Adam Markovitz
April 09, 2010 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Good Times (1977 — 79)
”It was the first time I was away from my entire family, so I was very nervous that I was going to miss them,” remembers Jackson of her role as Penny on the popular sitcom. ”And I did. But there was a whole new family that I was surrounded with. And it was a second home for me.”

Diff’rent Strokes (1980 — 84)
Jackson played the girlfriend of Todd Bridges’ character, Willis. ”I think Todd liked me at the time, and that’s how I really got the job,” she laughs. ”It was nice to be with other kids truly my age. And I knew that I wanted to be an actress at that time, even though that’s when I got my first recording contract.”

Fame (1984 — 85)
”I wasn’t happy there,” she says of her stint on the TV series. ”My boyfriend at the time was having issues with substance abuse. So I was dealing with that and then having to come to work. I was late most of the time.”

”What Have You Done For Me Lately” (1986)
”I definitely cringe,” she says of her style in this Paula Abdul-choreographed video from the blockbuster album Control. ”With the makeup and the wardrobe and the big hair. Especially the big hair. But back then, it all worked.”

”Love Will Never Do (Without You)” (1990)
”I wanted to show a different side of myself, to wear a dress,” recalls Jackson of the video. ”But when [director Herb Ritts] said jeans, I wasn’t about to fight him. And it didn’t hurt that I was standing next to Antonio Sabato Jr. all day long.”

Poetic Justice (1993)
Jackson starred as a young poet opposite the late actor-rapper Tupac Shakur. ”I saw a side of him that very few get to see. There’s this image of the bad boy. And I’m not saying that wasn’t him. But he was so sweet and so fun. He was always cracking jokes. He loved teasing me.”

”Scream” (1995)
She says the best part of shooting the edgy video with Michael Jackson was ”doing something that was different. And I know my brother loves to do different stuff. I should say ‘my brother loved.’ It’s as if he’s still…well, he still is around. And it turned out beautifully.”

Nutty Professor II: The Klumps (2000)
Jackson played a scientist who’s the object of Eddie Murphy’s affection in the comedy sequel. ”It was hard to keep a straight face,” she says. ”Every take, he would give you something different. It was great just to see his brilliance.”

Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married Too? (2010)
”It was draining,” she says of the film’s emotionally charged scenes revolving around marriages in crisis. (Jackson also co-wrote and sings the soundtrack’s lead single, ”Nothing.”) ”It helped to release a lot that was inside of me: anger, frustration, hurt, grief. It was very cathartic.”

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