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Tyra Banks Interview
with A. Verglas

A Photo-Reportage by A. Verglas for Saola (1995)...

Tyra Banks , 21 years old, is now amongt the 10 best top models increasingly demanded by top designers Yves Saint Laurent, Gian Franco Ferré, Karl Lagerfeld, Christian lacroix, etc. But today, far from the Paris ian fashion shows, Tyra is acting on the set of John Singelton's third film "Higher Learning". With such vital statistics (1.79 m , 86-60-90), Tyra Banks began in the well known TV show "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and she is preparing to act in other full length films alongside fellow I.M.G.models.

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Tyra, what could you tell us about your childhood?

I used to always get into trouble in school. My mother was constantly called to the principal's office because I would not stop talking in class. I would try to challange my teachers because I thought I was smarter than all of them! Even though I was very mischievous, I always managed to get really good grades. When I was a very young child, my mother used to read to me all the time. Growing up as a young girl, I loved to read more than anything else. It was almost like an addiction and to this very day, I can spend hours and hours in bookstores around the world.I went through a very awkward stage from age 11 to 16. Over about three month period, I lost nearly 20 pounds and grew 2 inches! I was very tall for my age (5 feet and 9 inches). I looked as if I was ill. My mother took me to the best doctors to try to find out what was wrong with me. All of the doctors said that I was perfectly healthy. Prior to these physical changes I had had an extroverted personality with a lot of friends, but when I lost the weight and grew so tall, I withdrew within myself and became a "boring bookworm". I didn't feel comfortable in such a skinny body. I ate a lot of fattening foods but nothing seemed to work. All the popular girls at my school had started to develop breasts and heaps but my body just stay the same...straight and narrow! When I turned 17 years old, I started to gain weight and actually developed some curves. That is when my self-esteem improved and my modeling career began to take shape.

Tell us about the first nine months you spent in Paris when you were 17.

I was completely miserable in Paris. I am very American, so it was a complete culture shock. I couldn't speak French, I didn't know how to ride the Metro and I was unaccustomed to French food (I lived on Mc Donald's and Burger King). I have to admit that Paris is one of the most beautiful places in all of the world. Unfortunately at that time, I was so homesick I couldn't appreciate its beauty. Paris is the city of love and I didn't have a boyfriend so I was kind of depressed. But now when I visit, I have a lot more fun because I have friends there, I can speak French, I adore the Champs-Elysées and one of my favorite desserts is creme brûlée!

Who are your favorite photographers and why?

My favorite photographer in the whole world is Gilles Bensimon. He is the Creative Director and Principal Photographer for Elle Magazine. I love Gilles so much$because he is like a father. Whenever we go on trips around the world to do photo shoots, the crew that he uses is one big happy family. Gilles is such a delightful person and he is always kidding and playing practical jokes on everyone. For example, when I first met him, he said, "Who is this ugly girl? I don't want her in my magazine! Get her out of here now!!!"... He photographed my very first American Elle fashion story the next day!

Suchard choose you for its advertising campaign and Richard Avedon was the photographer for the shoot. Could you tell us about him and how it feels to work with such a talented person?

Shooting this campaign was a magnificent experience. We had an amazing team that day: Oribe for hair, François Nars for make-up and the living legend Richard Avedon was the photographer. They put dark brown make-up all over my face and body so that I resembled a piece of Suchard chocolate candy. Then they applied gold leafing to my body to resemble the wrappong of the candy. The whole make-up process took hours and hours and the actual photography took just a few minutes. I was very happy with the results and honored to have had opportunity to work with Mr. Avedon. I hope the people of France enjoyed the final results as well.

Are you regulary on diet to stay on top of your career?

The only time I have ever been obsessed with my weight was when I was too skinny as a little girl. Now that I am a model, I do not to concern myself with watching my weight like a lot of models do. I love food and I feel that it is something that should be enjoyed. I eat whatever I want. I just don't overeat. When I am full, I stop eating. I love barbecued ribs with lots of sauce, fried chickeen wings and coffee Haagen Dazs ice-cream. I do not eat these things every day but I will definitely treat myself to them once or twice a month! I love vegetables (especially corn-on-the-cob and green beans) and I love all kinds of bread. Whenever I crave "junk food", I want salty things like peanuts or potato chips.I receive a lot of fan mail from people who say that they are pleased that I am not very skinny and that I have "meat on my bones". I think it is very important that women can open magazines and see models who have voluptuous, curvy bodies. I think it helps women to be more proud and comfortable with their own bodies. I personally love models like Iman, Helena Christianson, Claudia Schiffer and Cindy Crawford because looking at their bodies lets woman across the globe know that you don't have to be "bone thin" to be beautiful.

