If anyone could rival the number of careers Barbie has taken on through the years, it might be Tyra Banks.
She’s had turns as a model, an actress, a TV show creator, a producer, a host, a singer, a teacher, an author — feel like a slacker yet? But actually playing a Barbie-like doll, again, is what has fans of a certain generation feeling like that wish they made in 2000 has finally come true.
Banks will reprise her role as Eve, a doll that comes to life, in “Life-Size 2: A Christmas Eve.” The original TV movie, which aired on ABC before reruns made the rounds on the Disney Channel, starred Lindsay Lohan as a young girl coping with the death of her mother with the help of Eve. The sequel, which premieres Sunday on Freeform, revolves around Grace (“Grown-ish’s” Francia Raisa), a curmudgeonly 20-something CEO of the company that manufactures the Eve dolls. The walking, talking doll Eve teaches Grace to embrace life and love. It’s all part of the network’s popular 25 Days of Christmas programming cycle.
It’s been nearly two decades since the original “Life-Size.” What was it like to play Eve again?
I'd been working on the script with the Disney Channel, and later with Freeform, for about five years, so I've been with it a lot longer than a lot of the public is aware. It was just very exciting for me. I studied with a coach and really wanted to make sure that I didn't play [Eve] as a caricature and that I maintained a lot of the things that people liked about it in the beginning. But I wanted it to be a lot funnier. I wanted to make sure that it was speaking to the audience that had grown up with the original. And that's why we decided to put it on Freeform instead of Disney Channel, because we realized that the audience that was so obsessed with “Life-Size” is now grown up and they even have kids.
Lindsay Lohan isn’t in the sequel, but the movie finds a way to honor her character. What do you remember about working with her?
She really wanted to be in the movie. For months, we were texting back and forth. And then she got this MTV show [the reality show “Lohan Beach House,” due in 2019] and she was stuck in Europe. Working with her when she was young was so much fun. Her whole family was there. So it's really weird for me to see her brother, or Cody and Michael [Jr.], and Ali, her sister, as adults now. They're frozen in time for me. In Vancouver, on weekends, we would go to my hotel room, and we would pop popcorn and watch movies on the floor in my hotel room.
As for Lindsay, she knew her lines. She was super professional. I remember, she would have to go to school all the time. And sometimes she would kind of be dodging the teacher, it was like a game for me to find her hiding behind a cupboard or something. I'd tell her to go to class. I remember it like it was yesterday. When I run into her today, no matter where it is, I see that little girl.
Who was your Eve growing up?
When I was growing up there was a news anchor. Her name was Angela Black; she is this beautiful African American woman. And I just was obsessed with her, seeing this black woman in this prominent position giving the news all the time. I was, like, "Oh, my God, I'm obsessed with this woman." She was like a living doll, but an intelligent woman because she wasn't just reading the news; she would ad-lib a lot. And me, being 9 years old, I could see that she wasn't just reading. I ran into her in the grocery store about 10 years ago and we had this beautiful moment. I have other heroes like Walt Disney and Oprah. But if you really think about Eve, for me [Angela Black showed me] that anything's possible.
What helped you during those low points of self-hate or self-doubt when you were growing up?
I found solace in books. Even in the grocery store, adults would stare at me [because of my height and weight] in a very rude kind of way and I'd just put my face in a book. It's probably one of the saddest times in my entire life, to be honest. I didn't understand why I was so thin. I was stuffing myself with food.
How do you pull yourself out of those moments now?
I look at memes, and different sayings on social [media], and I'll screen-grab them on my phone. Sometimes I need that. My dad sends me motivational quotes every other week. And I don't know what is going on with him, but it always is the right thing I need to hear at that moment. There are days when it's crazy ... I might be having a really tough day, and I’m exhausted and my son is screaming. Maybe there's a business thing that didn't go the way I wanted it to go. And I have to get off social media because I'm looking at curated lives and it's making me feel bad with the type of life that I lead. Imagine what it’s making a 15-year-old girl feel like?
I tell people, as you scroll through social, listen to what your body is feeling like, listen to what your mind is feeling like, what your heart is feeling like. Because there is a certain addiction to all this social media. I have a love/hate relationship with it. And there's a part of me that really, really loves it. And I get entertained by it. It helps me. You know, waiting for food in a restaurant and having something to scroll through. But if somebody's making me feel bad, you've got to unfollow. Sometimes you can't even understand why they're making you feel bad. But just unfollow. That should have been a line in the “Be a Star” remix.
Let’s please talk about the remix of that “Life-Size” theme song.
The lyrics are really important. I was talking about different body types, talking about not dulling your shine, about claiming what's yours. I feel like so many women dull their shine to make people feel more comfortable, make their friends feel more comfortable, make their significant others feel more comfortable. Don’t do that. Like, shine bright.
You could teach a class on this. And I actually did want to ask you about your experience co-teaching a class at Stanford on personal branding. Is it something you want to do more of in the future?
I love teaching; I think it's something that I really want to focus on when I do a bit of retiring from entertainment, at least, on camera. I get so much out of it. And I use a lot of the entertainment [background] that I have to keep it very engaging. But it's, yeah, it's one of the most gratifying and actually fun things that I do. And we grade papers and all that stuff; it's really cool.
How important is it to create those spaces or lean into those opportunities? And to create them for those who come after you?
I have to. I create. That's what keeps me going. A person that, like, sits by the phone and waits for it to ring … if that had been the case, I would have been a retired model and living in Bali or something. I love Bali, by the way. I'm just saying I love creating things, being in a creative meeting or a business meeting more than I love being on camera. It fuels something inside of me.
OK, we started with a fan favorite, “Life-Size,” making its return. What’s the status of another favorite: “America’s Next Top Model”? You returned last season as host after fans demanded it. Is another season on the horizon?
I can tell you I have a phone call today about it. That's all I can say.