Tammy Townsend can do it all. Act, sing, dance, she’s an accomplished performer who has made her way down to Louisiana to grace the screen as Billie on OWN’s acclaimed drama series, Queen Sugar.
Billie is Prosper Denton’s estranged daughter who comes back to St. Josephine with secrets she’s been waiting 20 years to tell.
I was able to chat with Tammy about honestly portraying Billie’s trauma, playing opposite one of the Disney Channel’s biggest stars, her favorite scene partner, and whether she’ll be returning to Queen Sugar.
Had you been a fan of Queen Sugar before working on the show? What attracted you to the role?
Tammy: I knew Queen Sugar, but I hadn’t invested in it yet at that point. But a lot of the actors on the show I was familiar with, and I knew how good they were.
I was familiar with their work and stuff. And so, really, what happened was I got an audition for it. And I kind of did it the traditional route.
Yeah, when they called, and they asked me to audition, I knew that the material was really good. It’s stellar. And I said, Yeah, of course, I’m gonna audition for it and see what happens.
How much did you know about the character of Billie before you took on the role? Did you do any specific research into the type of trauma she experienced?
Tammy: Yeah, Ava DuVernay actually kind of prepped me for it and let me know what to expect. So, before we even got started working, I kind of knew the background of my story.
So I did do a little bit of research. I watched a few documentaries and youtube. And then I talked to a few of my friends. They were willing to be so gracious and share their stories about sexual assault, how they felt, and what they went through.
Was all of the filming done in Louisiana? Had you spent much time there before, and was it much different than other TV locations you’ve worked on?
Tammy: All of it was shot there. I’ve never shot there before. It’s my first time. So I’ve gone as a tourist down into the French Quarter and spent like a week or two. I’ve seen some concerts down there, things like that. But I had never worked down there and lived down there.
And it was a different experience for me to not be a tourist and actually, you know, be a resident there. So this is a whole new perspective and just to see how normal folks live and get around, which was also great for being authentic to my character.
Have you gotten to share any scenes with your spouse from Stuck With You, Timon Kyle Durrett (Davis)?
Tammy: No! We have absolutely nothing together, which is weird. I did call him when I got the show, but he worked before I did.
They were kind of shooting him out because he had something else to do. So I called him, and I had landed. He was like, Oh, I’m on my way back to Los Angeles. I finished everything for the season. I was like, Oh, dang it. So I didn’t even see him at all.
Have you had a favorite scene so far on Queen Sugar or scene partner?
Tammy: My favorite person to work with on the show… All of them are great, but the one that I love working with is Henry Sanders (Prosper). I love the scenes between Billie and Prosper.
Every time I ever worked with him, I just felt so comfortable, and there were just like these new discoveries that I didn’t even think about when I was rehearsing the scenes on my own.
You know, he’s just, he’s a legend to me this guy. I told him that a few times. He’s definitely my favorite person.
I have a daughter who is 12, and back in the day, she was a huge fan of KC Undercover, where you played Kira, a spy, and mother to KC played by Zendaya. She wanted me to ask how different is it to work on a regular prime-time TV show compared to a Disney channel show?
Tammy: Well, I will say that was a lot of fun working on KC undercover. We were able to do a lot of different characters and different costumes. We were spies, and we never really knew what to expect.
There was always some kind of stunt or something that we had to do and practice for, so I loved all of that.
It’s definitely different on Queen Sugar because it’s a drama, so we’re not going to do some of the little slapstick that we did on KC Undercover. It’s a lot different, and the pace of the show is different.
KC Undercover was a little bit faster pace. We were looking to make sure that we landed the jokes and had the right timing for the jokes.
But on Queen Sugar, they really want you to focus on just being in the moment and having the time to explore and find those emotions that you need.
It’s funny because I was told when I was on set when I first got there to just slow down a lot. I was in sitcom mode, and they’re like, No, no. Here’s what we do. We really wait for our moments. And so, take as much time as you need to find those really crucial beats and emotional peaks and things, peaks and valleys.
I heard you say in an interview that one of your favorite guest spots was the one you played on The Practice. Can you tell us why?
Tammy: It was the first time I really felt like I was able to, I don’t know, I was able to really show my dramatic side. The writing was really great. David E. Kelly, everything that he had produced and written at that point was great. Great shows, and he cast really amazing actors.
I stepped into it, and it just seemed like it was second skin to me. And then I, you know, working with Cameron Manheim. she was great and it just, I was really able to kind of show what I can do with an actress.
You also said that you didn’t think you’d had a truly challenging role yet. Is Billie that role, or do you think that big challenge is still out there?
Tammy: I’m on the right track, for sure. Now, I would love to… Actually, I was watching a documentary on Pauli Murray the other day, and she was a civil rights activist well before the 60s. And this woman, she was a trailblazer.
She had this law degree. She was very, very, very intelligent, very smart. She traveled the world and became a priest at one point.
But she also had this thing where she not only was a lesbian, but also she was probably the first person to be kind of documented on having an awareness of being trans. That’s not what she called it, but she always felt like she was born a female, but she felt like she was a boy.
And so, just to kind of watch her journey and the struggles that she had to navigate through her life is really spectacular, and to take on a role like that would be stellar.
And she did all this kind of stuff and quite a bit of it happens in her 20s and 30s. But it really didn’t start opening up for her until she got in her 40s. She did amazing things in her 40s and 50s, in her 60s on up to the time she died.
When she was 75, she had written a memoir about herself and just, I mean, that kind of character I would love to play.
I hear you enjoy outdoor adventures. What’s the craziest experience you’ve had?
Tammy: Probably flyboarding. I love flyboarding. I did that when I was on vacation, one time, and I just fell in love with it.
It’s really taxing because you’re kind of balancing yourself on water, and you have to know how to kind of hold yourself up and balance yourself, and when you don’t, you come crashing through the floor, and it’s like, you know, you’re hitting a brick wall.
But I absolutely love it. That’s probably the craziest thing that I’ve done so far, and I did rappel down a waterfall, but that that fails in comparison to the flyboarding to me.
If Queen Sugar gets picked up for season 7, do you have any idea if Billie will continue on the show for another season?
Tammy: I was told that I would. So it looks that way, and I’m hoping and crossing my fingers that they make good on what they say.
If you could choose one TV show to be a part of that you’ve never worked on before, which show would you choose?
Tammy: Probably This Is Us. Yeah, I really like that show.
Check out all of our Queen Sugar reviews here at TV Fanatic.
C. Orlando is a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. Follow her on Twitter.