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Could you tell us something about your hobbies?

I consider myself to be an athletic person. I love to play tennis, golf, volley-ball and basket-ball. I have a personal trainer that I adore working out with because we do different things each day. One day we'll go hiking in the mountains and the next day we'll go running on the sand at the beach. I never get bored with him! I also like to bowl (even though I'm not very good at it) and I love to snorkel whenever I'm in the Caribbean.

You had a part in John Singleton's last movie "Higher Learning". Would you like to be an actress and stop your career in modeling?

Doing the "Higher Learning" was an amazing experience for me. I played a track runner so I had to workout 4 hours a day, 7 days a week for about 3 weeks with an Olympic gold medalist winning coach. This hectic shedule tired me out but it paid all off in the long run. I was very excited to do this role because the character was just a normal 19 old year old girl attending college on an athletic scholarship. I didn't wear any extravagant makeup or hairstyles I just wanted to look as realistic as possible.I had previously been offered many parts where I had to play a glamorous, beautiful "bombshell". I turned down all of the offers because I wanted my first movie role to portray a character that was very much opposite of this image. My portrayal of "Deja" in "Higher Learning" schocked many people because they expected me to look more like a model.All of my hard work was worth it because I received very good reviews from both film critics and the public.People always ask me if I'm going to stop modeling because I have started an acting career. The answer is definetely "NO"!!! I am still a model and I hope to continue to model for years to come. I enjoy doing fashion shows and transforming myself into different looks for photo shoots. I love acting because it allows me, like modeling, to transform myself and also allows me to express myself verbaly, which is something that I surely can't do when I'm modeling. You can't model for the rest of your life, so it is important to diversify your career.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" in which you appear is famous worldwide, what are your projects regarding it?

I loved working on this TY show. The whole cast and crew were all very nice. Working for them never seemed like work because I was always having so much fun. Everyone continuously asks me, "What is it like working with Will Smith?". Sometimes Will was so much like his character on the show that I often could not tell if he was acting or not.This show was my first acting experience and I learned a lot. We taped in front of a live audience so in the beginning, I was very nervous. During the first few shows, just before taping began, I would feel terrified that I had forgotten all of my lines. But when the director said,"ACTION!", I'd suddenly remember all my lines and I'd have no problem.

How do you organize your private life with all your different professional activities?

In the industry, I think I'm known for being a loner or keeping to myself. I've never been a "party girl" because I don't seem to have much fun at clubs. When I'm home in Los Angeles, I love going to the movies and to dinner with my friends that aren't in the entertainment industry. Surrounding myself with these great people keeps me from going crazy. My best model friends are Niki Taylor and Rebecca Romijn, I love their company. Whenever we had job assignments together our work seems more like play. I always take out time for myself to sit back and relax. I am self-employed so I control my own work shedule. If I want to work, I will. If I don't want to work, I won't.This is one of my favorite aspects of my job. I'm in control and I love it! I recently purchased a home in Los Angeles. On my days off from work, I enjoy decorating my new home or just laying on the couch with my dog, reading or watching TV. I love the TV talk shows like Oprah Winfrey and Ricki Lake. I find it humorously entertaining to watch some of the outrageous people that tell their bizarre and extremely personal stories on national TV. Even though I am protective of my own personal life, I must confess that I enjoy watching people that don't mind telling it all.

It was said in the press that John Singleton is no longer your boyfriend. Do you have a new one?

I don't have a new boyfriend right now. All of my friends are constantly trying to introduce me to men of all different types. I haven't met anyone that I like yet, so I've told my friends to please stop trying to find me a new boyfriend.Dating is very difficult for me. Most men think that I'm going to act like the images they see of me in magazines. When they found out that I'm just a normal woman it confuses them. They can't understand how I can be so normal and have such a glamorous job. I'm sure there are some strong men that won't be intimidated by what I do; however, they are hard to find. Right now, I'm more happy to just hang out with my girlfriends and not think about the whole dating game.

Could you tell us some of your projects in a close future?

My ultimate goal is to become a multi-talented entertainer and acting is simply one big step towards this objective.

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