WHEN TICHINA ARNOLD HOPPED ON THE video call, she was in a parking structure in Century City messing with a boot. No, not a DMV boot, but an orthopedic one. Social media followers of Arnold (and you are legion) know that the star—who gives such verve to Tina Butler on the hit sitcom The Neighborhood—has been recovering from foot surgery. (Her path to healing gets a nod at the start of Season 3.) “Hold on one second, one second—I’m getting the boot,” she shouts to someone honking for no good reason. She waves said boot. “I never thought I’d be so excited about a goddamn boot,” says Arnold, adding with a laugh, “I’m trying to get my sexy back, or at least half of my sexy back.”
Arnold, 51, has spent more than 30 years working in television and film. The Queens, New York native started acting at 11 and hasn’t had many lulls since. She did soaps (Ryan’s Hope), sang and danced (Little Shop of Horrors), and played pivotal roles in two popular comedies that were part of the surge in Black television programming: first as Pam, Tisha Campbell’s bestie on Martin, and a few years later as mom Rochelle on Chris Rock’s critically appreciated Everybody Hates Chris. Now she’s bringing no small amount of smarts and sparkle opposite another comedy luminary. Cedric the Entertainer (an executive producer on The Neighborhood) portrays Calvin Butler, who’s vexed—and over time kind of charmed—when small-towners Dave and Gemma Johnson (Max Greenfield and Beth Behrs) and their young son settle next door in a predominantly Black neighborhood.
How long have you been in L.A. now?
I’ve been here since 1991. I moved here right before I did Martin and ended up staying.
To say the least. You’ve been doing television for nearly 30 years. What’s changed for you and what’s changed in television?
A lot has changed in the industry, period. Television definitely became more open, more racy, a little more real. If we did Martin now and we were able to say what we wanted to say, it would be a completely different show. Back then we had a censor, this guy named … what was his name? He used to come and count the “damns,” count the “hells.”
What drew you to The Neighborhood?
What attracted me initially were two things: being able to work with Cedric and, I’ve been on great shows, but this was a wonderful opportunity to finally be on a major network. CBS didn’t have a whole lot of Black folk, so I was happy that CBS was being a lot more open to having more color on the network. That, to me, showed television was definitely changing. It’s not just a Black show. You have a lot of inclusivity. So I was like, “Yeah, I want to be part of this.”
It’s crazy you haven’t worked with Cedric before.
It’s bananas. We have all the same friends.
The Neighborhood has such sweet cast chemistry. Is it as good asit seems?
Everybody is just really good. Everybody’s like their characters. Creator Jim Reynolds had Tina all mapped out. But when I came and read for the role, he saw other things. So I’m appreciative of that, because Black women, we’re not just one thing. We have so many facets to us. Every time I open the script, there’s always something new about Tina that I learn, which is fun. Jim will ask me, “Tichina, do Black women do this?” And I’ll tell him abso-frigging-lutely-not. You see her flaws, and Cedric makes sure of it.
Where do you overlap with Tina?
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