She was raw, and she was emotional, but ultimately, she was talented. And that is what won out in the end: Tanedra is VH1’s first Scream Queen! Below, the victorious actress gives us all the dirt she can on her role in Saw IV, talks about the bits of training she was able to sneak in before the show, mulls over defeating the reality-TV stigma and answers accusations of tokenisms that people have thrown at her because of her race. “They auditioned me and they liked me because of my talent not because, hey, let’s get her in here because we need a black…” she tells us. Indeed!
I’m excited. Well, I’m excited and nervous at the same time. Toward the end of the show’s run, sister was losing her mind. I did not think I was going to make it, so when I pulled through at the end, I couldn’t believe it. I felt myself slipping.
Why were you losing your mind?
The stress of everything. Making it down to the Final 4 and then the Final 3 and then wanting to win and then just being in the house and then still wanting to impress James Gunn and then getting to see the Saw producers and knowing I hadn’t been doing a good job on the last few challenges. Everything just fell on me at one time. Every little thing I did after I certain point I thought was wrong. I kept second-guessing myself. It was getting really bad.
You cried a lot.
Honey, I’ve never cried so much in my life. It was really, really important for me to win or at least get far enough. In the acting world, at 28, I’m kind of aging out. This was do or die. I’m not like 21-year-old Michelle who has all these years, or Lindsay who’s 23. Here’s me, the old hag trying to make it at 28. I’m not old technically, but starting acting at 28 is old.
But isn’t that sad? And I saw on your MySpace that you said you weren’t one of the prettiest girls on the set, but that isn’t true.
Everyone had the hots for Michelle, she’s a pretty girl. Looking around at the other girls didn’t take my self-confidence away, but I did feel like I wasn’t one of the hotter girls there. I came to that conclusion during the judgings because they would always say how much the camera loves Michelle or how beautiful Lindsay’s eyes were or how beautiful Sarah’s this is or Kylah that. When they got to me, it was always, “Tanedra, you’re believable.” I wondered, God damn am I pretty? I figured in the end that I wasn’t just their cup of tea.
What’s the deal with Saw VI? When do you start shooting? What’s it about?
I haven’t heard anything yet. I heard something about pre-production starting in February or March and that it’s going to be filmed in Canada. But that’s about it. They haven’t gotten in contact with me, so I assume they’re going to do that soon, now that the show is over. We have no idea what the role will be like. I heard a rumor that the way the role was written would depend on who won. I guess they’re just waiting to see what the winner is capable of pulling off.
Are you a fan of the series?
Yeah. I’d seen the original and Saw II, but I hadn’t seen the rest until Scream Queens. I like mind-game stuff, so it’s right up my alley.
What about horror in general. You a fan?
I wouldn’t say I’m a fan. I watch them, definitely. Child’s Play is my favorite horror movie of all time. I’m not a buff. I’ve seen people online whose names and MySpaces are all horror. Definitely not that deep.
Is there a genre you prefer to work in?
I like drama, and I would love to do action. Blow me up, throw me from a plane, let me jump off a building. No sappy love stories, but definitely comedy, too. They didn’t show any of my fun side on Scream Queens. I just seemed so serious and blah on TV. I am not nearly that boring. I was telling my mother that watching me on this show is like watching paint dry. I can’t win for losing. People wonder why I’m so boring, but if I wasn’t boring, I’d be loud and obnoxious and then I’d be what? The loud ghetto girl.
Do you think your lack of acting experience was a strength ultimately?
Well, let me clear this up: when I called myself inexperienced, I meant as far as formal training was concerned. I’ve never had theater training, I never went to conservatory schools. I’ve taken some commercial classes and a comedy class. But nothing that has to do with theater or performing arts. I’ve done two plays, but I have acted. It shouldn’t come across that I woke up one morning and said, “Hey! I wanna act.” I’m what I call a “professional auditor.” If you want to check out an acting school, you can attend a class for like $20, sitting in the master class for three hours with the teacher. That’s what I did. I would find the best classes and just take extensive notes because I knew that’d be my last time at that class ’cause I wasn’t about to pay $500! I did what I had to do to get the little bit that I got. John Homa would always ask me where I pulled it from when I’m acting. Sometimes, my childhood but normally, I don’t know where I pull it from. It just comes out. You know how people say, “Oh, I went to a dark place and…?” I don’t do that. It’s hard to explain.
It sounds innate.
That’s what Shawnee would tell me: “Your instinct is crazy.”
When did you start pursuing acting?
Around 2006. I did a few music videos years ago, but I quickly learned that wasn’t what the hell I wanted to do. All that booty clapping and t**ty shaking I knew had nothing to do with what I was trying to do with my life.
You wrote on your MySpace about being worried about entering the reality TV world.
Ninety-one percent of my TV viewing is reality, so I know how people look at you and not take you seriously. I didn’t want that to affect me trying to get work. Like, “This is the girl from the reality show? Next!” But after some physical shaking from my mom, I came around. She said, “Think about it. It’s an acting competition. You’re not trying to get with Flavor Flav. You’re not looking for a man. This is something you want to do, and each week people will get to see you act.” I had actually called the producers the night before I was supposed to go to the set and told them that I didn’t want to do it. The next day, they called me and talked me into it.
What was your take on all the racial discourse?
I think there was so much of it because there was only one black person. That’s where the whole “token black girl” thing came in and that’s what really pissed me off. I think what people latched onto was when I said, “It’s my talent, not my color.” I had to go on the message boards to clarify that. They auditioned me and they liked me because of my talent not because, hey, let’s get her in here because we need a black. Lina didn’t help things with her “Soul Trains” and “Naomi Campbells” and all that.
What was your take on all that?
Lina is a big jokester. I’m not prude, I’ll laugh at racial jokes. I think she took it too far, and because she thought that’s how she’d be labeled anyway, she kept at it. She gave [the editors] the bullets for the gun. But she’s not a racist at all. We talk two to three times a week. Everybody in the house was friends. Generally, we all got along, and even more after the cameras were off. There are no enemies.
Another thing is that I didn’t want it to seem like I was struggling for all the black actresses. Don’t get me wrong: I love it when little African American girls write me to tell me I’m their inspiration, but I want to be an inspiration for everybody. There are a lot of people of all kinds out there who don’t have a chance. Who don’t have a resume or training, but innate ability. That’s who I want to represent.
Do you worry about the “token” talk being just a taste of what you’ll face in Hollywood? There’s even that horror-movie cliché that the black character always dies first.
I’m just trying not to think about that. I just want to go in there, do a good job and hopefully they’ll see past that.
What do you see happening for you beyond Saw VI?
I’m getting my stuff together now. I’m starting on new headshots and working on my resume. I need representation, too. I don’t have an agent or manager, but I thought I should wait till the show stopped airing so people could see my work. And now I have a demo reel, so I’m getting ready to send that out, too. But I’m open to anything: sitcoms, soap operas, anything.
Well, I hope that it works out for you. You have the talent to break free of the reality-TV stigma for sure.
I’ve been wondering if I’ll be the exception. There are reality people who do well after their shows but then fall off. I want to keep going. I want to be the one who does succeed. I think that’s where my drive is coming from right now: I wanna be that one. I have to be the one.