Tamala Jones took time out of her day off to call us for an interview about “Castle.” On the show, she plays the medical examiner, Dr. Lanie Parish.
The fan favorite on TV’s romantic mystery also has a rich personal life. She advocates women’s health after having suffered a brain aneurism at age 23. She also works with Rosemary Children’s Services and other foster charities. She’s even a popular hostess and chef to her friends. Jones talked about “Castle,” her films (including Booty Call!) and more.
CraveOnline: What do you think Lanie thinks of Rick Castle?
Tamala Jones: I think that she thinks that he’s hot and he’s intelligent and he’s worldly and he’s in love with her best friend.
CraveOnline: Where does she stand on the Castle/Beckett romance?
Tamala Jones: I think that she herself thinks its time to make moves, stop waiting around, get to it. You guys are madly in love with each other and you’re acting like you’re not. I think Lanie wants it to happen.
CraveOnline: And the dating at work issue doesn’t bother Lanie?
Tamala Jones: No, I think Lanie is a free bird. She’s just very do what you feel and don’t hide how you feel. You shouldn’t be ashamed of your feelings. If you like someone, tell them. If you don’t like ‘em, tell ‘em. Just don’t hide your feelings. I think that’s how Lanie is.
CraveOnline: What’s coming up for Lanie?
Tamala Jones: I think Lanie is busy with Alexis and mentoring her. I think that Lanie is getting more involved with the crime scenes too, which is really great the way the writers have been writing Lanie being more involved at the crime scenes. Like in “The Limey” which was really a great episode, there’s a lot of Lanie at the crime scene.
CraveOnline: It seems like they have to come back to her more than once per case now.
Tamala Jones: I love that.
CraveOnline: Do you want Lanie to get back with Esposito?
Tamala Jones: Yes, I would like that. I would like to see Lanie and Esposito back together but kind of sneaking around, like they don’t want people to know that they’re messing around but they are. I like that. I love working with John an I love playing off of him and that dynamic between Esposito and Lanie is so cute because they’re both tough but they don’t hide their emotions. So it’s like yeah, I’m this, I’m a cop, I’m a detective and yeah, I’m a medical examiner and I know my work but we can do this. Don’t make any rules, let’s just do it.
CraveOnline: Could the show handle two romances?
Tamala Jones: I think it would do some good for the show. It would create more sex appeal if you just had the two running into each other and “What’s going on?” “Oh, nothing” and only the audience knows and the characters really don’t know exactly what’s going on in each couple’s life. I think that would be great but we have to be careful because it is a crime show so you’ve got to balance the romance and the mystery.
CraveOnline: Esposito said Lanie hates her mother. Why is that?
Tamala Jones: I guess that the writers were setting up some backstory on Lanie and her mother. I’ve been begging for them to get Pam Grier to play my mother. I need her to be my mother and I could see myself as Lanie hating her because maybe she was too hard on her, maybe she left her at the most important part of her life. It could be a number of things why Lanie hates her mom.
CraveOnline: Is there a big cliffhanger coming for “Castle?”
Tamala Jones: Oh, you know it. You know they are in there cooking it up right now in the writers’ room. I don’t know anything. I just keep hearing if you thought last season’s cliffhanger was something, this one’s going to knock your socks off. That’s all Andrew [Marlowe] will say to us right now. We don’t know but my heart beats every time we mention the cliffhanger because they have been talking but they haven’t been saying what. I just know it’s going to be something else.
CraveOnline: Where would you like Lanie to go next season?
Tamala Jones: I definitely would like to see a part of Lanie meaning like her mom come in. I definitely would love to see another dynamic with that. I also would love to see now that Lanie is mentoring Alexis, I would love to see Lanie go to the Castle loft, the home and have some interaction with the mother. I think that Lanie and Martha would be, oh my God, so cool. Maybe Martha’s doing a play and asks Lanie to read some and finds out Lanie can do a little acting. I don't know. I would just want to just branch out and be more involved and I think that’s what they’re doing. They’re setting things up for that to happen next season.
CraveOnline: How did you like singing?
Tamala Jones: I loved it. I’m a shower and a car singer so when they asked me could I sing, I was joking and I said yes. Andrew was like, “Okay, great because you’re going to be singing in the film noir episode.” So I got online, I went on YouTube, I looked at all the 1940s singers and mannerisms. I listened to Billie Holiday sing “Comes Love.” When I finally got in the studio and did it, I was shocked. I’m like oh my God, I can sing a little bit. That’s nice to know. And then everybody liked it which made me feel even more secure about doing it so I think I’m going to try to do it a little bit now.
CraveOnline: Do you have any future music plans?
Tamala Jones: I’m making them now. This is a new thing that the show “Castle” has opened my eyes to. I’ve always been in love with music but I’ve never thought to sing. Like I said, shower I sound fantastic but you ask me to sing outside of the shower, I would always say no. Mm mm, no, I don’t sing.
CraveOnline: Not even karaoke?
