Tisha Campbell has a bruise on her leg. At least, she's joking that she does.
The New York premiere of the Netflix comedy series Uncoupled , in which she co-stars with Neil Patrick Harris , was a few days before, and she had taken her good friend as her date. "She kept squeezing me every time something relatable happened, like from my life," Campbell tells The Daily Beast's Obsessed over Zoom. Such enthusiastic violence is welcome in this case, the actress laughs. It means the show was resonating, even if in painful ways—in the case of her thigh, quite literally.
Campbell has found that the show seems to be having that effect on a lot of other people too. Fan encounters have started to resemble triage at an Urgent Care center, with people showing off the bruises on their own legs and forearms, inflicted by the friends clenching them in disbelief at how close-to-home the series felt. (Campbell and I bond over the one I also received at that New York premiere, for example.)
The actress—who, despite all of this heaviness, has received raves for how hilarious she is in the show—can definitely relate to how they feel.
Uncoupled , which premiered last month, eerily echoes the circumstances of Campbell's own personal life. Neil Patrick Harris plays Michael, a New York real estate agent whose partner of 17 years, Colin, abruptly leaves him. There were no signs of discord. Michael assumed they'd be together forever. Suddenly, it's as if the floor in his (quite swanky Gramercy Park) condo disappeared from underneath him and he's falling into an abyss. The person he always relied on to carry the parachute—the love of his life—isn't there to help him.
Campbell, who came to fame on the hit, hugely influential comedy series Martin , was with her ex-husband Duane Martin for 26 years before their divorce was finalized in 2020. "It was almost the same exact shocking kind of feeling, like your whole world has exploded and you don't know how you're going to be able to breathe," she says, comparing her experience to Michael's on Uncoupled .
Filming the relationship comedy not long after essentially meant dropping into a circus tent lined with funhouse mirrors. She could work through the trauma, maybe clown around a bit, and come out the other side somewhat lighter and healed.
"It's a life-changing thing and you don't know how to get through it," she says of her divorce. "I was together with this person that I was married to for 26 years. Uncoupling is hard, but you get through it and you become a better person. I'm so joyful now."
It's her friends, she says, who got her to this place—which adds another layer of surreality to her experience filming this show. Not only was she relating so deeply to what Michael was going through, but she got to channel the support those close to her gave in her performance as Michael's best friend, Suzanne.
In her four-decade career, Campbell has made sitcom history, worked with Spike Lee, and done everything from music-video work for Toni Braxton and Will Smith to starring in musicals, like the Little Shop of Horrors film and the Hollywood Bowl production of Mamma Mia! . But this is the first time, she says, that she's played a character that felt like her: "This is the most like me a part has ever been, in every sense."
The series was co-created by Darren Star , who also created Sex and the City , Younger , and Emily in Paris . With its Instagram-filtered depiction of Manhattan and its dating scene—every party is more fabulous, every outfit is more glamorous, and every hook-up has more abs than in real life— Uncoupled has garnered a not-inaccurate moniker: "gay Sex and the City ." There is a certain Carrie Bradshaw-esque quality to Michael navigating an unfamiliar dating scene (Grindr? Dick pics?!) after such a long, committed relationship—especially if you've followed the former Mrs. Big's journey in the sequel series And Just Like That…
That extends to the friend group that orbits around him. You could argue that Michael has a Charlotte, a Miranda, and a Samantha, but that wouldn't do justice to Campbell's Suzanne, his business partner and truth-telling confidante.
Suzanne's had a complicated relationship history herself. She has a grown son, who lives with her, and she never knew who the father was. (It could have been several people she met during a post-college Eurotrip and never saw again). Like Michael, she's charting the treacherous waters of dating in Manhattan— gasp! —over the age of 30; the difference is that she's been doing it a lot longer.
Campbell marvels at how the support system Michael has in Uncoupled almost exactly matches up, personality-wise, with the friends who helped her through her break up.
Suzanne is the "truth-teller" Michael needs for the occasional, though still empathetic, reality check. For Campbell, that person is AJ Johnson, who she's been friends with since she was young, and who starred with her in the 1990 film House Party . ( Remember that dance ?)
