With almost 20 years as a working Hollywood actress, Tina Lifford has more than made her mark in the industry.
Over the course of her career, Lifford has achieved a number of notable accomplishments, including being the first black female series lead (since Diahann Carroll) in the critically acclaimed half-hour series “South Central” on Fox, portraying the iconic Winnie Mandela in the Showtime biopic “Mandela and de Klerk,” and starring as Mama Haze in “The Temptations Story,” one of the highest grossing made-for-television movies in history. Lifford has appeared in more than 90 television shows and films opposite industry legends such as Sidney Poitier, Danny Glover and Bruce Willis just to name a few. Notable television credits include “Single Ladies,” “Lincoln Heights” and “Criminal Minds.”
In addition to acting, Lifford has recently penned a book titled, The little Book of BIG Lies, and managed to become somewhat of a trailblazer in the world of personal development. She founded a lifestyle brand called The Inner Fitness Project in an effort to make the pursuit of inner fitness as common and well-understood as physical fitness. From her study of spirituality, psychology, personal development, and good old life experience, Lifford has distilled her research into something known as The 14 Practices of Inner Health and Well-Being.
How did you get your start as an actress? Is it something you always wanted to do?
From the age of about 8 to maybe seven years ago, acting is the only thing I wanted to do. I still love it after all these years and expect to act until I die. However I have developed an equal passion for what I call Inner Fitness. As an activist for inner health and well-being I am working to make the concept of Inner Fitness as common as physical fitness. We need both in order to live healthy lives. Inner Fitness means mental, emotional and spiritual strength and flexibility.
As to how I got my start as an actress: Before director Bill Duke broke into directing he was one of my acting teachers. He told me often that my talent was bigger than the 9-to-5 job that I had settled for. He knew I was scared of jumping into acting because I was concerned about being able to make a good living. I had financial goals and dreams that were important to me, and being a starving artist did not fit into the vision I held for my life. When Bill started directing he hired me to do one line on the nighttime soap Knots Landing. This allowed me to qualify for my Screen Actors Guild card, which helped me to get an agent and to start going out on auditions. All the studying I had done prior to getting my Guild card prepared me to be able to be successful in auditions. I quickly built a reputation with casting directors as a good actress.
What’s been your favorite role thus far?
I can’t point to one role. I have enjoyed every role I’ve been cast in. Each experience lives in me fondly for different reasons. I particularly liked working with Clint Eastwood because of his leadership. On his film Blood Work my workday was never longer than seven hours. In this business it is easy to work 16-hour days. I also hold the movie Grand Canyon as a favorite experience because it was my first big movie. I was working opposite A-list actors like Danny Glover, Alfre Woodard, Kevin Kline and Steve Martin. When I used to dream of the kind of roles and films I wanted to be in, working with Lawrence Kasdan was on the top of my list. His film The Big Chill represented everything I wanted to experience as an actress: being part of a talented ensemble cast, great writing and directing. When my agent called me to say that he had offered me a starring role in Grand Canyon I knew then that having a dream, writing it down, and working to be ready when it happens are all prudent steps in building the life we most want to live. Of course working with Sidney Poitier in the Showtime movie Mandela and DeKlerk is a fond memory because … well it’s Sidney Poitier! And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention The Temptations Story. This is a movie that people still stop me on the street today and enthusiastically talk about. I’m told The Temptations Story is one of the most viewed made for television movies ever.
Have you ever passed on any projects that in hindsight you regret?
Michael Weithorn (Executive Producer) called me soon after South Central was cancelled and told me he was going to be doing another comedy and he wanted me to be a part of it. I told him thank you but I was more interested in building my career in the drama world. I regret that short-sighted decision. I love comedy. I think I’m funny. But if I’m totally honest, I think that when Michael asked me to do the show I said no because I felt more comfortable in drama. Comedy was a little scary. That decision taught me to always say, “Yes!” to opportunity, particularly if good people are involved. I also learned to first check-in with myself and make sure that fear isn’t making my decisions. Sometimes fear can dress itself up to look like a sound choice, but if I’m willing to look more closely I can determine if fear or freedom is making the decision.
Currently you’re on NBC’s hit series, Parenthood. Tell me about your character Renee Trussell?
