Of course you’re widely known for your role as Tommy Strawn on the hit TV series “Martin.” The show has essentially never been off the air despite ending almost 20 years ago. To what do you attribute its ability to sustain with audiences after all these years?
People always come up to me and say, “Hey, man, I know somebody just like y’all!” So many people will say, “Man, they call me Tommy!” or “My friend crazy like Martin.” I get everything: “I got friends that’ll come over my house and eat up everything just like y’all do!” I think folks can identify with every one of these characters. We know a Cole: someone who has great fashion but they’re not the sharpest knife in the box. We know a Tommy like: “Wait a minute…why does he have so much influence? I don’t even know what the hell he does for a living!” We all know someone like Martin, especially in Chicago. [laughs] They’re just loud and crazy and they pretend to be hard but they have great, big, loving hearts. But you know at the same time, like the people of Chicago, they won’t allow anyone to take advantage of them. They defend themselves like a Martin. We all know women like Gina and Pam who are strong sisters, working hard, doing well in corporate America and still having fun and enjoying themselves and enjoying life. So, I think the key to its success is how familiar these people and their lifestyles are to everyone. That’s what makes it special. They’re familiar.
I know you’ll be in Chicago to do a theater workshop but what is it that you love about the city?
I think Chicago is rich in culture. I see a lot of people there, particularly folk of color, doing amazing things. Another thing I love most about Chicago is its progressiveness. It’s moving, you know? It’s like a movement . . . full of brothers and sisters who are not sitting around waiting for change, but are making change. I love the resiliency of the city. So much culture as far as the art and artists and music and even the churches. Chicago has a lot to offer on many levels as it relates to culture in my opinion and that also includes the arts and business and things of that sort. It’s a very well-rounded city.
Tell me about the A Taste of Theatre festival. What can attendees expect?
It’s interesting because I tell folks all the time that going through my workshop I can’t guarantee you that you’ll win an Academy Award. But I will guarantee you that the same individual that walked in won’t be the same that walks out. It’s so amazing how individuals, particularly actors, spend so much time trying to portray a character, but we spend more time invested in hiding who we are individually. A real actor does not pretend to be someone else. An actor becomes someone else. How do I become someone else when I am afraid to portray myself? So in order to do that I have to have a cleansing and take a realistic examination of who I am in order to give an honest portrayl of who someone else is. So that’s what the workshop will focus on: taking a look at self. You don’t have to pretend to be someone else because you have a life experience in your hard drive. So we will pull from real life experiences that will make them tangible and honest and real so that you’re not pretending to be someone else. You’re simply pulling from what’s already in your hard drive in order to help that process.
You do a lot of charity work and community-based activities. Is giving back something you feel you make a conscious effort to include in your day-to-day routine?
I believe that you should give back to your community, period. There is no level that is required to gauge on when to give back to what has been given to you. I believe giving is what we are born to do. We are born to give. There’s a speech by Dr. King where he said, “I’m not talking about the level I’m on. Stop talking about the awards I’ve won. Here’s what I want you to talk about: I saw the hungry and I fed them. I saw those who were naked and I put clothes on their back.” A young lady recently said to me, “I wish I was a kid again!” I said, “No you don’t! If you remember, you are an adult a whole lot longer than you are a kid and there’s a reason why. You begin your life constantly needing. You need someone to feed and clothe and educate you, but when you get order that dichotomy changes and you become the one that feeds, clothes, and educates.” So, it’s not about waiting to get to a certain level. There’s a natural maturation, I believe.
What’s next for Tommy Ford?
God has been so good in blessing me to stay busy. So many amazing things happening right now. I’m currently working on set doing a guest spot on Brandy’s new show for BET called “Zoey Ever After.” I also have web series happening now called The Club. I recently did a festival run in Miami and another festival in Atlanta called Kingdom Wood Christian Film Festival. I had three projects in there: Conflict of Interest, Switching Lanes and a film with a Christian comedian named Broderick Rice called Klownin’ In Kansas. I’m on the move, man. I also travel around the country doing my acting workshops, which are designed not only for helping actors, but also individuals. I have teachers and schools and corporations who hire me to come in and do faculty and employee development. It allows them to look within themselves to raise their performance level. I’m also doing lots of motivational speaking at different churches and schools across the country. I also have written children’s books. I’ll be reading my books to kids while I’m there. Every town I go into I make sure that I take time to be with kids. And with all the projects and other things that keep me busy my most important job is that I’m a dad. I love being a dad. When I’m not doing all these other things I’m hugging and loving on my babies.
For more information on Tommy Ford, please visit www.tommygotajob.com
A Taste of Theatre Festival and Workshop will take place Oct. 9-10 at Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep located at 250 E.111th Street in Chicago, IL. For more information on A Taste of Theatre please visit www.atasteoftheatre.com