Tamala Jones Interview: ABC's "Castle" Star on the Traumatic Day Her Life Changed Forever
Image attributed to Bobby Quillard
Tamala Jones portrays the sassy, sarcastic medical examiner Lanie Parish on the ABC drama series Castle, winner of the 2013 People’s Choice Award for “Favorite TV Crime Drama.” Castle stars Nathan Fillion as Richard Castle and Stana Katic as Kate Becket who is Dr. Lanie Parish’s best friend.
The talented actress is also known for her roles in the films Booty Call, The Wood, Kingdom Come, The Brothers and Two Can Play That Game. Other television appearances include California Dreams, Dangerous Minds, For Your Love, The Tracy Morgan Show, One on One, Veronica’s Closet, My Name is Earl and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
"My head was pounding like no headache I’d ever felt before. I thought, 'What is wrong with me?' I looked in the mirror, and five seconds after looking at myself, I just passed out on the floor … hit the floor hard, and I was out. I don’t know how long I was out, but I remember hearing a voice, which was me telling myself, 'Get up, Tamala, right now!' When I got up, I didn’t have any feeling in the right side of my body at all."
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Tamala, I love Castle and Lanie Parish, but I want to see more of her!
Tamala Jones: You’re going to see more of Lanie. I have some pretty intense scenes coming up. The fandom is going crazy. They want to see more Lanie and Kate Beckett scenes. Creator Andrew W. Marlowe is talking about next season, so I’m getting hints that there will be a Season Six, and Lanie’s going to have more airtime.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Perhaps to better explore her relationship with Esposito.
Tamala Jones: Yeah and find out why Lanie is such a commitment phobic!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): We also do not know much about Lanie’s family background.
Tamala Jones: I think that’s something that Andrew can explore next season because we have to know some of Lanie’s background. All we know is that she’s a medical examiner, she’s in love with Esposito and that she is a commitment phobic. We don’t know why. I’m thinking maybe she had a husband at one time, and the husband cheated. I don’t know what it is, but that’s clearly up to Andrew.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you ever crack up around all of the fake blood and dead bodies?
Tamala Jones: No, but it’s so funny because they offered for me to go to a real morgue and talk to a medical examiner and go through the process. I was like, “No thank you. I’m okay.” I’ll stick to the fake stuff (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is it difficult to remember the medical jargon?
Tamala Jones: Yes, but I have such a great cast and crew. They’re very patient with me. The other day, I had to say something about a chemically synthesized weaponized agent organic compound whatever really fast (laughs). It took lots of takes for that (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You mentioned Season Six. Has that been confirmed?
Tamala Jones: There have been some whispers, but we don’t have a confirmation. The network kind of plays it by the book. Sometimes, they’ll tell us at the end of the season and say, “Okay, you guys are coming back,” or like last season, make us wait until they made the announcement. I’ve been hearing some whispers from the producers like, “Next season, we want to …” So they know something. They’re just not saying it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It’s quite a milestone for a series to do 100 episodes. Was it emotional filming the 100th one?
Tamala Jones: Oh, very emotional. We celebrated with a cake cutting ceremony before lunch. There were tears of joy, and everybody was excited because we all have dreamt about being on a show that lasted to 100 episodes.
Molly (Quinn) and I have really bonded throughout the years, and she was crying. I understand that because she grew up on the show. So it was a very emotional day, and then we went off and had lunch of steak and lobster and had to go back to work (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Molly is an exceptional young actress.
Tamala Jones: She’s an awesome young actress and an extraordinary young lady. We have ladies brunches at The Four Seasons, and we talk about boys and men, just all the girl stuff (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you filmed the season ender?
Tamala Jones: Yes, and it is a doozy!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Be a little more specific (laughs).
Tamala Jones: They might kill me for that. I’ll tell you this. You’re not going to be expecting anything you see. It is full of mystery, and the energy in the level of performance is so exhilarating and exciting, your neck is going to snap back! You’ll need a neck brace after watching it (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Can’t wait. Has acting always been in the cards for you?
Tamala Jones: I love acting. I started when I was 14 and have always wanted to do some sort of acting. I used to imitate people on TV or dress up like different characters and go into my mom’s room at 1:00 in the morning. I’d have my brother’s clothes on, paint a mustache on with some eyeliner and be like, “Yeah, yeah baby. Let me get your phone number.” I was just always doing crazy things. My parents would say, “We’ve got to get her out of here!” So they put me in workshops, and from there I just started working.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Sounds like comedy was in your blood from an early age.
Tamala Jones: I have always been a comedic actress. I have just ventured into doing more comedy because if you can’t show all sides in Hollywood, they think you have only one side. I didn’t want to get stuck or be stereotyped or typecast in any way. I wanted to show that I’m capable of doing both. But I love to laugh, and I love to make people laugh. It’s just fun.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You are the spokesperson for the Brain Aneurysm Foundation. Tell me about what happened to you.
Tamala Jones: At the age of 23, I was a series regular on the show for the CW (then the WB) called For Your Love. I was also recurring on ER and Kirstie Alley’s show Veronica’s Closet and running around shooting movies. I barely rested or ate properly and ended up suffering a brain aneurysm one morning. I didn’t know what it was. I got up and had no balance. I was walking on my toes, and I felt like I had to urinate really badly. I got to the bathroom and nothing came out.
