Thelma from Good Times
Posted by Media Outrage on June 22, 2008
Bern Nadette better known to the masses of TV fans, as Thelma that played on Good Times, recently sat down for a candid interview with Essence and traveled back into time as she recollected her experiences on the iconic show.
Essence.com: Afterwards were you able to bring a lot of yourself to the character?
B.S.: Well, they didn’t know how to develop Thelma at first so they used to just have me in the bathroom all the time. For six months I would come and say, “Hi Mom. Hi Dad.” and then go to the bathroom. So one day I said to Esther Rolle [my on-screen mother Florida Evans], whom I was very close to and called “Mom,” and said, “I would like more to say. I feel like I can act and they’re only giving me these one or two lines.” She said, “You are a pretty good actress, you could do more. Let me handle it.” That Friday we went to rehearsal and of course I had one or two lines and then I’m in the bathroom. At the end of the whole reading she asked them, “Is my daughter retarded?” And I’m like, Please say no (laughs). So they looked at her and told her no. Then she said, “Well you gave my sons JJ and Michael pages and pages of dialogue, but for my daughter you don’t give my daughter anything. I would like her to have something to say.” After that, Thelma was on the run. I thank Esther for that.
Essence.com: Thelma was so fashion forward. Some of the clothing she rocked many would wear today. Were you involved in styling?
B.S.: I’m going to put this out there too. I was a dancer before I joined the show, so I would wear leotards over tights and so everything was fitted. When I got back on the set, they had me in these big pants and jeans. I couldn’t stand it. They were big and ugly and I was like, We have to make this work. Ya’ll want me to wear jeans and I want to wear tights. I couldn’t even focus on my lines because I was so self-conscious about those baggy clothes. So I asked the stylist to take all the pockets out the jeans because I wanted it to lay smooth on my hips and tailor the legs all the way down to the knees, so they would fit like a glove. That’s how Thelma got those clothes and how those tight jeans came about.
Essence.com: Wow! You definitely worked it out. So did you create skinny jeans?
B.S.: Yeah, but nobody understood what I was doing. It just came to me.
Essence.com: You definitely were a trendsetter. Now tell us, what was the reaction on the set when you guys found out that your on-screen father, James Evans, Sr. (John Amos) would die on the show?
B.S.: I was so young. I just knew that maybe John was getting tired of the show. One day, we went to rehearsal and went to read the script. We didn’t see John and no one said anything. As we were reading, it said James died. I think Esther knew, but I did not know. That thing hit me like a ton of bricks. It was the real deal when you saw me up there crying and carrying on.
Essence.com: That definitely sounds intense. Were there any times when Thelma made decisions or dated a guy that you might’ve not liked for it to go in that direction?
B.S.: I had input when it came to dating because I was a virgin until I married and I wanted Thelma to be that type of a person too. So when the “Larry” character, a mechanic, came about I thought he would’ve been good for Thelma. But the outcome would have been another generation of just average living and struggling, so we wanted to take it up a notch. Then they showed me with the African guy and I’m like, “I’m not going to Africa to live with a bunch of wives. American girls just don’t do that, especially from the projects.” (laughs)
Essence.com: So how was it transforming from little sister to sex-symbol as the show progressed?
B.S.: I didn’t expect any of that. It’s very interesting because people tell me, “You were the first African-American brown-skinned girl with an Afro. You were a Black girl.” I always say God makes everybody just the way they are supposed to be. If I had been light with straight hair, then I wouldn’t have been Thelma.
Essence.com: And even after the show you and the cast have stayed in touch and even worked together. When was the last time you caught up with Janet Jackson?
B.S.: She called me and we talked when Esther passed. I am very close to her mom and family. My family always goes over to the Jacksons for the holidays. I love Jimmy. We have a wonderful kinship and I’ll always be his little sister (laughs). When I gave him my book he looked at the title and made that long face he makes and said, “No, not you Bern!” I said, “Jimmy, I didn’t do all of that. That’s the stuff I write about.” He said, “Ohhhh!” (laughs).
Essence.com: You’ve gone on to work on other shows such as The Love Boat, The Cosby Show and The Wayans Bros. Is there anyone you would like to work with in the future?
B.S.: I would like to work with Denzel Washington one day. A story like where two people grow up together and go separate ways. Then life and circumstances bring us back to the place we started from and we fall in love. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Essence.com: Yeah, that would be nice. On your site fans can request a phone call from you. How does that work?
B.S.: Oh yeah! You have to tell them to come and call me. It’s been really fascinating. One day I came up with the idea. When I did my book tour fans loved and missed me. I thought, Never again will that happen. I love them as much as they love me so thelmaofgoodtimes.com was born. Years ago, my mom used to write Lena Horne and Lena wrote back and sent a picture. She told me how it made her feel and I want my fans to feel the same. In fact, I got an e-mail from China a few days ago and she said, “Could you send me two pictures and a few stamps from America?” (laughs) I bought the cutest little stamps and I’m going to mail them.
Mediaoutrage- For all you Good Times fans that would like to catch up with Thelma/Bern Nadette hit up her personal site thelmaofgoodtimes.com. Thelma was definitely bangin! We would love to see Bern Nadette and other actors and actresses from some of those early iconic shows hit the screen in other projects.