Tisha Campbell’s role as Jay Kyle on ABC’s “My Wife and Kids” became one of the most notable performances in her extensive acting career. However, in a new interview, Campbell revealed that she originally was not in contention for the role, and only got cast through a combination of sheer will, cunning, and a little help from best friend and acting buddy Tichina Arnold.
In a recent appearance on former co-star Finesse Mitchell’s podcast “Understand This,” Campbell said that she was actively discouraged from auditioning for the part.
“I had heard that there was this audition for this show called ‘My Wife and Kids,’ and at the time, they were not hiring any African-American women at all during that time,” she said. “I think it was 2000. And nobody was getting hired. In fact, when we would go out for auditions, it would say ‘all ethnicities.’ There was never anything specifically for us.”
Given the scarcity of work, and the highly sought-after role, Campbell called her agent to inquire about the audition and was immediately shut down.
“I called my agent. I’m like, ‘yo, I heard about this audition.’ He was like, ‘yeah they don’t really want to see you,’ ” Campbell shared.
Undaunted, she called up Arnold, who happily offered her information about the audition that she herself had gone through.
“She was like ‘Yeah! Yeah, girl. I auditioned the other day,’ ” she recalled. “I was like, ‘So can you send me the script and the sides and stuff?’ And she was like, ‘Yeah! No problem.’ ”
After reading the script, Campbell said she knew she could play Jay “with her hands tied behind her back.” She called her agent again about the part, and he told her “ ‘They are adamant that they really don’t want to see you.’ ”
She added, “I also knew somebody who was interviewing to be the casting director, and that person said yeah, I mentioned your name and [Damon Wayans] said ‘I love Tisha so much; she is family. But you know I just don’t see myself playing opposite of Gina for the next five years.’ ”
Campbell was still determined to get an audition and called Arnold again, who informed her that she got a callback. She asked her friend for her resources, and despite the fact that Campbell would be in direct competition for the role, Arnold proceeded to give them over, no questions asked.
Campbell had resolved to crash the final callbacks for the audition and take her chances in going for the role, despite her agent’s warnings.
“He was like, ‘Oh my god you’re gonna end your career, this is a travesty, everything is about to go so wrong for you; I cannot believe you’re about to do this. You’re gonna ruin your whole reputation.’ And I was like ‘Oh my God, you’re so negative, click,’ ” Campbell recalled.
The “Martin” star tricked the security guard at the gate into letting her in over an agent error, and unexpectedly ran into Damon Wayans, startling him. She later found out his reaction to her unplanned presence.
“This is what [Wayans] told me later after I got the part: ‘I slammed that door and I was like, what in the hell is Tisha Campbell doing here?’ ”
Feeling like she had nothing to lose, Campbell waited until it was her turn, walking into what she described as a “cold-blooded” room. However, the reception to her audition was anything but frosty.
“I was like okay; it’s a cold-blooded room, Damon’s probably pissed at me, nobody wants me, boy, this is going to be fun right? So, I walk into the room and we start working together. He reads with me, I’m on the edge of my seat, he’s on the edge of his, we’re going back and forth with ad-libbing … and it was so magical but I just thought they were still pissed,” she said.
“As I leave, I go to pick up my stuff, my agent calls immediately. He was like, ‘What did you do?’ At that moment is when I realized ‘Oh my God, what did I just do.’ I just snuck into this audition, and I was shaking. He said, ‘Tisha they want you to come to the final network call.’ ”
The rest is history. Campbell ended up getting the role, though she doesn’t recommend other aspiring actors try her risk-taking methods.
Even so, having a generous friend in Arnold turned out to be advantageous in the end, and her kindness was likely key in allowing Campbell to prepare and try out for the part. During the podcast interview, Mitchell expressed amazement at Arnold’s willingness to turn over valuable material to a potential rival, but Campbell professed that they had both done the same for each other for years.
“This is stuff me and Tichina used to do all of the time. Me and Tichina have been like this since we were 11 and 12,” she said. “We would always call each other if the other one didn’t hear about an audition. And we’d just be like, ‘Let’s go crash it! Crash it with me. Write my agent’s number down.’ At the time I didn’t even have an agent. She would just go, ‘Yo, crash it with me!’ And I would do the same for her. But this is like a billion years later and we’re still doing it.”
The two are indeed still doing it together, as Campbell and Arnold announced earlier in the month that they are partnering up to produce and co-host a new talk show tentatively titled, “Tisha & Tichina Have Issues.” The two will host from their homes, and provide frank discussion about personal issues and current events, and feature special celebrity guest appearances from their industry friends, according to “Entertainment Tonight.”
There’s no air date for the show as of yet, but Campbell said she is excited to work on the project with her best friend.
“Tichina and I have worked together and known each other so long…we finish each other’s jokes!” Campbell said.
She added, “I’m happy that me and my bestie will have the opportunity to create and enjoy a platform where our audience can get intimate with us — and when our celebrity guests come through, they can bring on a friend so we can all get to know them in a more fun, open and candid way.”