Is she truly evil, totally bonkers or just misunderstood? Tika Sumpter stirs it up plenty on the Tyler Perry sudser The Haves and the Have Nots (Tuesdays at 9/8c on OWN) as Candace Young, the gold-digging hooker — excuse us, gentleman's escort — who is bedding and blackmailing Judge Jim Cryer (John Schneider). The former One Life to Live and Gossip Girl star gave TV Guide Magazine the lowdown on her down-low character.
TV Guide Magazine: Turns out, Candace is the gal fans love to hate. Were you worried this character might have backfired?
Sumpter: Yes! I was so scared the audience wouldn't like her at all. But, in my mind, Candace is not a villain. [Laughs] She's just a girl on a mission who takes advantage of every opportunity!
TV Guide Magazine: But does she have a heart? Weren't you even questioning that on Twitter?
Sumpter: [Laughs] Yes, I was! But I believe she does have a heart where some people, like her brother, are concerned. You don't yet know all about her crazy background or why her mother is so afraid of what Candace will do next. Sometimes desperate situations call for desperate measures. The interesting thing about Candace is that her cards are always on the table. I wouldn't call her sneaky.
TV Guide Magazine: I hear you also wouldn't call The Haves and the Have Nots a soap. Did I read that somewhere? Or did I dream it? Either way, it's nuts. Of course, it's a soap!
Sumpter: The script, to me, is not soapy. We move way too quickly for that. The daytime soaps ponder on one storyline forever. Two weeks later you're still at that same party.
TV Guide Magazine: How'd you get the good news from Tyler Perry?
Sumpter: I created my own audition reel, with my sister reading the other lines, and sent it off. Then one day I got a text from him saying, "I just saw your tape. Holy cow! I'm sending it to Oprah right now!" Soon after that there was a text from Oprah saying, "I can't see anybody else in this part!" And so they offered me the role. I can't tell you how it feels to have these powerful moguls believing in me. It's just crazy!
TV Guide Magazine: Anyone think you might be a little like Candace?
Sumpter: [Laughs] People are suspicious! My friends are going, ''Oh, my God, Tika, we thought you were so sweet. You're playing Candace a little too well."
TV Guide Magazine: There's been criticism that your character presents a negative image of African-American women. Is that fair? Or is this a breakthrough of sorts? It seems African-American actresses rarely get to play the badass.
Sumpter: It's true! I think most people write from what they see in their own world, which is maybe why we so often see an African-American woman as the best friend, or the one you bring in when you need some sass. It's like we're put in a box. When I was on One Life to Live I always wanted to delve into my character, Layla, to find out why she was the black sheep of the family. I so wanted to have some edge. I have no idea why there was a reluctance to do that or why we so rarely see it. I guess you'd have to ask the writers.
TV Guide Magazine: Since you're now a big star on OWN, are you hanging with Oprah?
Sumpter: You know what? For years Oprah was pinned up on my dream board — now I'm working for her, sitting with her, eating with her! She's been awesomely supportive, not like those people who just sort of nod and don't really listen when you talk. Oprah cares like a family member. Whenever I'm with her I'm, like, "Tika, be cool." But it's so surreal! I mean, a year ago, who would have thought?