Q&A; with Kim Fields : Growing Up, ‘Living Single’ : ‘I Didn’t Want to End Up Like People Who Didn’t Make It’


The facts of life for former child actors are not pretty.

Most never make it back to center stage again, relegated forever to cheesy reunions and cable reruns. The public and the industry refuse to accept them as adult artists. We can grow up. They can’t.

But Kim Fields, who played Tootie on NBC’s “Facts of Life,” which ran from 1979 - 88, has made it back. She earned a degree in telecommunications from Pepperdine University in 1990, and, three years later, landed the part of Regine in Fox’s “Living Single,” now in its second season. Critics said its characters were too obsessed with male-bashing, but that hasn’t kept the public away. It currently ranks as the eighth most popular show on Fox and the most popular among black viewers.


Fields, 25, has also turned to directing. Her play, “Vanities,” recently appeared at the Complex in Los Angeles, and “Silent Bomb,” her 35-minute short about a black woman with AIDS, screened in town earlier this month.

Fields sat down at a Studio City coffee shop to talk about her return to prime time:


Question: Did you doubt you’d work as an actress again?


Answer: Oh, sure. There were days, weeks and months where you’d come back to your dorm or apartment after classes. You did your papers and go, “Now what?” Then, you start feeling like: Do I still have it? Or will I have it? Are they going to go for your look anymore? Your look isn’t even defined yet.

And, with worry, for some people like me, comes eating. So it was gaining weight, losing weight, gaining weight, losing weight. I even did an endorsement for Slim Fast when I lost the weight.

I didn’t want to end up like the people who didn’t make it. When I look at a cover of People magazine, and I see they’re doing a big thing on “Where Are They Now?” and, nothing negative against the people they mentioned, but I’m grateful I wasn’t part of that article.

Q: How did you get through that period?

A: Just knowing I had something to fall back on helped. The work ethic didn’t just disintegrate. The doubts fueled positive motivation that I needed to learn how to do something else, so I’m wouldn’t be 20 years old and sitting around, waiting for my agent to call. I would have gone crazy sitting in my apartment doing that. I learned how to direct and produce. I got my education, so that validates me. My family and friends helped me a lot.


Q: Was it tough to overcome the obstacles of being black and a woman?

A: I didn’t look at them as obstacles, just non-changing facts. My sex wasn’t changing, my race wasn’t changing. So it just became a part of the package. Even before I did “Living Single,” when I was doing guest-starring work, people were saying I was back. I didn’t go anywhere. What kind of comeback was I making? I didn’t go away for 20 years. I did theater. I got myself together physically. I grew up. I continued to learn how to act. It’s a major adjustment you have to make just in terms of your acting, from being a kid actor to being an adult actor.

Q: What is the value of “Living Single”?

A: We’ve never really had a show like this, where you have six African Americans that are in the work force, not in college, that is not a family unit or a dysfunctional family. The images the show portrays are very positive for women, regardless of race, and for black people, especially young people. We’re professional women. We make our own money.

We’re also dealing with very real issues. Women talk about sex. Women talk about either having a man and the problem with that, or not having a man, and the problems with that, and, yes, it does consume a lot of our thoughts. A lot of times, the guys are misunderstood. You really don’t see professional black men on television.

Q: Why not?

A: They think we’re not consumers. It’s kind of irritating. It’s as if we don’t buy soap or we don’t buy toothpaste. Well, we are consumers. That’s absurd to even have such a thought, or to think that, “Well, that network has one black sitcom, so that’s plenty.” Excuse me. It’s ridiculous that we’re in 1994, and there isn’t still a black drama on the lineup.

Sadly, some people still think these images are unrealistic in the sense that these images don’t exist, like the Huxtables (from the “Cosby” show), as if there was no such thing as an upper-middle-class black family. You go to these main cities, and we’re lawyers and doctors and judges and own multimillion-dollar companies.

Q: Why did your show get criticized so much?

A: I think it was because a lot of people didn’t get it. And maybe out of that frustration, it’s easier to slam it than admit you don’t get it. That, to me, exposed their own ignorance. I was more concerned with what the audience had to say, and they have shown their support. The criticism has died down because the public shut them up.


Q: Why did you do the movie?

A: I knew I needed to get something on my reel in terms of directing. I wasn’t just an actor’s director, nor was I such a technical director I left my actors hanging. I wanted to do a very strong short film. I knew short films did well in terms of festivals. I knew they were a tremendous steppingstone in terms of picture deals. I was ready to play with the big boys.

At 35, I want to be on my estate on a lake somewhere outside of L.A., maybe even outside of California, with my husband and children. I go to church. My studios are running, my pictures are being made. Because I don’t intend on working as hard as I’m working right now. I got kids to have. I’ll have a husband to take care of. I have a church to help build.

* “Living Single” airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on Fox Channels 11 and 6.