Tamala Jones: I would have to have a few drinks in order to get up there to do karaoke, or I’ll just sit there and watch everybody else. Even though I don’t seem like it, I can be very shy at times.
CraveOnline: I read that the part of Lanie was written as Caucasian. Why would it have been specified either way?
Tamala Jones: Well, it is always. When it’s in the breakdown, no matter what project it is in Hollywood, they’ll tell you what the character they’re looking for, what they need it to be, a Caucasian or an African-American or an Asian between the ages of… That’s always the breakdown.
We saw that and I was like, okay, there’s really nothing out here for African-Americans at that time, women. There’s nothing. I’m trying to find guest spots and trying to find shows so we asked Donna would she be okay with me coming in and reading. She checked with the producers and they were like, “Yeah, we’ll see her.” I literally was the only African-American woman in the audition room at 8:30 in the morning. It was two lines and it was never a series regular role.
It was a possible recurring in the pilot, a guest star possible recurring. I walked out of there and maybe 20, 30 minutes later they were like, “You got the job.” And I was off to New York. I had a great time with everybody and I think that’s what happened. We all kind of gelled together and when the show got picked up, they offered me to be a series regular. I was honored and here I am.
CraveOnline: I was a big fan of Booty Call. Are fans still discovering that movie?
Tamala Jones: [Laughs] Oh my God. Wow. I’m sorry, I was laughing that you said you were a big fan. What was the question?
CraveOnline: Oh, are fans still discovering that movie?
Tamala Jones: Yes, they are. Actually, one of my girlfriends told me that she just saw it for the first time. She was like, “Oh my God, you were so little. You were like a little kid in that movie.” But they love it. The thing they talk about the most is the plastic wrap scene. That scene and the dog under the table scene, they love.
CraveOnline: Is it maybe time to update the movie for new things like sexting?
Tamala Jones: I think it may be time. It’s so funny, I just ran into Tommy Davidson not too long ago, maybe two weeks ago and we were talking about Booty Call. I’m sure he would want to do it. We’d just have to talk to Vivica or Jamie or get a whole new cast and write a Booty Call/Sexting Call.
CraveOnline: After doing so many movies, were you looking for a TV gig?
Tamala Jones: No, I like to do both and I was trying to place myself in order to do both but then the writers’ strike happened. “Castle” for me was the first real job that I got after the writers’ strike. It’s so difficult now because they’re not really making that many feature movies. If they are, they are huge franchise movies that they can link up with McDonald’s Happy Meals or Burger King, Green Lantern type movies or Batman. Or you have to do an independent movie and hope to God that it does great at the film festivals and then it becomes a feature.
So I’ve been doing a lot of indie movies. It’s kind of hard to get into those franchise movies, but I’ve been doing a lot of indies. I just did one with Shanola Hampton, she’s on that show “Shameless” on Showtime. We did a movie called Things Never Said which is really an awesome project, with Omari Hardwick as well. I’m just trying to figure it out. This hiatus Jon and I are actually going to do a film short together.
CraveOnline: What will that be about?
Tamala Jones: Jon is thinking about doing a period piece. He hasn’t told me exactly what. He just asked me would I do it with him and to trust him, and I said I would. So I don't know exactly what he has planned but I know it’s going to be great because Jon is more than an actor. He’s so talented and whatever it is, I so trust him that it’s going to be great.
CraveOnline: At what point in your career did you have your health crisis?
Tamala Jones: Oh, it was maybe three years after I shot Booty Call. I was on a show called “For Your Love” on The WB when The CW was The WB. It was the last day of the season, the last day of taping the show and I woke up that morning and I was completely out of balance. I couldn’t balance myself. It was one thing headed to the bathroom, walking on my toes the whole way, and then I just passed out.
And I heard myself say, “Get up, get up, get up” like while I’m out. I got up and when I got up, the whole right side of my body was out. And I had to work anyway. I worked all day and then I went to the hospital and the doctor was shocked that I was alive, walking or talking. He basically said it was a miracle because I basically hemorrhaged and it was a partial stroke along with the aneurism. But the side of the brain that the aneurism happened on, he told me that because it popped, it would dry up and once it dried up I would get the feeling back in the right side of my body.
But had it been on the opposite side of the brain, I would’ve never recovered. So it affected me in a way that at that time, I wasn’t taking care of myself. I was doing two movies and two different TV shows, “For Your Love” and recurring on “Veronica’s Closet,” going to shoot Next Friday and The Brothers. I was just all over the place and wasn’t taking care of myself. So after that happened, it made me realize that life is way more precious than money and I need to slow down. I can’t do everything.
CraveOnline: Was it about money or just loving to work?
Tamala Jones: It was loving to work and at the same time it had a lot to do with money because I’d been, and still do now, I take care of my grandmother and my family. It’s not just me. I help them a lot with everything so it was about making money back then, enough to take care of me and to take care of them. I just overexerted myself and my body shut down. That was it. So once I healed, I just did what I could. I didn’t try to do everything and it worked itself out.
