we could complete the project, but that legacy remains. Alex was funny and a wonderful teacher. I still miss him.

KB: Are there any people out there you would love to collaborate with or people you wished you had?

Aaron Sorkin is one of the best writers out there. I joke with people that I want to be him when I grow up – Lol. Also, Kirk Ellis, another amazing writer of historical dramas. Kirk is also a friend.

KB: You can write the script and star in a movie or theatre play: what would you choose?

I am already doing it. I am playing Coretta Scott King in a one woman show about her life with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I am also directing it for the stage. I have already written, starred, and directed this play in America at the Southampton Cultural Centre in New York where I start all my plays. I will do it in London at The Playground Theatre when we can agree on a date where everyone is available. I knew Mrs. King personally. We met when I was writing a piece on Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, our former First Lady, whom Coretta knew. I then got 80 hours of interviews with her. I was lucky because she liked my Sally Hemings piece and agreed to meet. It turned into many interviews over two years. Sadly, she too died…the same year as my mother. Bad time for me in 2006.

KB: You have a lot of writing projects in the pipeline. Can you tell what it is about?

I am currently working on a Chaka Khan musical in London, called “I’m Every Woman,” and I am very excited about that. We plan on going out of town for preliminary productions in England then come into the West End before Broadway. Working with Chaka has been so fabulous. We are both from Chicago and just hit if off like a house on fire. What a talent!!

I do have a couple other projects. But I don’t talk about my future work before I have deals in place as so many of my projects have been stolen (or lovingly borrowed) because I made announcements before it was time. So, sorry!

Check out Tina’s website: HERE

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