Interview

Tabyana Ali Interview

I always say I was born to perform, as soon as I came out of the womb,” says Tabyana Ali, the GH newbie who assumed the role of Trina in March. “I feel like my birth was a performance! Literally, my mom went into labor and was trying to have me and all of a sudden, the doctor was like, ‘She ain’t coming out no more!’ and they had to do an emergency C-section. They said I looked like I was drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette — like they interrupted me!”

Her creative streak was obvious throughout her early childhood. “As a kid, I would write scripts all the time — even before I knew how to write, I would try to draw pictures of what I was trying to describe. I would force all my friends to be in my plays. I think my family just kind of picked up on, ‘Oh, okay. She has something there. She can actually perform.’ ”

By 2013, Ali had signed with a local agent in Texas, and almost booked an NBC pilot, BRENDA FOREVER, starring Ellie Kemper (THE OFFICE, UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT). “The role was not for me,” Ali says. “It was meant for a little white girl, and obviously, I wasn’t a little white girl! But they told me to do the audition anyway and I followed through on that and I went really far [in the casting process]. That whole experience kind of just skyrocketed my acting career. That’s when we started to take things a little bit more seriously, and I started to think, ‘Okay, this could be my life. This could be something I do all the time.’ ”

At the age of 11, she and her mother moved to Los Angeles to pursue her show biz dreams. Along the way, there were setbacks, from a shortage of roles for young Black actresses (“In auditions, I was usually the only Black girl in the room”) to a job she came thisclose to, only for it to fall through when network executives deemed her look “too urban, if you get my drift.” There were also triumphs, like booking a part in 2015 on NEW GIRL, her favorite show. The ups and downs could be discouraging, particularly “when I would see who they would pick and it was someone drastically different from me. At the time, I was kind of a tomboy. All these other girls were so cute in their dresses and long, flowy hair; I liked sneakers and jeans and oversized T-shirts, and I wore my hair curly and natural. I wasn’t really into the glitz and the glam like I am now.”

The various bumps in her professional road sometimes felt overwhelming. “It was honestly kind of like a back-and-forth battle for me,” Ali admits. “There were multiple times where I was like, ‘You know what? I don’t want to act anymore, I just want to go to school.’ But as I got older, I knew, ‘This is what I really want to do and I don’t see myself doing anything else.’ And I do remember people telling me as I got older, ‘There’s going to be a time when you’re going to be “in”.’ And now, it’s like, boom! People of color are getting to be the lead characters and they’re no longer the sidekick. They’re starting to get the love triangles rather than just being the best friend of the person that’s in a love triangle.”

Ali first auditioned for Trina back in 2017 and was one of the final contenders, but had no sour grapes when Sydney Mikayla was hired instead. “At that time, I wasn’t [being considered] for the roles that I wanted,” she explains. “Everything was funny and silly and being the clown. I wanted something serious, something that showed I have depth. So to go as far as I did with Trina, it felt like a sign, like, ‘Okay, you have talent and you can do more than comedy, you can be the smart, intelligent girl.’ ” Besides, she notes, “I don’t think I was necessarily ready for GENERAL HOSPITAL at that time.”

When the role became available again late last year, after “going through this whole new awakening of self-discovery,” Ali was more than ready. “The year before that, I was having a ton of being put through the wringer,” she reports. “I was in a bit of a depression and I was actually going to give up acting. My managers dropped me, and I couldn’t deal … I was just having a hard time and I didn’t know how to grasp myself. But I am really thankful to God for giving me that time, those three years of healing, whatever I needed to heal in order to get where I am today. I feel like those years — and my whole life — were preparing me for this moment of, ‘Whatever is thrown at you, you’ll be able to handle it.’ ”

That hard-won self-confidence came in handy when she jumped right into heavy storyline (Trina’s arrest for a crime she didn’t commit), though it took her a while to feel grounded in her new job. “For the first couple of months, I put more pressure on myself than I should have,” she muses. “Then I had to grab my reins, like, ‘Listen, you can’t keep doing this.’ I don’t know what fairy flew in my ear and switched my brain, but thank you for doing it! Now, I feel really good about myself and my performances. From March to now, I don’t even feel like the same person.”

She doesn’t take that — or her own success — for granted. “There were times I would ask myself, ‘How am I going to break in? Is it ever going to happen?’ This [interview], in itself, is a blessing, because I didn’t think I would be in a position where someone who looks like me would get an opportunity where people want to hear about me. When I had [tough times], I would tell myself, ‘I’m going to get out of this.’ And to actually see myself coming out of it — things that families go through, my own personal stuff — it makes me want to cry. I remember thinking, ‘The person I always wanted to be will come,’ and I can feel it inside. I feel like getting this job has opened it to the 10th power. It makes me emotional. I’m so happy to be here now and so happy for my life. I would not change it one single bit.”  

“Sprina” Awakening

Taking over as Trina meant that Tabyana Ali was taking her place as one-half of GH’s most buzzed-about new duos, Trina and Spencer, a.k.a. “Sprina”. Ali says she came in determined “to blow the socks off” “Sprina” fans. “A switch will turn on in me where I become competitive and I felt like, ‘Sydney [Mikayla, ex-Trina] did an amazing job, but now I am going to come in and show you what I can do and you’re going to like that!’ I was very confident in what ‘Sprina’ could do and what I could deliver. Once I started working with Nicholas [Alexander Chavez, Spencer] one-on-one, that made it even better. He is a great scene partner. I enjoy working with him. We always take the time to sit down and go over our lines and flesh it out and see what we want to do, what we don’t want to do, and, you know, ‘What does the line mean? What is underlying the meaning of that line?’ He really morphs into his character and I really appreciate that about him because it makes my job easier.”

Did You Know

She wrote a 2020 children’s book, My Flower Child, which is available on Amazon.

She and on-screen rival Avery Pohl (Esme) have become fast friends. “I text her often and we talk and FaceTime, go get lunch and go on hikes. It’s fun playing rivals with someone you like! You can call each other the ‘b’ word [in scenes] and then laugh about it after.”

Just The Facts

Hometown: San Antonio, TX

Mommy Dearest: “My mom is the queen,” Ali says fondly. “She’s elegant and hardworking and very much a caregiver. When she was younger, she was a model and she almost booked a show in Texas. Can you imagine if my mom had become an actress? Like, we could be friends with Will Smith right now!”

Sibling Revelry: “I kind of grew up an only child because my siblings are 20 years older than me or 15 years older than me. My siblings were like mothers and fathers to me.”

Knowles Thyself: “I listen to whatever music feels good and right now, Renaissance by Beyoncé makes me feel great! ‘Alien Superstar’ is my theme song right now.”

Manifest Destiny: Ali hasn’t been assigned a permanent GH dressing room yet, but when she is, “I want to go to Mr. Frank [Valentini, executive producer] and ask if [my nameplate] can say, ‘Tabyana Multimillionaire Ali’, because being a multimillionaire is one of my goals and if I see that every day, it will make me work harder.”

Corporate Intrigue: Ali hopes to one day put her many business ideas into action. “I love lotions and soaps and stuff like that, so I want to have a body care line. I also want to have a doggy day care. I love animals to death and so I’m going to have, like, a cute little animal resort. And I’d love to have a restaurant.”

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