Tasha Smith
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Tasha Smith is that rare actress who has been holding it down in the entertainment industry for quite a while now. The NAACP Image Award nominee—perhaps best known for her portrayal of Angela in Tyler Perry’s hit television show For Better or Worse—has been working as an actress for two decades. She has appeared in films—including Daddy’s Little Girls and Why Did I Get Married?—and critically acclaimed TV shows, like Boston Common, The Tom Show, Chicago Hope and The Steve Harvey Show.

Her breakout role came on HBO’s Emmy Award-winning series The Corner, as Veronica “Ronnie” Boice, a drug-addicted woman trying to survive on the tough streets of West Baltimore. Smith’s stellar portrayal of that character opened the door to Hollywood, and she hasn’t looked back.

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Most recently, Smith has earned roles on two of television’s most popular shows, Empire and Power. On Empire, Smith plays Carol, the naive, impressionable, substance-abusing baby sister of Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) and Candace (Vivica A. Fox). Carol is quite a departure from the roles that have led to a perception that Smith has been typecast, and she’s “loving the ability to be creative” and show what she can do on the small screen.

The Root caught up with Smith upon her return from Botswana and South Africa (Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban), where she was conducting free acting workshops for Tasha Smith Actors Workshop, to talk about surviving in Hollywood and life.

The Root: What has it been like working on Empire?

Tasha Smith: Honestly, I have more people coming up to me talking about Cookie’s sister, Carol, than I have had people coming up to me talking about Angela and Marcus [Why Did I Get Married? and For Better or Worse]. It’s crazy how people are addicted to Empire. It’s like an entertainment drug. People are “team Empire” all of the way, and for me creatively, it has been such a blessing because I feel like I’ve been kind of stuck creatively. I’ve played the Angela character for so long that having the opportunity to be able to play Carol and to play a different tone creatively feels good.

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For me to also be able to work with Taraji, Terrence [Howard], Jussie [Smollett], Gabby [Gabourey Sidibe], Trai [Byers], [Empire co-creator] Lee Daniels, and the writers and different directors of the show, it has been a creative dream. It has been like going to my favorite restaurant and eating all of my favorite foods. I am so fulfilled working on that show creatively, and I’m having the best time ever!

TR: What makes playing the character of Carol a “creative dream” and a “blessing?”

TS: I love the fact that I don’t know what the hell they’re doing with Carol. I don’t know from one moment to the next where the writers are going; so each time I play her, it’s a surprise. I have to trust that I don’t know where the character is going, because I can’t go on where the character is going to end, because I don’t know. It is trusting the writers and directors within the actual moment [of filming] with the information you have.

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I love how unstable Carol is. You don’t know what she’s going to do. Is she on drugs? Is she not on drugs? Is she going to relapse or is she not going to relapse? Is she going to run her mouth too much? Is she not going to run her mouth too much? She’s the most unstable character ever, and I don’t know what the hell is going on with her, and I love it!

I love the relationship between her and Cookie. It’s that sister relationship that we all go through. You want to be able to prove yourself to your family, and you want to do better even though you’ve made a lot of mistakes. Cookie wants to love Carol and support Carol, but she can’t take the crap that Carol keeps going through. Cookie gives Carol that tough love.

TR: Speaking of tough love, you went through a horrible breakup last year. What has life been like following that major life event?

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TS: After I went through the situation I went through a year ago—finding out the person I married was a complete con artist—after going through the trial and being granted the annulment, it was a big shock to my system. So my whole goal at this point in my life is to really have fun, to enjoy myself. Enjoy who I am, travel.

Up until this point, I was so focused on feeling like I had to start a family and be in a relationship, which made me very vulnerable to that relationship. I’ve learned I don’t have to have one relationship to validate me as a woman. I don’t have children. I may never have children. If I choose to have children, they may be adopted. Who knows?

At this point as a 45-year-old woman that loves herself, I am enjoying life. I am traveling because I always wanted to see the world. I’m enjoying my sisterhood friendships around me with friends like Tisha Campbell-Martin and just have a freaking blast. The traveling is contributing to me personally, spiritually and creatively.

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TR: You have been traveling and recently returned from a trip to Africa. Tell me about the Tasha Smith Actors Workshop and what you did there.

TS: TSAW, which I started about 10 years ago, is something I’m in love with. As far as community service, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s like my church—the church of acting. I’m passionate about doing TSAW tours. I go to different cities and I teach acting workshops and seminars.

The reason for my trip to Botswana, Cape Town and Jo’burg was to teach an acting seminar there. I had over 100 students who came out from Cape Town, Jo’burg, Durban, and they spent a whole day with me. I taught eight hours straight and I did it for free because I wanted to give back to the acting community in Africa. It was a blessing and a beautiful thing.

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Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., a media scholar, is digital editor in chief at Grady Newsource and a faculty member of the Cox Institute of Journalism, Innovation, Management & Leadership at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. She is founder and editor in chief of the award-winning news blog the Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter here or here.