"Sometimes she would tell too much truth," Campbell laughs. "So my brother will pull her out and go, 'You gotta go… Tichina, it’s your turn.'"
That would be Tichina Arnold, the actress Campbell's been close with since they first met in audition rooms when they were starting out. She fills the Billy role (played by Emerson Brooks) from Uncoupled , the wilder party boy that serves as Michael's shaman through Grindr sexcapades, encouraging him to stop licking his wounds and start licking, well…
"Tichina's still, you know, living her life and she's fabulous," Campbell says. "And she's like, 'Honey, put an 'H' on your chest and handle it , bitch. Let's go. Let's get it.'"
Then there's the more emotional rock of the group, the person who may not be doling out the advice or guiding you back into the dating circuit, but you know they'll always be there for you. Michael has Stanley, the character played by Brooks Ashmanskas. Campbell has her friend, Dani Wright.
"She was just there," Campbell remembers. "Like, she would not leave my side. She was helping with the kids. You just have friends who help you make this transition so beautifully, because it becomes a beautiful devastation. It goes from just devastation to a beautiful stage."
It's been meaningful, obviously, to be able to relate her own story to what happens to Harris' character in Uncoupled . But she's also aware of what it means to gay viewers of the series.
Uncoupled comes years after gay viewers have resigned themselves to placing elements of their love lives onto the romantic trials and tribulations of straight characters. For gay people who have experienced the kind of heartbreak Michael is going through, Campbell recognizes how profound it is to see it reflected on screen through an actual gay relationship.
"That's right, baby! Representation really does matter," she says. "We have a cast of queer men playing queer men. We have them on television, and they're of a certain age. They're not all in their twenties."
Campbell gets it herself: When she was growing up, "the only person that looked like me was Kim Fields," she says. "And then once Facts of Life went off air, I became the only person that looked like me on television, and people would say the same thing to me. There weren't a lot of us."
It's why it's caught her somewhat by surprise to find a role on TV at this point in her career that so accurately resembles how she feels in her own skin. She's playing a character who is her actual age, not one vainly fudging numbers to fake younger; who has a vibrant sex and dating life; who is successful at her career, but still understandably messy; who is dripping with style and sass and can own a room when she walks in it; and who is a great single mother.
We're used to seeing those things only as lived by TV characters in their twenties and thirties. For everyone on Uncoupled , those years are disappearing in the rear-view mirror. They're not just wondering what's left behind with it, but, finally, what exciting things are to come moving forward.
"It means a lot to me because I'm in my own second half," she says, erupting into a cackle as she leans into the Zoom screen, like she's about to dish.
"Let me tell you: Coming from a person who was in a long-term relationship, there’s a whole algorithm to dating. The pics that slip and slide up in my DMs…" She starts giggling. "You know, I keeps me a good millennial or Gen Z-er around me at all times to keep it poppin', right.? So my millennial friends will be like, 'Why are you getting upset? This should be required dating these days, to get these pics in your DMs, for people to be sliding in your DMs.' I said, 'I don't want to see that!' But it's just a whole new world that I am learning about."
There was a lot that Campbell learned while shooting Uncoupled , specifically what that analogous experience is like in the gay dating scene. She found out all kinds of things about Grindr; it is my hope that everyone in America has the experience of Tisha Campbell recreating the hook-up app's "bloop" notification noise. "The Botox in the bum was new for me, too," she adds, to which I assure her that I'm pretty sure that plot point was new for most people.
"But it's making it normal more than anything else," she responds. "And I think that’s what's so beautiful. I’m excited for people in the Midwest. I'm excited for the Bible Belt. I'm excited for people in the South. I'm excited to show the normality of it all."
And, truthfully, she's excited for herself, too. It's not just because of what she learned about Botoxed anuses and dick pics. (Though who wouldn't be thankful for that?) It's also because she got to play a part that is "the most like me that I think I've played in my entire career," she says. And so integral to that was sharing what she learned going through her own uncoupling: "As traumatizing as an uncoupling is, it gets better and better every day, and then you find joy."
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