A conversation with: Laila Odom – Actress & Zatima star: Her Gratitude for Connie & Love for Pepa.


I had to pinch myself repeatedly when I was on the way to meet Laila Odom on a bright Spring evening in a Shoreditch (London) bar for an interview. Laila stars as Connie in the hit Tyler Perry series Zatima, the spin-off of the series Sistas (my other favourite show!). The show follows Zac (Devale Ellis) and Fatima (Crystal Renee Hayslett) as they navigate the ups and downs of their relationship. Connie is an ex-lover of Zac’s from childhood who comes back into his life.

No stranger to the small screen

Her film credits include Kiss Me for Christmas, The Bobby Debarge Story, and Undercover Brother 2. Phantom Halo, and the highly-acclaimed short April’s Way just to name a few. Laila is also known for her starring role as Pepa in Lifetime’s hit biopic Salt-N-Pepa and starred in the film Lunar Lockdown which is streaming now on Allblk.

Sharing her story

I had a mix of nerves and excitement and I was greeted by Laila – unsurprisingly beautiful and very warm, with a big hug. While smiling through the interview, she was eager to share her story, as well as talk about playing the roles of two very different women – Connie and Pepa (Salt-N-Pepa) . Read this 1st part of the interview to learn more about this ambitious woman’s big dreams and calling…

We started talking about the scene where Connie (in Zatima – Season 2)  and Zac are on the basketball court and Connie is being a ‘bit’ forward! I asked her if Connie was going to ‘eat Zac alive’!

While laughing, Laila (L.O.) agreed that “Connie was being sexually forward, sassy and uncouth”. Laila went on to talk about how excited she is to see how Connie’s character will develop. “I want to show Connie as an individual, with originality – for her to show growth and evolve”. Laila certainly does not want Connie to be a clone of any of the other characters on the show. 

AWO: What other parts of Connie do you love?

Laila loves that Connie is funny, saying “Comedy is a sweet spot for me as it’s really where I started. I also love showing Connie’s heart and being able to give the audience an opportunity to either feel ‘bad’ for her or to love her”.

“How can I not be grateful to someone (Tyler Perry) for giving me this experience?

Laila Odom

Working towards goals

AWO: When you were growing up which actresses did you look up to and influenced you? Do you come from a family of actors?

L.O: No, I’m the only one in my family who is an actor. My mother insisted that I get an education and finished school. It helped me to understand how to work towards a goal because acting is about seeing something through to persevere and push through – all things I learned in school.

AWO: How much direction are you getting from Mr. Perry and his team? Do they let you ‘pour’ into Connie’s character or direct you in these extra layers of her character?

Laila Odom picture2
Laila Odom

L.O: I see what’s on the page (script) and I want it to jump off the page. Tyler’s team are kind in letting me do that. You’re not technically supposed to but sometimes I might push in a certain direction. For example, saying things in a certain order or pushing the character. I do that because I could not rely on being funny or just rely on “sexuality” aspects. I want to show how much more I can bring to the role”.

AWO: How easy was it for you to fit in with the cast when you first joined Zatima?

L.O: I had to really work and spend time with the other characters (Zac, Fatima etc.) to figure out where I stand! Those things – on the job training – understanding how it happens when you’re there is so helpful.

Connie is a different experience to Pepa – It’s building a character and colouring it how I want.

Laila Odom

AWO: What words would you use to describe your journey as Connie?

L.O: People want to love her. People have said that Tyler writes characters that are ‘downtrodden’. But this character is unmarried with kids and uneducated – the opposite of me – But in acting you need characters that will take you outside of yourself. I keep thinking how blessed I am and grateful to be this character. It’s a joy for me to say I’m going to work”.

Ups and downs…But always grateful

Laila talked about her gratitude for Tyler Perry providing this opportunity and how her life has changed in the last 3-4 years. “Sometimes acting can be like living like a ‘glorified student’, so being able to have acting work lined up and a network that has grown, allowing me to travel alot, is a real blessing”. She recalled being recognised as ‘Connie’ on two occasions – at an Usher concert and while on a trip to Ghana. “How can I not be grateful to someone (Tyler Perry) giving me this experience?”

Travelling and Loving it!

Laila is enjoying the opportunities to travel and loved visiting Dubai and Ghana. With Ghana, she commented  “It made me realise how important it is not to just talk about Africa but to experience it but I think I’ll need to do multiple visits to fully experience this country”. One of her other favourite places to visit is London, as it acts “as a gateway for her to see so much of Europe”. Places like Shoreditch have a cosmopolitan vibe – ethnic food, shopping districts, and she commented “This reminds me of New York when I was growing up”.

Laila Odom picture3
Laila Odom

Supporting her community

AWO: Was Connie the role you have been waiting for?

L.O: Pepa was my most favourite role – being able to portray one of the women who changed the face of hip hop – how historical is that? I’m really fortunate, but God doesn’t make mistakes. But we have to know that life is not the rat race, for example being able to travel and say “I travelled to Belgium and ate waffles or I saw Usher in Vegas… I’m blessed to be able to have these opportunities. So, I feel like it’s my duty to report back to my community what I’ve learned and to report back to people who look like me”.

Both Pepa and I lost our fathers at a young age; naturally when you suffer loss early it changes you. Pepa was very open with her life and that’s not easy with a stranger. I will never forget that – I love her”.

Laila Odom

Preparing for Pepa and then Connie

AWO: When you starred as Pepa, to prepare for the role did you spend a lot of time with her, to copy her mannerisms and understand her life?

L.O: One thing that’s almost ‘eerie’ is that both Pepa and I lost our fathers at a young age; naturally when you suffer loss early it changes you. She (Pepa) was very open with her life and that’s not easy with a stranger. I will never forget that experience and I loved that experience – I love her.  She’s Scorpio and I’m Libra on a cusp of Scorpio – so a lot of things we found similar. I still have a relationship with her today – we have the same hair stylist!

But Connie is a different experience – It’s building a character and colouring it how I want – different to starring as Pepa, as you can’t colour somebody’s life.  I couldn’t say no to telling the story on different parts of her (Pepa’s) life.

Opportunities beyond Zatima

Starring in Zatima is allowing Laila to not only enjoy international travel but to also make financial progress. “I’ve been able to buy my condo at a young age. I’m grateful to Tyler for all he’s developed, a man putting people in place to do things. It’s up to you to take the opportunity and decide what you do with it”.

This is the first part of the Laila Odom interview. I’ll be publishing the 2nd and final part soon; with Laila talking about her love of travel, health and how it plays a big part in her lifestyle; so keep checking back here to read it when it’s live.

#Afrowomanonline #Zatima #Lailaodom #Tylerperry #Blackwomenrising #Blackwomenontv

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