For the Love of the Craft: An interview with “For Better or Worse” Star Kiki Haynes

KikiHaynes_462Best known as the hilarious Keisha Jones on Tyler Perry’s For Better or Worse, Kiki Haynes has been in love with her craft since middle school. Her relentless pursuit has led her to multiple roles on the small and silver screen, culminating in two hot new releases this year, My First Love and Message from a Mistress.

When she’s not busy in the studio, she’s hard at work giving back to her community through organizations like “HerShe,” which prepares girls in foster care for successful transitions into the adult work. Here, the NAACP Image Award nominee shares more about her steady rise to fame, and the support system that’s seen her through it.

Tell me about how you decided to become an actress.

A part of it is because both of my parents are artists. I think growing up seeing both my parents on stage was inspiring for me and made think I could do the same thing. I loved movies, and I found myself reenacting the scenes. I eventually confirmed that curiosity for the first time in sixth grade when I joined the drama club.

I won this contest for acting and the prize was a trip to see a live screening of The Cosby Show. At that time The Cosby Show was everything, all my friends and I watched, so to see these actors live on stage, everything in me was like, I can do that! I want to do that!

What attracted you to the role of Keisha on For Better or Worse?

I can’t say that I was attracted to the role because the way the opportunity was presented to me. When I got the role, and once I found out more about who she is it was so intriguing because I’d never gotten to play the bad girl. I’d always played the goody-two-shoes in everything. So it was fun – just to grow and try something new.

What would you say are the “best” and “worst” aspects of staring in a television series?

The best thing is you’re starring in a TV series! Being seen on a weekly basis by people nationally and internationally – I can’t even begin to explain the feeling! That’s just awesome in and of itself.

But, since I play the villain on the show, people also tend to think that I’m really that person! So when they meet me, these avid fans of the show, I have to explain that that’s not really me. It’s almost like I don’t get a chance to introduce myself, and instead I have to change their minds about who they already think I’m supposed to be.

How do you get into character?

In general, the best thing to do to get into character is research. If it’s a character that I can relate to, then it’s a bit easier, but if it’s a character that I don’t really relate to it’s harder. Like Keisha – I’m so opposite of Keisha! But even if you can’t find similarities in the more concrete aspects, you try to find similarities in some of the emotional aspects. So sure, she’s a villain, but nobody is a villain just because. There’s a reason, and it usually has to do with the heart. So for me, I’ve had my heart broken. So you find a way to relate, and then also, you create a backstory – what your childhood was like, your first boyfriend – and that allows you to pull from more emotionally.

Did you always have an interest in doing comedy?

Growing up in New Jersey and starting out, everything was all about drama – getting these serious roles and being intense, being able to cry. Once I moved to LA and started getting scenes and taking acting classes, I started using the same techniques from my drama background and finding some really funny stuff – people were laughing! So I discovered I was funny, I never thought I could be so funny!

Tell me about your upcoming projects.

There are two movies that I did recently that are coming out: one is called My First Love, and the other is Message from a Mistress. In My First Love, I play a coworker of a gentleman who has recently decided to divorce his wife. I’ve always had a crush on him, so it’s a love story about timing and opportunity.

The other one is Message from a Mistress, which isn’t getting released until the end of this year. It’s about four young ladies who are all friends when one of them sends the others a video. In it, she says that she’s been sleeping with one of our husbands. Even though none of us know who it is, you start to realize that even with your girlfriends everyone puts up a front. Instead, we have to start to remember some of the grittier details. We go from thinking it’s none of us, to thinking it’s all of us!

What do you think has been the key to your success so far?

I have a very supportive family. I had to do it – I had to move to LA, I had to audition – but if it were not for my family I would not have been comfortable enough and confident enough to make such bold choices. I’m very grateful for the foundation that I have, and that my family has been there through and through in my life.

What’s been your biggest challenge?

Balancing a career and a love life! I’ve always wanted to have marriage and just a thriving, flourishing relationship. But especially at the beginning, it was hard trying to pursue such a tough business that had so many people competing in it. And then once things started to happen, the challenge became that when I meet someone, and they see this success that I’ve worked so hard to get, they don’t see a place for them. I think it’s hard to have both a thriving career and a thriving relationship – most of the time in my life it’s been one or the other.

If you had to name one thing, what do you think Hollywood is missing today that you’d like to see more of?

Families. I think if Hollywood was more supportive of trying to make both family and career important, that would be a good thing. Also, more people creating films – more actors being proactive in creating work versus actors auditioning only. I’d like to see more independent stuff just to keep the amount of work available bigger and to keep our creative juices flowing.

What’s the best advice you received at the start of your career, and what might you add to that now?

Stay true to yourself. Don’t follow the crowd and continue to be confident in your uniqueness. And I’ve stuck with that, because many times, as with anything, stuff comes in trends. So I would say try not to tailor yourself to what’s trendy but just be confident that who you are is going to be “in” at some point.

If you try to convert yourself to what’s in, it’s not going to be true. You’re not going to be your highest, best self. If you wait and keep
at it, your time is going to come.

What’s up next for you?

I just want to do bigger and longer projects, and I also want to make and produce my own films. I definitely want to do more film. I’d like to do a period piece, an action film, and you know, just continue to grow. I would love to do a Broadway show even though I’m not a singer! I just want to continue being a working actress and being able to try my hand at different things. I just love the business – I just love working!

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