CraveOnline: Do you look at those movies differently now knowing what was going on inside you back then?
Tamala Jones: I don't know. I just look at them and I’m like I had great times back then. I can look at them and say that was before the aneurism, this was after and then I’ll start picking myself apart. “Oh, I’m still kind of swollen there.” Just little stupid stuff but I wouldn’t change anything about what I went through, the aneurism, nothing because it made me realize so much more about life and people and myself overall and how I need to change.
I just needed to really pay attention to life, pay attention to how I treat myself and how I treat others and live every day like it’s my last because you never know when you’re going to go. I was very close to going and I’m still here.
CraveOnline: How long have you been working with foster charities?
Tamala Jones: Since I would say 1999. My grandma was a foster parent and she’s the one who got me involved in that particular charity and she’s raised over 100 children, and eight of her own. So she’s really gotten me involved and let me know how important it is to always give back and to turn my attention to children because a lot of them are forgotten.
They are our future and so whatever I can share with them or anyone can share with them to uplift them and give them some sort of state of mind to go out there so I can be whoever they want to be, inspire them, it’s my duty to do that because I’ve been given so much.
CraveOnline: What are you able to do with them short of fostering them yourself?
Tamala Jones: There are certain charities. One of them is all girls, and we talk about girl power. We spend the whole day with them and then we break them up into groups after. We have this big discussion and the groups are with other actresses that basically give them what they know. I taught an improv class and then another actress taught them how to dress themselves and prepare for a job interview.
Another talked about, with their guardians in the room, boys and how they feel about boys. So it was targeting all of the things that are going through a girl’s mind at a pivotal point when their hormones are shifting in their bodies, a pivotal point in their life. Other ones I donate my time. I go to high schools and I speak to the girls. The principal gets a permission slip signed by the guardian or the mother or the parents for them to come in and have this conversation with myself, Regina King and Jill Marie Jones actually did this. We just sit in there and we get really raw with these girls, because these kids today, they’re doing way more in high school than their schoolwork.
They don’t really have anybody to talk to about it so we got really deep. We opened up about sexual activity. I discovered some things that they’re doing that I would never have thought in a million years, but we give them the right information, things to look out for, how to care about yourself more than what other people think. A lot of the girls were saying they can’t talk to their mom about certain things. So we were telling them they have to pick someone, a mentor, it can even be their grandmother or a counselor at school they can go to and talk to about whatever.
I think kids don’t think they have a voice still. And I think that the adults are not asking the right questions. So I like to have myself placed in charities that have one on one time with these people, because I don’t have any foster kids and I’m not going to do it unless I’m in a setting that I can take care of them.
CraveOnline: Your bio also says you like to cook. What are your specialties?
Tamala Jones: I’ll tell you what people love. People love my collared greens. They love my macaroni and cheese. They love the gumbo. They love my Jamaican jerk or my Jamaican curry chicken. They love the jerk though. And they love my Mexican food. I love to cook Mexican food but I can cook just about anything. I can go into a restaurant, I might have to go a few times, taste something, love it and figure out exactly what is in there and go home and duplicate it. I love, love food.
CraveOnline: What’s so special about the collared greens and mac and cheese?
Tamala Jones: Well, the mac and cheese is just all bad. It’s all bad but good. It has real butter in there and evaporated milk and lots and lots of cheese, like five different cheeses. Oh man, the way I mix it up on the stove before I make the casserole, people want to eat it like that. I’m like nope, you’ve got to wait. I’ve got to let the top get hard and then you can eat it.
But they love that. And the collared greens, I have a lot of vegetarian friends and I don’t put meat in my collared greens. Usually when other people prepare them, there’s either a piece of pork in there or a turkey neck that’s cooked in there to give it flavor. I’ve figured out a way to eliminate the meat altogether and still get a flavorful taste that is so good, people eat it like it’s candy.
CraveOnline: What are your tips for entertaining in the home?
Tamala Jones: You just always have to have a nice signature drink that people know when they come over, they’re going to get it from you. Not just wine. You can get wine, like have two bottles of wine there, but I would suggest the pear Grey Goose. Have that with some tonic water and some Splenda on the side, they will love you.
To make it even more fancy, I’d drop some blueberries or raspberry or strawberry or some of all of those in that drink. It’s not a girlie drink. It’s really good. Then you’ve got to have something to eat, something just to nibble on. And have some flowers. If you don’t, just something that’s inviting with all of that. That’s all you really need.
You don’t have to go all crazy to entertain. Just food, some flowers and a signature drink that’s yours so everybody knows, “When I go over to his house, oh man, he makes this drink” and you just keep them coming. They’ll always want to come back.
CraveOnline: So wow them with the refreshments more than the setting.
Tamala Jones: Yes, refreshments are key. The setting, for guys, it’s not so important but I’d say a nice little bouquet of just regular flowers. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just to let them know yeah, this is a warm, inviting setting. For women, we have to have our serving dishes and our little plate for our hors d’oeuvres. It’s a whole other scene with women.