I went to the BET Upfronts last month where the network presented its upcoming roster of shows and developments. Somehow in the midst of it all I wound up at the after party where I ran into several actors who will be featured on upcoming scripted BET shows including RonReaco Lee (who you may remember from Sister, Sister fame, and is now on BET’s Let’s Stay Together). Lee (who I hope to interview next), is too cute for his own good and was kind enough to introduce me to one of my favorite actresses, Anna Maria Horsford, who is largely recognized as Thelma Frye from the hilarious sitcom, Amen, and “Craig’s mom” in the classic movie, Friday.Horsford was not only nice enough to grant me an interview, but she called me and invited me to her Harlem digs to talk! After I got through jumping up and down in my little apartment, I made my way to “Harlem World”. We sat down for what was supposed to be an hour interview that turned out to be five hours of talking, laughing, crying (me, LOL!) and “spilling the tea”! Horsford revealed herself to be not only a talented actress, but the kind of woman who can be a friend, mom and soothsayer all rolled up into one! We talked about her career, life, love and Chaz Bono?
Horsford, a native New Yorker raised in Harlem, is what you call a working actor. This woman has maintained a consistent presence in television and film for three decades; impressive for any actor, but particularly for a black actor as we all know the pickings for roles for African Americans can be slim. We’ve seen her on hit shows like Entourage, Grey’s Anatomy, The Bernie Mac Show, Judging Amy, The Wayans Bros., and of course, Amen, among others. She’s also been in numerous films including the aforementioned Friday, last year’s Our Family Wedding, Minority Report, The Nutty Professor-The Klumps, Set if Off, and one of my favorites, One Fine Day. The list goes on.
She got her start in the New York Shakespeare Festival, but prior to that was always trying to find a way to express her creativity. As a little girl she had a lot of artistic energy; apparently more than her mother could stand! “I don’t know what I could have done to make my mother so upset with me, though I did like to play with knives and climb up ladders,” Horsford explained (while I cracked up). She went on to tell how she cut her brother’s hair when he was four. (Um, this may have been the straw that broke the back.) So Horford’s mother put her in an after-school program to give her daughter a creative outlet. “And that was the day I discovered myself,” Horsford explained. Having found her joy, she went on to attend the New York High School of Performing Arts, (now known as The Fiorello La Guardia High School of Music & Art And The Performing Arts-that’s right the Fame school!)
After graduating Horsford entered a Harlem based cultural arts program, HARYOU-Act . She entered the program in 1964 upon her sister’s recommendation. “I had just graduated and I said ‘Why did my parents let me go into performing arts?’ I resented them because I wasn’t qualified to do anything, majoring in acting. I couldn’t type that well,” Horsford recalls. She described the program that not only paid the participants, but featured training in acting, singing, dancing, journalism and more as, “The best of life.” The experience helped her realize that, “There is life for an artist.” Horsford also mentioned notables such as Kareem Abdul Jabar, and director Neema Barnette as being reflective of the kind of talent and success that came through the curriculum. After Horsford told me where she polished her acting skills I asked her if she ever struggled as an actress.
“It’s always a struggle! I still struggle!” Horsford explained. I was surprised to hear that because she’s worked so steadily over the years, but suspect she was being modest.
I wondered how Horsford has picked her roles because she’s typically played strong women, except for Thelma on Amen, who I felt developed her strength throughout the show. Horsford disagreed and felt that, “Thelma was always strong. She stayed home with her father after her mother died and made sure he was okay.” Horsford also believed that Thelma's relationship with her father provided a necessary image to the black community stating that above all, “Thelma was loved by her father.” Horsford went on to tell a story about an interview she’d done with a young black woman from Ms. Magazine while on Amen.
The writer didn’t want to interview the star, but when she finally conceded she asked the actress how she felt playing the “loser” on the show. (Wow!) Horsford offered her natural empathetic and insightful response and asked the woman, “Are you the loser in your family?” After a tearful confession, the young writer’s demeanor softened and they wound up having a great interview. And that is who Anna Maria Horsford is-truth. (I find it wise not to come into her presence if you’re not ready for authenticity!) She also demonstrated this authenticity and strength when she battled for the salary increase she was promised while on Amen.
Horsford got a call from a lawyer who asked her if she was serious about this fight, implying that she should be afraid of the consequences from going up against legendary talk show host Johnny Carson, who owned the sitcom. Horsford replied, “There’s one thing in life I’m afraid of.” The lawyer asked, “What’s that?” Horsford answered, “Being on the cover of the Enquirer without my hair done because those people in Harlem will talk about you like a dog. So I gotta go now. I got a hairdresser appointment.” Horsford got off the phone with the lawyer, went to get her hair done and subsequently won her battle for her salary increase-and many others in life.
After Horsford and I talked about everything from 80’s cult movie classics, to crazy relatives, to the ups and downs of love and life, she expressed the attitude she’s had toward acting and the feeling it’s given her. ”Every time I got a job I was lucky. I never said I have to do this, or I have to do that (regarding roles that may have earned her even more accolades)…Acting for me was a space where I felt alive and I was the most powerful person in the world.” Possessing a humility that comes with the gratitude of discovering one’s purpose as well as the individual power within that revelation may be the secret to Horsford’s success.
I was super excited to sit down with Horsford and again thank her for her graciousness. To see us talk more about her upcoming role on BET’s Reed Between the Lines, click here . The earrings Horsford is wearing in the photo and video are from her own jewelry line, AHM Collections! To see more of her artful pieces, click here .