I love Renee. She has strong principles that she lives by. Some may see her as overbearing, or pushy. This is not how Renee sees herself. As the actress playing her it is my job to build a back-story that justifies my character’s behaviors. I’ve decided that Renee was emotionally hurt by her ex-husband—Jasmine’s father. She loved her husband and there was nothing she wanted more than for her marriage to work. When it didn’t, she packed away a part of herself because of that hurt. Now she doesn’t have the full balance and life she deserves.
What’s the Inner Fitness Project?
Much like physical fitness builds core strength and muscle, I define Inner Fitness as the knowledge, skills and practices that build mental, emotional and spiritual strength and flexibility. The Inner Fitness Project is my lifestyle brand that helps people train their Inner Fitness so they have the inner strength and flexibility required to live a successful and happy life.
You’ve also recently added author to your résumé. Tell us about The Little Book of BIG LIES. What inspired you to create the book?
My brother died of a drug overdose. My father was challenged his whole life by an undiagnosed learning disability and a painful childhood betrayal by his mother. I had an experience with stage fright that I had to learn with great effort to overcome. Learning to move beyond what I call the hurts, dramas, traumas, upsets and disappointments that we encounter in life is difficult work. I believe society would be happier if our Inner Fitness got the same kind of attention we give to physical fitness: engage practices and exercises that strengthen and help people navigate their inner challenges. I like to say that physical fitness creates a great body, and Inner Fitness creates a great life. The Little Book of BIG LIES is a compilation of 14 stories about the kinds of lies we “swallow” in our lives. Lies like “I’m not good enough,” or “This pain will last forever.” These lies unexamined become a part of who we are. We tell ourselves these lies, and the lies rob us of freedom and joy. The Little Book of BIG LIES offers simple exercises that help us cough up these lies and live more empowered joyful lives.
What’s your creative process like?
It’s taken me a long time to know the answer to this. I used to expect my process to have clearly delineated steps. Today I know that creativity is often spontaneous. I don’t have a set time during the day to BE creative. My creative flow can hit me while hiking my dogs, washing dishes, or in my dreams. If I had to define my process it is this: 1) Acknowledge my inner thoughts and yearnings. 2) I trust that these feelings are directives; 3) I take some sort of action to support the manifestation of these yearnings; 4) I trust that the project or direction I am to take will define itself as I keep taking action; 5) I try not to doubt; 6) I never give up; 7) I assume that every twist or turn on my path is part of the process and never judge any part of it as wrong; 8) I live my life like the whole experience is an exquisite adventure; 9) I practice gratitude by saying thank you out loud often; 10) I have family, friends, and I have other forms of inspiration in place that help me stay optimistic and hopeful.
How do you use social media to your advantage?
I’m a work in progress when it comes to social media. I’m just now beginning to understand its importance. You can checkout my current Twitter or Facebook page. On Twitter I’m @tinalifford, and on Facebook my Fan Page is The Inner Fitness Project. You will clearly see that I’m just stepping into the social media arena. If you like what you see there let me know by liking my page, and making a comment or sharing one of my posts.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
That’s easy. I am proud that I love myself enough to do the kind of work that assures I live a healthy inner life. I am proud that I walk my talk. My relationship with family–all four generations–is my greatest treasure. I make sure I invest in quality communications to keep these relationships strong, and I am blessed with great friendships as well.
Who inspires you?
I am inspired by the I can spirit, whether I encounter it in a child who is determined to figure something out for him or herself, the person with scars (both visible and not) that doesn’t let their scars stop them, or even the homeless person who still dares to dream, and against all odds transforms their life. Anyone who lives their life with this kind of courage and determination is my hero or she-ro.
Any favorite affirmations?
At The Inner Fitness Project we define every human being as innately Creative, Resilient, Empowered to choose, Whole, and Worthy. I love this as an affirmation. Imagine saying this to yourself in the face of any challenge. The best part is this affirmation is irrefutable. Every single one of us is indeed creative, resilient, empowered to choose, whole, and worthy. We are each born this way.
What do you do to unwind?
My three dogs and I hike about four times a week; I have developed my own mindfulness practice that I do twice a day; I laugh often; I see my family members weekly and our time together is always full of playful kibitzing or meaningful conversations; and, even when I am being serious I don’t take myself, or life too seriously.