So Many Questions: Near-death experience gives actress Tamala Jones perspective

| Tuesday, March 26, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Some people are born to do what they do. Acting since she “came out of the womb,” Tamala Jones was off and running before she began to walk. Although there were no cameras yet in sight, that didn't stop her from imitating everything around her — from friends and family to things she saw on television. After some pestering, she convinced her parents to enroll her in an acting workshop class, which in turn led to a meeting with her first agent. From then on, the work started rolling in.

With an entertainment career in high gear, it didn't seem likely that anything would be able to stop her in her tracks — not even a brain aneurism at the age of 23. Unfazed, she didn't even consider calling off of work, keeping her condition a secret before finally admitting herself to the hospital a few days later. Not willing to part ways with her feelings of invincibility, youthful naivete prevented her from realizing how dire the situation had been. It took a while before she finally reconciled with the fact that she could have died. It was time to re-evaluate things.

While her outlook on life changed, one thing that remained was the high demand for her acting prowess. Roles on “Everybody Hates Chris,” “The Tracy Morgan Show,” “The Ghost Whisperer” and “CSI: Miami” soon were added to an ever-growing resume. These days, you'll find her on the set of the ABC series, “Castle,” as the sassy and sexy medical examiner “Lanie Parish,” and on the circuit as a spokeswoman for the Brain Aneurysm Foundation. Living every day as if it were her last, she's learned the fine art of stopping to smell the roses.

Question: Some time ago, while building an amazing entertainment resume, you suffer a brain aneurism — at the age of 23. But you keep it a secret. Why?

Answer: Well, first of all, I grew up the only girl — the oldest — and around very strong women. So, the main reason why is because I was embarrassed. I didn't want anyone to relate to me any differently or to feel sorry for me. I thought it would alienate me. And the other thing is, I thought it would keep me from working. I thought it was a sinus headache, I thought migraine. Never once went to a doctor, because who thinks, at 23 years old, that's what's happening to you? And when I finally got to the hospital after working all day long, the doctor, he was shocked that I was still walking, talking, alive. Usually when they burst, a person dies. And mine burst.

Q: Twenty-three is usually an age where you feel like you're invincible — did you immediately recognize the seriousness of your situation?

A: When you're young, you do some ridiculous things. Instead of being grateful that I was still alive, I kind of had this Tupac (Shakur) mentality — like, “I lived through it, and I'm invincible.” It wasn't until a friend told me that “Hey, this isn't you. I don't know what's happening to you. I don't like this new Tamala. … I like the old one,” (that) it broke me down. And I just started crying, but not in front of her. And once I started dealing with it, I thought, “I need to tell my story.” I thought if I started talking about it, maybe it would save some lives.

Q: How did your perspective and priorities change after that?

A: I stopped taking a lot of jobs like I did before. I just do what I can now. I don't overexert myself at all because I felt like that was a part of it. I was a series regular on “For Your Love,” with roles on “Veronica's Closet” and “ER.” So, I would be running from different sets. Then, when I would finish on the Warner Brothers lot, I would go to a film set. I've changed my eating habits and lifestyle. It was fast-food city for me, no vegetables, just Popeye's, McDonald's, Taco Bell — all those things that are not good.

Q: So fast forward a few years later, and you're pegged as one of the “Sexiest Women of the Year” — not once, but twice. How sweet was that?

A: That is amazing! I didn't even know that! I thank the gents — that makes me feel so good. If they only knew that I was a sweat pants, T-shirt, pony-tail-wearing girl on a regular day!

Q: Your character, “Lanie Parish,” on “Castle,” is pretty sassy for a medical examiner. Is that your influence or was she written that way?

A: It was a little of both. Lanie was written sassy, but very medical savvy. And I took some of my mother's notes as far as being extra sassy with the looks I'm giving to Castle. Those are all my mom. So, it was a little bit of me, my mom, and Lanie.

Q: It's amazing how real the bodies look. Does that kind of creep you out?

A: Oh yeah. I now understand that I could never do this in real life. Because the blood is syrup and you know that. But if I would have to see that much blood or smell death, I'd quit on the first day. Some of the makeup they do is so realistic, and I have to brace myself — this is fake. So, I talk to (the actors) and say, “Hey, how are you?” and it makes it a lot easier and fun.

Q: No chances of that being a second career choice for you?

A: Oh no! No no, no!

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