Tina Lifford: One of the Faces of ‘Queen Sugar’

tina-lifford-pic1With the return of Fox television drama “Empire,” the premiere of “Queen Sugar” has become a new breakout hit on Wednesday nights. As Fox gathers post-teen viewers through the tales of the Lyon family drama, Queen Sugar has created an audience of 25-54 viewers — predominantly female viewers who have set the same course of tuning in faithfully as they did for ABC’s ”Scandal.”

Set in Louisiana, the storyline revolves around the three Bordelon family siblings who inherit their family land after their father’s death. Each sibling copes with personal conflicts in their individual lives while wrestling with preserving their father’s legacy of rebuilding the family sugar cane farm.

The matriarch of the family is Aunt Violet, played by veteran actress Tina Lifford, who shapes the role as the glue that holds the loyal and sometimes volatile relationships among the siblings together.

Just recently, Lifford was in Chicago and the Chicago Defender had an opportunity to discuss her new role in “Queen Sugar,” personal journey and native roots to the Chicago area.

Having starred in the critically acclaimed Fox Network series ”South Central”, Lifford is no stranger to being a part of a great ensemble cast. But, she does admit, “Queen Sugar” is like no other production she’s been a part of in her professional career. Unlike “South Central” lasting for one season and tackling serious fact-based stories in a fictional world, the network did not take a chance to order another season, thus ending its run.

Not the case with the new OWN production. Lifford says, “I always start with something greater than the rest of us because to be honest, in order for Queen Sugar to be what it is, it had to have a home. In order for someone to be in the position to look at this seemingly Black family, Black story and greenlight it, it had to be someone who had a sensibility about storytelling and about African-American culture,” she said. 

Tina Lifford plays Aunt Vi (Photo: Courtesy of OWN)

The brainchild of acclaimed film director (Selma, 13th) and Executive Producer, Ava DuVernay the series has become a breakout hit and the talk of Black Twitter and Facebook, drawing a loyal female audience. Loving what they saw, OWN ordered Season 2 before the debut of Season 1 even aired.

Lifford grew up in Evanston, a northwest suburb outside of Chicago. The family eventually moved to Los Angeles in her senior year of high school, where she began to adapt to the possibility of taking on acting as a profession. She says it was the encouragement of her parents that allowed her to believe where there’s faith, there’s a will. 

“My mother and father are definitely rooted people — rooted in faith although they weren’t churchgoers. My father was a champion of possibilities. He absolutely gave his children the sense that we could do anything that we wanted if we wanted it,” she laughs. “My mother thought God had actually stopped making kids once he made hers.”

Throughout the years, Lifford has taken on dramatic to comedic roles in familiar television shows and films. 

It Stars With an Idea

Although she’s had her struggles combating the highs and lows of Hollywood standards both as a female and an African-American actress, she says for most people it starts off with a desire and idea of the career that one wants.

“I’ve been frustrated through my entire career. I call it ‘divine frustration.’ It is the frustration that keeps us doing whatever we got to do to make the adjustment to see if maybe this angle or this positioning will work — without that frustration which makes us double down and get even more commitment.” 

One of her proven strategies of success has been to write down her dreams in a journal with passion and specificity.

“Although, it has not been necessarily proven by research, I have consistently found when I care about something enough to write it down on paper, it’s the first thing in the universe that exists. It becomes like a magnet. When I go back to read it, it regrounds me in what I want. If I am frustrated, or if I am feeling like I’m getting further away from the dream than moving towards that. Reading that passion, dreaming on paper–reading that arouses me to regroup and get hopeful again,” Lifford said. “I’m always working on myself. I’m writing. I am producing. I am always working on keeping my dream alive.” 

queensugartvShe has developed a signature of workshops derived from her monologues. “My expertise in what I have labeled ‘inner fitness,’ which is really inner health and well-being strategies and practice. I have over the last 30 years dedicated myself to understanding how the interior ‘us’ works.”

Lifford believes years of preparation have prepared her for being a part of the cast of Queen Sugar. She credits the show’s visionaries,Ava DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey.

“There is no question that those two ladies are committed to excellence. No question. There’s an excitement in that because we all pull one another up. Every single actor on that show is pulled up by the other actors because we all want to bring our ‘A’ game. We all want a win for OWN,” she said.  “OWN can be a game changer in revolutionizing the images of people of color, revolutionizing the interactions with the world.”

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