Tasha Smith, Michael Jai White reunite in new comedy

Tasha Smith and Michael Jai White star as married couple Angela and Marcus in “Tyler Perry’s For Better or Worse.” — PHOTO/QUANTRELL COLBERT

They captivated audiences in the Tyler Perry feature films “Why Did I Get Married?” (2007) and “Why Did I Get Married Too” (2010), and now the outrageous Tasha Smith and the suave Michael Jai White, who once shared a real-life romance, are reunited on the small screen in “Tyler Perry’s For Better or Worse,” premiering on Friday, Nov. 25 with back-to-back episodes at 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on TBS.

Produced by Tyler Perry Studios and based on the “Why Did I Get Married?” films, “Tyler Perry’s For Better or Worse” follows the ups and downs of marriage and dating. According to the network, the show centers on Angela (Tasha Smith), the owner of a successful beauty salon, and Marcus (Michael Jai White) her husband of 13 years. Marcus is a former professional football player who has recently partnered with Richard Ellington (Kent Falcon) and Joseph Jetson (Jason Olive) on a new sports news program called “C-Sports Now.”

Marcus’ business relationship with Richard and Joseph is complicated by the fact that Richard is dating Keisha (Kiki Haynes), Marcus’ ex-girlfriend and the mother of his teenaged daughter. In addition, Joseph’s girlfriend, Leslie (Crystle Stewart), a successful real estate agent, is Angela’s best friend, which sometimes makes it difficult to keep their business and private lives separate.

Co-stars Tasha Smith and Michael Jai White were recently in Philadelphia to promote the show, and Smith returned to her hometown of Camden, New Jersey to address the students at Camden High School as well as the city’s Creative and Performing Arts High School before stopping by the Philadelphia Tribune offices to discuss their involvement in Perry’s latest project.

The two actors, who are obviously very close, could not be more different from one another, with Smith, who happens to be an identical twin, being quite animated and demonstrative, while the serene White is a man of relatively few words.

“I had known Tyler Perry from ‘Daddy’s Little Girl.’ I worked with him on that, and then he had created ‘Why Did I Get Married?’” Smith explained. “I wasn’t supposed to be in ‘Why Did I Get Married?’ He had other plans for the Angela character, and then by the grace of God, it came around to me. He was trying to figure out the whole cast thing and he called me up one day and was like, ‘Oh my God! I know who Marcus is! Do you know Michael Jai White?’ And I was like, ‘Do I know Michael Jai White? Do I know Michael Jai White?’ He ended up having Michael Jai come in as Marcus, and it was the best decision he could have made for both of us.”

White added, “I had worked with him on the original pilot of ‘House of Payne.’ He had financed ten of his own episodes, basically to get that deal, and so I was part of that. That’s the first time Tyler and I worked together. I was in a couple of episodes, but those were never seen by the public. Once the series got picked up, I came back and reprised the character in the airing episodes.”

Smith states that the success of the “Why Did I Get Married?” series inspired Perry to continue the theme on the small screen. “I think he just fell in love with Marcus and Angela, and he wanted a show based on the movie ‘Why Did I Get Married?’ He just chose to spin it off of those two characters,” she said. “I had talked to him first actually and he had said, ‘Do you think you and Michael would want to do this?’ And I was like, ‘Can I call Michael right now?’ And I called Michael, really hoping and praying that Michael wasn’t off in China somewhere filming a movie, ‘cause he’s always in Bangladesh, China or Romania — all over the place! I called him and he was like, ‘Okay.’ He thinks about stuff and I be ready to go!”

The drama begins in the series premiere with a physical confrontation between Angela and Keisha, and White promises varying degrees of the same in upcoming episodes. “You can expect a whole lot of truth and familiarity. Those of us that have those baby mamas out there, and you’re trying to make it all work, you gotta expect some fireworks.”

Smith, who is clearly in love with her character and her new TV family added, “She’s loud and she may be in your face, and some people may have assumed that Marcus may have been a weak man because she’s always kind of running things. But in reality, Marcus is really the stronger of the two because he’s the one that’s not reactive. He knows how to keep control over his emotions and not fly off the handle every time he gets a hunch about anything. I really celebrate Marcus’ character because he’s a man that knows how to show restraint and balance and calm. If everybody was going off the handle, what would that be? And we don’t want to see no man that’s all emotional and losing control every five minutes. Who would respect that?”   

While “For Better or Worse” definitely has its comedic moments, White hopes that his portrayal of Marcus will impart a powerful message to viewers saying, “Here’s the thing for me with Black males. You don’t see behavior of a father and husband being necessarily rewarded. It’s just a pervasive thing in the Black community, especially within males, in our own tribal solidarity, the player, the lady’s man — that is the thing that is so encouraged. I feel until other men step up and say, ‘Hey. That’s not the way. Maybe you shouldn’t get this chick on the side. Just because you can get away with it, don’t mean it’s right, or right for your life.’ And I think that’s something that has had a snowball effect in our relationships for so long. A lot of times it’s only until men get much, much older that they realize that it’s just a lot of wasted time and dysfunctional behavior. So I would like for men to see the alternative to honor, and what real manhood — being a Black man is about. And it’s not necessarily how many women you get. This is something that the Marcus character really is learning — that family is the most important thing.”

 

Contact Tribune entertainment reporter Kimberly C. Roberts at (215) 893-5753 or kroberts@phillytrib.com.

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