“The woman is stalking me!” laughs Tasha Smith on reprising her role of Atlanta beauty salon owner Angela Williams in Tyler Perry’s latest TBS sitcom, “For Better or Worse.” The sitcom’s first season concludes tonight with a pair of episodes airing on TBS starting at 10 p.m. With his latest show, Perry departs from his usual laugh track-laden, family-oriented fare to target older viewers with some serious relationship challenges stirred into the laughs.
At the center of the show are Angela and Marcus Williams, the hilariously dysfunctional couple from Perry’s pair of “Why Did I Get Married?” movies. Over the years, Smith has become a member of Perry’s unofficial repertory acting company here in Atlanta, starring in multiple films, episodes of TV’s “Meet the Browns ” and an unforgettable turn as Idris Elba’s ex-wife from hell in the 2007 Perry film, “Daddy’s Little Girls.”
But Smith’s hilarious portrayal of Angela, the successful, razor blade-tongued business woman and mother trying to hang onto her ex-NFL player husband Marcus (played by Michael Jai White), all while masking her vulnerabilities that the fans love best.
“I go out and people want me to yell “Marcus!” for them,” Smith recalls with a throaty laugh. “And then they want to know if I still have the password to his cell phone (a plot complication in 2010’s “Why Did I Get Married Too?”). “I have to tell them, ‘First of all, Marcus ain’t my real husband. He’s my TV husband. There’s a difference.”
When Perry approached White and Smith about reprising their characters for TBS, Smith had one reaction: “This is gonna be fun! Wow, I can live vicariously through her every week! Oh, yeah. Angela is gonna shut those ho’s down for good.”
In the pilot of “For Better or Worse” alone, Angela throttles her son, threatens her stepdaughter and throws down with her husband’s sexy ex-wife who becomes a major complication in Angela’s marriage. “Isn’t that something?!” laughs Smith says. “Is Angela what every woman wants to be or what?”
One of things that attracted Smith to playing out weekly doses of Angela on the small screen was the opportunity to deepen the character with writer-director Perry (who, not surprisingly, helmed all 10 episodes of the first season). “Considering that we’re able to explore their lives on a weekly basis is amazing as actors,” Smith says “We get to really see them handle their lives, their family, their relationship, their household and their careers. There are so many additional dimensions you get to explore in this format that you can’t in a 90-minute feature film with an ensemble cast. You’re not just going to see Angela sparring with Marcus. You also get to some of the reasons why this woman is like this. You’ll see her insecurities and her fears and her needs. It’s a great gift to be able to explore that depth.”
Smith says she doesn’t fear a multi-year, potentially 100-episode commitment to playing Angela, thanks to the dedication Perry has demonstrated in deepening the couple for television. Says Smith: “We would get together on weekends to do script break downs and to discuss where Angela and Marcus are going now. This is how passionate this man is about the work. He’s so helpful, so hands on. He really spends time with his actors as a collaborator. The fact that he wrote and directed us in all ten episodes of this first season is astonishing to me. I don’t even think he’s human. He might be an alien from outer space. The man is just brilliant.”
On set in southwest Atlanta, Smith says Perry never brings the accelerated pace of producing a weekly TV show into the process. “He’s patient. He’s intuitive and his gut is fantastic. He hears things you don’t hear. He says, ‘Why not try this or try that?’ You feel like you’re in [acting] class and filming, all at the same time. We’re in great hands with him, we really are.”
In 2007, when Smith climbed into Angela’s stylish stilettos for the first time on the set of “Why Did I Get Married?” the actress recalls a great piece of advice Perry gave her that continues to inform her portrayal of Angela. “He told me, ‘Allow her to be who she is. Do not try to apologize for the kind of woman she is. Just be committed to it.”
In the film, Smith had the unenviable task of lobbing a verbal hand grenade into the film’s now-famous dinner scene. She admits the prospect of playing someone initially that unlikable was a challenge. “I remember being really upset about that,” she recalls. “On a personal level, I didn’t want her to be the one who cheated, but Tyler told me, ‘This is the kind of woman she is. This is how she gets back at her husband. Be OK with it and don’t judge it.’ I was too busy worrying about people liking her and I wasn’t as focused on her truth. Tyler just said, ‘Trust me, trust me!’ I did, and it ended up being one of the biggest moments in the movie. Now, when Tyler says ‘Trust me,’ I listen!”