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″School Daze” Actress Upset But Educated By Role In Movie

March 22, 1988 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ When Tisha Campbell first started to work in Spike Lee’s new movie, ″School Daze,″ she was unsure of her talents as an actress. When the project was over, she said she was a little traumatized but wiser.

″I thought I did so bad at the audition because my acting was not that great,″ Miss Campbell said in an interview. ″I was so nervous about auditioning for Spike. My knees wobbled and that never happpens. But this was different because this was someting I really wanted to do, because this was a black project.″

The 19-year-old actress had taken a break from the now-defunct NBC series, ″Rags to Riches,″ when she began work on ″School Daze.″

In the TV show, set in the early 1960s, she portrayed one of the adolescents adopted by tycoon Joseph Bologna. She got to do a lot of singing and dancing as one of Bologna’s spirited daughters. She also had a singing role in the only other movie she’s made, ″Little Shop of Horrors.″ She played a street urchin.

After portraying youngsters, Miss Campbell thought the role of a student in Lee’s musical-comedy might be beyond her.

″I wondered how I could play my own age after playing 12-year-olds,″ she said. ″I didn’t think Spike would see it because I didn’t see it in myself.″

She won the role after Vanessa Williams, a former Miss America, dropped out. Miss Campbell said her own doubts about her acting abilities almost cost her the part.

″I totally messed up but then we had to sing and that’s what got me over,″ she said about her audition.

Miss Campbell plays Jane Toussant, a leader of a sorority called the Gamma Rays. They are mostly fair-skinned, blue-eyed black women with long hair who are known in the movies as Wannabees - as in want-to-be-white . The Gamma Rays are in conflict with the darker-skinned, socially conscious black women who wear their hair in natural styles. They are known as Jigaboos.

As director, one of Lee’s methods to build a dramatic antagonism between the two groups of women was to house the actresses playing the Wannabees in a better hotel than the Jigaboos; he also paid more attention to them. The situation came to a head in the movie’s Busby Berkeley style dance sequence in which the two groups chanted racial slurs at one another.

Miss Campbell said she was unprepared to handle the scene.

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″It was the first time we all worked together and the separation had caused this tension,″ she said. ″We made up those rhymes and they made me feel a little hurt. I began to hate the Jigs, the Rays and myself.″

Miss Campbell, who started performing at the age of 3, starred in the off- off-Broadway musical, ″Mama I Want to Sing,″ while attending junior high school in Newark, N.J., where she was raised.

She left high school during her senior year to film ″Little Shop of Horrors″ in London but she graduated on location. She plans to go to college and said she wants to major in music and drama.

″I haven’t picked a college but it will probably be a black college,″ Miss Campbell said. ″It was great being around that positive atmosphere.″ Lee’s movie was filmed at Atlanta University in Georgia.

Miss Campbell, who sings and dances in two splashy numbers in ″School Daze,″ said appearing in the movie has encouraged her and given her confidence about her goal to become a musical producer.

″Working on ‘School Daze’ made me understand the statement of the movie ... the issues like apartheid, like education, like bettering yourself,″ she said. ″I hope a lot of people in the movie got the same thing out of it that I did.″