Tatyana Ali speaks on her new sitcom, childhood stardom and Willow Smith

Tatyana Ali, who most of us know as Ashley from ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,’ has certainly grown up. The actress is helming her own show, ‘Love That Girl,’ which premieres tonight on TV One.

Charming and quick to laughter, Ali is over the moon about her new show and her return to comedy. With a recurring role on ‘The Young and the Restless,’ Ali hasn’t been away from the small screen completely, but she’s thrilled to return from whence she came — that is, the land of the sitcom.

It’s nice to hear that you’re returning to TV with your own show. I know you’ve been on ‘Young and the Restless,’ but this is different because it’s your own.

It’s really exciting. I’m excited to see what people think, and it’s a lot of fun. Doing ‘Fresh Prince,’ we laughed so much on set, and just being back in comedy mode is amazing.

Yeah, it looks like you’re suppressing a giggle in a scene in the second episode.

[Laughs] Oh, really? We do a lot of ad-libbing on the show and sometimes we go too far. It’s a real free-flowing vibe on this show.

Are you a recurring character on ‘Y&R?’ Or are you finished with that show?

I’m a recurring character. I think I’m going to go back and film a few more episodes at the top of the year.

How has that experience been?

It’s been really amazing, especially because it’s the first time I’ve done a soap. The schedule they work with is crazy; I have a lot of respect for people in the soap world. I enjoy working with Bryton McClure (he plays Devon) – he’s awesome. Believe it or not, we laugh a lot on that set too! [Laughs] And the fans of ‘Y&R’ are unreal.

How did ‘Love That Girl’ come about?

Bentley Kyle Evans created this show – he executive-produced ‘Martin’ and created ‘The Jamie Foxx Show’ – and his sister Stacey was in on the process. He wanted to make a female-driven show, which he’d never done before. I really loved the character and it went from there.

What do you enjoy most about playing Tyana?

I love how hard she fights. [Laughs] She definitely takes a lot of crap from her brother, but she dishes it right back. I like how multi-dimensional she is. Sometimes she’s strong, and other times she’s fragile. There are many different sides to her.

You basically grew up on TV. Looking back, are you glad your life went that way? Do you have any regrets about it?

I was 11 when I started on ‘Fresh Prince.’ I think growing up in Hollywood was a pretty extraordinary experience. My parents were really good at trying to create a balance, but there was definitely a time where I wished I was around kids my age and had a normal high school experience. What really filled that gap and helped me adjust socially was going to college and taking that time to be in school. I found out who I was outside of acting. It also helped me realize that I wanted to be a performer, that this is what I love.

How do you think you were able to avoid the whole ‘child star’ trap?

It’s kind of sad how, as a society, we take these little kids and applaud for them, watch them sing, dance, and act for us. Then, when they hit hard times, we sometimes revel in that. It’s unfair, and we forget that they’re just children. That could have been my fate, absolutely; but there was no way my family was going to let that happen. It’s all about the kids’ support.

Are you still involved in the music world? Or is that on hiatus for now?

I was working with a producer Johnny ‘J’ Jackson – he actually passed away, so we weren’t able to finish that. I want to have more music out, and I love singing, so I’m trying to figure that out right now.

What are your thoughts on Willow Smith?

Oh! I think she’s awesome. A little bit before her single came out, I got a chance to hear it. I was so excited. It’s addictive and the message is so good. Honestly, she’s had style since she was a baby. I’m sure her mom has a lot to do with it, but I have to say his [Will Smith’s] kids are very intuitive and brilliant. I love it. I’m a huge Willow Smith fan.

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