Tatyana Ali (2009) Interview

When I first met Tatyana Ali years ago during a photo shoot, she candidly told me that she was impressed at how familiar people were with her – not purely in the sense of celebrity recognition, but also in the way that friends and family are familiar with each other and behave in ways that strangers do not.  She realized that her several years on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air – and, more recently, The Young and the Restless – had brought her into the living rooms of millions of people. In many ways, she had become a friend to everyone who watched. She had become family.

So watching Tatyana Ali as she advances in her career, moving seamlessly between film and television and even finding time to record a few albums is marvelous and swells the heart with pride. She is the overachiever we all wish we were. It comes as little surprise then that Ali has taken her first steps into the world of Producers. “It’s kind of a natural fit,” Ali says between sips of coffee. We’re sitting at a wooden bench table just outside a coffee shop in Studio City on a chilly evening. “I’ve been doing this since I was four.” She laughs when she adds up the years. “I just want to see things get made.”

It’s obvious that years of experience in the entertainment industry on multiple sets make Ali a seemingly perfect candidate for a producer. “I know what goes on, on a set like the back of my hand,” she says, but it’s obvious that there was a learning curve. “What was new for me was the detective work involved…finding financing and getting it distributed…figuring out the financial model – how to make it sustainable. But those things were so much fun.” Her eyes light up when talks about knocking on a million different doors until the right one opened, allowing her to discover a new world to enjoy. “I like…being able to fight for a project and convince people it’s what people my age would like to see.”

The project is a Web series called Buppies, which is short for “Black yuppies” and this series will represent Tatyana Ali’s debut as a producer. Fans will be pleased to know that she’s also starring in it. “[Buppies] is about five friends living in Hollywood – more specifically Black Hollywood – so it is somewhat of a comedy. It’s about their friendship, their loves, their relationships….”

While the stories and plots are fictional, a good portion of Buppies rings true for Ali. “I relate to the characters. They’re people I know. My character, Quinci Allen, is the daughter of a fictitious film star, like a Sidney Poitier…who passes away…. [Quinci]’s left with nothing. During the course of the story, her friends – these four wonderful people that are in her life – are actually her family. I think a lot of young people are in that situation after college. We sometimes move to different cities we’re not from and we create our family with our friends.” Ali spoke more about Quinci. “Really well-rounded character. Really refreshing not to have to be a girlfriend or a best friend and play someone who’s really multi-dimensional.”

The other characters in Buppies also have interesting nuances and intriguing stories, like Quinci’s best friend, Priscilla (Robin Thede) who’s going through relationship issues, which will no doubt mirror Quinci’s. There’s also Kourtney (Chante Carmel), Quinci’s childhood friend. “The best way to describe her,” Ali says, “is if Suge Knight had a daughter it would be Kourtney. She’s gangster.”

The men in the cast are Shaka (Ernest Waddell) who works as an investment banker that moonlights as a rapper. “Much to his friends’ dismay,” Ali adds with a giggle, “I know a couple of people like that actually!” The final member of the principal cast is Eliot (Preston Davis II) who is one of the more endearing characters for Ali. “He’s actually battling with his sexuality and none of his friends know it. That character especially is really important to me and really important to the story because it’s never been treated this way as far as a young African-American male who is bisexual. [His story] is treated with a lot of love and a lot of care and I think that’s important…. It’s something that needs to be talked about.”

Viewers will be able to leave comments directly on the site and be able to interact with the cast. “One of the things I really like about [Buppies] being on the Web is the immediacy of it and seeing what people write. Whether they like it. Whether they hate it.” Ali describes the initial comments to the Buppies trailer in a single word: “Amazing!”

Tatyana Ali’s enthusiasm for the show and her new role as a producer is overwhelming. Even when she rattles off a laundry list of obstacles she had to overcome, she does so with a smile on face. “I feel like this is a transitioning time. It’s easy to talk about some things, but it’s hard to talk about other things because I haven’t really synthesized it yet. Buppies was a real labor of love. “

Buppies premiers on BET.com November 24 and will have an initial run of 10 Web episodes.

Tatyana Ali Headshot
Tatyana Ali Headshot