Imani Hakim Stars in “The Gabby Douglas Story”

Imani Hakim talks playing Gabby Douglas in Lifetime's "The Gabby Douglas Story."

Imani Hakim, known as the scheming Tonya Rock on the UPN/CW sitcom Everybody Hates Chris and MLE in Todrick Hall’s Mean Gurlz, talks about her starring role as record-setting gymnast Gabby Douglas in Lifetime Original Movie The Gabby Douglas Story. Read on to find out what the 20-year-old actress had to say about portraying the Olympic gymnast and what’s next.

JET: This February you’ll be kicking off Black History Month starring as Gabby Douglas in The Gabby Douglas Story. This is a big role for you, how do you feel about it?

Imani Hakim: Very, very excited! I can’t wait for everyone to see the film. I think it is the perfect way to start off Black History Month and right around the time of the Winter Olympics. What perfect timing!

JET: Right! Were you a fan of Gabby’s career prior to this project?

IH: Yeah, I was definitely a fan. I’m very, very proud of Gabrielle because you don’t realize how much she has accomplished and even when I watch the trailer I get chills and I am just like “this is amazing” you know. She’s 18 and she already has a story about her life and she has just accomplished so much. So yeah, I was definitely a fan before. I was rooting for her and I am so happy that she made it through as far as she did.

JET: Did you do any extensive gymnastics training for this film?

IH: I did about a week and a half to two weeks of training. It was super intense. I now have a greater appreciation for gymnastics. We mostly learned Gabrielle’s choreography… I think her 2011 routine, her floor routine, we did that and Sydney [Mikayla, who plays the younger version of Gabby] had to learn her 2008 floor routine and we both learned some beam routines, which was really cool. So yeah we did some training on how to look like a gymnast and all that great stuff.

JET: Had you had any experience with gymnastics prior to that?

IH: No, it was very new to me and so I caught myself thinking that I was a real gymnast or had the mindset that I was a real gymnast because I would get frustrated with myself when I wouldn’t get something right the first time. I had to remind myself, “Imani, this is very foreign to your body so calm down!” But yeah, it was a very fun challenge for me.

JET: What was the most rewarding part about playing someone like Gabby Douglas?

IH: I can relate to her story and I am just so happy that I was picked to be a part of telling her inspiring story and not only being able to meet Gabrielle and her mom, but being able to work with actresses such as Miss Regina King and Epatha Merkerson. So yeah it was pretty awesome.

JET: How do you relate to Gabby’s story?

IH: At one point, Gabrielle was with living with her family in a van, but she was really young. I was once living in a van with my dad when we drove off to California to get me into the industry. So I was 11 when I went through that whole experience of living in a van, eating Vienna sausages from the 99-cent store, and bathing inside the bathroom, so I can definitely relate to that. Also, the fact that she made the decision to train in Iowa at the age of 14 and leave her family for two years, I thought that was a big step. At 15, my family went back to Ohio and I stayed out here with my manager and so I think that that’s another similarity that we both have.

JET: Speaking of which, you were 11 when you started Everybody Hates Chris, what was it like for you?

IH: It was the best thing in the world! That was my first job ever and it was very very like “Wow, I am actually on a TV set right now!” It was something that I had been dreaming of since I was about 7 years old. Raven Symone was one of my idols back then, so I thought that was really cool that I was actually on a TV set and I didn’t realize who I was working with back then. I knew that they were famous, but I didn’t know on what  level that Tichina Arnold, or Terry Crews, or even Chris Rock! I didn’t realize I was working with Chris Rock! So I thought that that was pretty freaking awesome.

JET: What was the most unexpected thing that you learned from Gabby during this process?

IH: I think the most unexpected thing that I learned about Gabrielle is that, I feel like in most situations you go into it without expecting anything at all. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that she is like any normal regular teenage girl. She still has feelings and she is like any other human being. She still gets nervous, like she got a little nervous before filming her scenes and I thought that was really cool. I really enjoyed seeing that side of her.

JET: What did you learn about yourself as a result of doing this movie?

IH: I already knew I was competitive, so I became even more competitive with myself self and so I thought that was really cool. It was pretty highlighted how competitive I was with myself. I would say “Oh my god! You got to do better that last one!” So I am really hard on myself but it all paid off and it all looks really great together.

JET: What was the most memorable moment on set?

IH: For me, it was being able to work with Miss Regina King and making a friendship with her because we had a lot of scenes together obviously and we had emotional scenes together. So we bonded which I think is really cool, we would go to the mall and we would have dinner and so after this whole process I think I am going to remember that forever that we became friends on the set of Gabby Douglas.

JET: What do you want people to take away from this movie?

IH: I want people to see that this struggle that Gabrielle and her family had and the ups and the downs… they were fighters and they were warriors during this whole process. I hope that it really inspires and motivates people to go out there and do what they love and do not let anything or anyone stop it because Gabrielle went through it with her coach not believing in her and other students believing in her and she has such a great support system. Like her family risked so much just so that she could continue and they really believed in her talent. So I hope people are motivated to go out there and really push to do what they love because you get to see all the hardship that she went through and she still came out on top. I want people to see that they can do that too.

You can follow Imani on Twitter @anakih1 and make sure to flip the channel to Lifetime when The Gabby Douglas Story premieres Saturday, February 1 at 8pm ET/PT on Lifetime.