MovieWeb talks with the actress about her work on the show, what she's doing now and no longer being known as 'Tootie'
With accolades like number 23 on VH1’s list of “100 Greatest Kid Stars,” one might think that Kim Fields would be happy just to have accomplished so much at such a young age.
They would be wrong.
Working in TV since she was 8, Kim Fields is very well know for the role she played as Dorothy “Tootie” Ramsey in the hit coming of age show The Facts of Life. However, unlike some of her peers Fields has gone from being a former child star to a respected, adult actress. With roles on such shows as 227 and Strong Medicine, Fields has also branched into other areas of the entertainment industry like writing, producing and directing.
MovieWeb recently sat down with Kim Fields to talk about the upcoming release of Living Single: The Complete First Season. This is yet another show that the actress was in which had a long run (five years) and allowed her to even direct a little bit. During our interview she displayed all the attributes one might expect from someone who has accomplished so much.
What was it about the Regine Hunter character in Living Single that made you want to play her?
Kim Fields: There were a lot of layers to Regine and when you’ve been blessed to do different projects, at time in my career I was doing a lot of theater, you just look for projects that are going to challenge you. Especially if it’s in the same genre or medium that you’ve already been so connected to like sitcoms and half-hour comedies. I really liked the fact that she was one thing on the surface but then you kinda dug deeper, she had all these other elements to her. At that time again, there was not a show like Living Single. So it was really exciting to be a part of a project where it was bringing some integrity to black characters, black women... so there were a number of factors involved.
You’ve done shows like The Facts of Life, shows like Living Single and throughout your career you seem to have done roles that bring integrity to those kinds of characters. Did you set out to do this or did it just work out this way?
Kim Fields: No. Sometimes I think it’s just kind of how it shakes out. I don’t intentionally look for positive images or role models, my first goal is, again as an actress, what’s going to challenge me? Conversely, I did a movie for television where I was a killer. (Laughs) So it’s not always positive in my work. Again, the first choice for me is what’s going to make me stretch out in my craft?
How did you get cast in Living Single?
Kim Fields: Well, actually I ended up doing a meeting with Yvette Lee Bowser, because I was coming off tour with doing a play and looking at doing another series. I wanted to do a romantic comedy and I knew Yvette’s work from Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper and A Different World, so I knew what her track record was as a burgeoning producer. So I talked to her about my idea and she said, “Well, that’s really nice but I’m kind of already committed to doing this other project and I think you might be really great for this.” And that’s how I came to get involved with the project.
What’s it like being part of a show like Living Single that has a five year run? Or, a show like The Facts of Life that runs for nine years and ends up becoming a TV institution?
Kim Fields: Well, at the time you don’t realize it, you know? When you’re involved with something and you’re right in the midst of it, you don’t realize the hit that it’s going to be. You have your goals that you set aside from wanting to do great work and be challenged as an actor, you of course have the business goals which is “Do a hundred episodes. Get in syndication.” That kind of stuff.
So it’s more or less in hindsight. As you start reflecting on different things that you’ve done and been a part of. With that in mind, being a part of those shows, granted, at the time it was just a lot of fun, because the six of us really truly enjoyed one another. We were fans of each other’s work before we started working together. We had absolute instant chemistry from day one. The pilot didn’t feel like a pilot. We didn’t feel new to each other. It was just a lot of fun and again, the only thing that you did realize in the midst of it was that you’re doing something that’s not been done yet.
In hindsight it’s a blessing, is the best way that I can put it. It’s a blessing to be a part of television shows that were, to a certain extent, staples in a lot of people’s lives and as far as their entertainment lives. So that’s very fulfilling, you know? The challenge of course becomes making sure that the industry, the public, the media doesn’t get stuck there as if each project is your final destination. As opposed to a stepping stone. It’s an element that’s a part of the journey. Those are the things that you design a career... that you look at.
I was actually wondering that... I am a huge fan of The Facts of Life but was it hard breaking out of the “Tootie” character?
Kim Fields: I guess it was. What helped me, I think, was that I really had a very specific and physical metamorphosis. When you’re 20 you’re not 9, you know? So you just look different. Because I had taken time out, I didn’t jump right into another series, I took my time to do theater, to really expand my craft as an actress, as an adult actress, so that I wasn’t just some cute kid who could spout one liners, but taking the craft very seriously.
I think to that end it certainly helped and all that sounds really great, but the bottom line too is that I know I was very blessed, and I continued to be very blessed, that I am a former child star and now a very successful and working adult actress. I’m not just considered a former child star. I’m not considered a black actress. I’m not considered an actress. I’ve done roles that were written for men. First and foremost, is God, I definitely believe in Him, having kind of mapped out what my destiny was going to be. Therefore, I wasn’t just going to be put in just that one box or kept in that one place.
Do you keep in touch with any of The Facts of Life cast members??
Kim Fields: Yeah, I mean, all of my castmates from various projects that I’ve worked with, have really been really good people. You can be a really great actor and just be a jerk. (Laughs) I’ve been blessed to work with some good people as well as different actors. So it’s a blessing to be able to have friends who... the friendships are a result of projects that you’ve worked on together.
It’s most especially when you’re doing a project that takes months and then years of your life. You certainly have developed a strong foundation of friendships and things.
I see that you have written and directed some projects. Do you plan to do more of that?
Kim Fields: Very much so. I’ve been directing quite a bit for BET Jazz. I directed a documentary that may get an Emmy Nomination. It’s about the Monk/Coltrane CD... tapes discovered at The Library of Congress. I’ve just completed my second Black History Month Campaign as a director. The first one was for Nickelodeon and TV Land and now this one’s for BET Jazz and BET. I’ve got two television series in development right now and I think two other theater projects, both for me to act in and produce.
I definitely enjoy still working. I’m currently at rehearsal right now actually because I start a tour this Saturday. A six week tour with a play called, Issues: We All Have Them. I’m starring in that so I’m still definitely keeping busy with what I love to do. People often ask me, do you have a preference? I really don’t, you know? I’m very passionate about my acting. I still love acting and for as long as I’ve been blessed to do it, there’s still a lot that I haven’t done. Different characters I’ve not yet played. Different scenarios, situations, circumstances that I’ve not been put into.
As a director I love being able to really be a contributing factor to the overall vision of a project. This spring, I believe, a DVD is coming out that I directed with the saxophonist, Naji. He did a trip to Africa and I produced and directed his first concert DVD and it’s a performance, biography and a tour diary of South Africa. So people can look for that as well.
Living Single: The Complete First Season is currently available on DVD through Warner Home Video.