My head was pounding like no headache I’d ever felt before. I thought, “What is wrong with me?” I looked in the mirror, and five seconds after looking at myself, I just passed out on the floor … hit the floor hard, and I was out. I don’t know how long I was out, but I remember hearing a voice, which was me telling myself, “Get up, Tamala, right now!” When I got up, I didn’t have any feeling in the right side of my body at all.
I called my boss and told her I had to go to the hospital because something was wrong. Because it was the last day of the season, she told me to come to the set, and they’d have a doctor look at me. They gave me some Tylenol, which I had taken earlier. I still didn’t know what was going on. My arm was stuck in a position as if I was offering my hand to someone to maybe help them in some way. They asked me to move my arm, and I couldn’t do it. I had to work all day because I had three scenes to shoot. There were purses and jackets in those scenes to camouflage my arm.
I went to the hospital after work, and the doctor at Cedars-Sinai who was a neurologist could not believe I was alive … walking, talking or doing anything. He told me I had suffered a brain aneurysm and that it had already burst. They did a CAT Scan and MRI, and the doctor saw that it was on the left side of my brain and was about the size of a 50-cent piece. He allowed me to go home and wanted me to come back the next day to run more tests.
The doctor told me to take it easy, and I didn’t (laughs). I left the hospital and went to Bed Bath & Beyond because I had just moved into this new apartment. But I ended up falling out in the store and having a seizure. It was a hot mess. My parents came to get me and took care of me. It took about three months to heal from al of that. The doctor told me that once the blood dried up, I’d get the feeling back in the right side of my body. Once I did, I went back to work and acted like it never happened.
I was ashamed because I was so young going through something like that, so I never really expressed out loud to anyone that it happened to me. I didn’t want people treating me differently or feeling sorry for me, and I didn’t want to mess up my career. I felt like if Hollywood knew I had this, they wouldn’t allow me to work because I would be a risk. So I hid it for as long as it took me to get past it. Then I started hearing stories about other people around my age that actually died from brain aneurysms, so I felt like if I began talking about it and the symptoms, I might could save a life or two.
I had my PR Company on a hunt for two years looking for a foundation or charity I could get involved in, and they found the Brain Aneurysm Foundation who had been looking for a spokesperson. I said, “I want to be her. I think I can help you guys out. I have a very intense story.” I wanted to be proactive in this and make people aware of the symptoms so they wouldn’t wait as long as I did to seek help. They would know what they were feeling wasn’t right, and they could go to the doctor to get it checked out immediately.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): If you’ve had it once, is there a chance of recurrence?
Tamala Jones: Definitely. I’ve been told that your body, mainly your brain that operates your body, is like a computer. The body remembers trauma and everything else, and there could be a repeat. So I’ve changed my life. I don’t over exert myself with work anymore. I don’t take on a bunch of projects all at once, and I am no longer a fast food junkie (laughs). I eat well and take care of myself and get the amount of sleep that the body needs because let me tell you, if you don’t let the body rest, it will shut down on you.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): In addition to regular checkups, are those the preventive measures?
Tamala Jones: Yes. Basically cutting out stress and enjoying a healthy lifestyle, getting rest and definitely getting checked out. It’s good to go once a year and have them do a MRI and CAT scan if you’ve had an aneurysm before. For people who have not, it’s good to get a CAT scan once a year just to make sure everything’s okay. Sometimes we bump our heads, and you don’t know if that did something to your brain or not. Our heads are extremely sensitive. You just have to be careful.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Absolutely. Do you remain fearful that it will happen again?
Tamala Jones: I have gotten over that. I live every day like it’s my last one on earth. I have lots of fun. I laugh. I make sure I live right. I do go out and have a martini every once in a while (laughs). I live a little bit. I’m not afraid of that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I read that you are an excellent chef.
Tamala Jones: Well, I love to cook, and people love to eat my food. I can tell you that anytime I bring my Mac and Cheese to a party, it lasts five minutes on the table, and it’s empty. Many people cook collard greens with meat, and I don’t. It has a completely different flavor. Even people who normally don’t eat collard greens love my collard greens.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What makes your collard greens different?
Tamala Jones: I have a lot of vegetarian friends, so I like to put in (it sounds weird) chili pepper, a little paprika, a little salt, lots of pepper, crushed red chili peppers, chicken broth or vegetable broth. I put a little bit of Louisiana Hot Sauce in there, a little bit of vinegar and some chopped onions. My secret ingredient is a little circle of molasses. It is so good.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): If you could just mail me a package of your collard greens, that would be great (laughs). Any upcoming projects, Tamala?
Tamala Jones: Right now, I have a film that has been doing very well in the film festivals. The title is Things Never Said, and I shot it two years ago. I’ve been told that our movie will be the feature during the whole BET weekend in LA this summer, so I’m really excited. It has been well received, but I’m not clear on the theater release date.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Tamala, best wishes for continued career success and good health. Hope to see more of Lanie on Castle!
Tamala Jones: I’m definitely going to relay that message to Andrew!
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