Movie Article

The Latest Model

Tyra Banks struts her stuff onscreen -- The model trades in the catwalk for a supporting role in "Higher Learning"

Tyra Banks, who played Will Smith's girlfriend on TV's The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, knows that people assume she landed the role of Omar Epps' track-star girlfriend in Higher Learning because she wears a diamond-sapphire riendship ring from director John Singleton. What she wants to know is, How dumb do they think he is? ''John said, 'Read for it,''' the 21-year-old supermodel says in Singleton's office at Columbia Studios in L.A., '''but if you're bad, you don't get it. I'd look like I'm thinkin' with my you-know-what.''' As for herself, Banks says she took the part of Deja for two reasons: ''It's not glamorous, and I liked it that John made her smarter than the guy.''

Playing smart comes easy to Banks, a star graduate of L.A.'s Immaculate Heart High School who was accepted at Loyola Marymount but never got there because of her success as a teen model. ''The scene where I critique Omar's term paper? That was ad-libbed,'' she boasts. Banks, who lives with her mother and manager, Carolyn London-Johnson, in the Hollywood Hills, still plans to go to college one day — ''John really wants me to go, too'' — before tackling a screenwriting career and becoming a mother. ''I plan to adopt five children when I'm totally finished (with modeling and the entertainment business) and living off interest.

''Modeling is a catfight,'' adds Banks, who says she found the cast of Higher Learning peaceable, if sometimes short on schooling. ''John was wearing a pendant (with a picture), and Kristy Swanson goes, 'Who's that? You? Sammy Davis Jr.?' He said, 'No, that's Malcolm X.' She'd never heard of Malcolm X! So John made her read The Autobiography.''

Banks is reading up on another sort of history — film — and figuring out how to repeat the success of that other recent model-turned-actress, Elle Macpherson (Sirens). But she has one rule: ''I'm not takin' off my clothes.''

Originally posted Jan 13, 1995 Published in issue #257 Jan 13, 1995 Order article reprints