Essence Atkins was born in New York City on Feb. 7, 1972. Between her innate sense of comedy and girl-next-door charm, it makes sense that she has become one of Hollywood’s most sought after talents. Last year, she played a lead role in Dance Flick, a spoof of the dance genre produced by the Wayans Brothers.
On the UPN comedy series “Half & Half,” she starred as Dee Dee Thorne, a privileged, honor-roll law school graduate searching for her identity. Still, Essence is probably best known for her role as Yvette Henderson in the syndicated Disney series “The Smart Guy” and for her recurring role as Marnie on “Sabrina, The Teenage Witch.”
Atkins’ film career includes the title role in the independent film Nikita’s Blues and she delivered memorable performances in Love Song, How High and Deliver Us From Eva.
As a familiar face on four TV series and with numerous screen roles under her belt, Essence is a versatile talent whose star continues to rise. Here, she talks about co-starring opposite Terry Crews in “Are We There Yet?,” the hit sitcom airing on the TBS Network.
TBS has recently ordered an additional 90 episodes of the series following this year’s highly successful first season. The series ranked among cable’s Top 10 new series for the quarter, averaging 2.8 million viewers and 1.5 million adults 18-49. It also scored as the No.1 show on television in prime time delivery of African-American adults 18-34 and 18-49 for the second quarter.
Kam Williams: What interested you in playing Suzanne on “Are We There Yet?”
Essence Atkins: Just the desire to play a mom, wanting to play someone actually closer to who I am and where I am in my life. People are used to seeing me play the single, hot girl, which has been fun, but at the same time, this role is more akin to my natural proclivities.
KW: I know you got married a year ago. Congratulations! You sound like you might be planning to have children soon.
EA: We’re in the practicing phase. I keep asking the coach to put me in the game. So, we’ll see.
KW: Did your friends think you were crazy for marrying a man you met on the Internet?
EA: Yeah, they did think I was nuts. Everyone was like, “Why do you need to meet someone on Match.com?” My response was, “I certainly don’t need to meet more of the same broke, acting class guys that I’d been dating my whole life.” I needed to change that whole paradigm. So, I decided to meet some corporate guys and see how that worked. So, I went on Match, but I didn’t put a picture up, because I’m on television, and I didn’t want anybody contacting me for the wrong reasons. So, I had to do the hunting, as it were. I didn’t anticipate meeting my husband online, but there he was. And it all worked out!
KW: Were you at all intimidated by the fact that “Are We There Yet?” had first been a hit on the big screen and that your character had been played by Nia Long?
EA: Of course. It was an established franchise with fans, and any time you step into that it’s a bit overwhelming. But Cube has been great, and so encouraging and supportive not only playing my big brother but as an executive producer, at least when he’s not completely intimidating as the godfather of gangsta’ rap. But, no, he gives us the freedom to do what we need to do, and his sanctioning has definitely helped.
KW: And what new are you bringing to the character, Suzanne?
EA: It just gets deeper, because the storyline is really about the new family and the new journey. Six months into the marriage you get to see her cope with all these different agendas. Besides the fact that she’s been a single mom and raising these two kids by herself, all of a sudden it dawns on her that she has to incorporate someone else’s way of doing things. And that’s the source of a lot of the comedy.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
EA: Sure, where do I want the seven-figure wire transfer sent? That’s a good one that nobody’s ever asked me. Seriously, I do want to clear up that my husband is not a dirty old man. He’s only a year older than me, despite the grey hair. Let’s clarify that, and that I’m not related to Tia or Tamera . I did play their real brother’s sister on “Smart Guy,” but there’s no relation. What else? Yes, my middle name is Uhura after Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek. And I was probably conceived in a roller skating rink, but I don’t really want to talk about that.
KW: And where did the name Essence come from?
EA: My mother was convinced she was having a boy, so she only came up with boys’ names. Thankfully, my father came up with an alternative, otherwise you’d be interviewing a Jeff Atkins with a very high voice.