13-year-old Marsai Martin talks 'Black-ish,' girl power, and her character's first period

Marsai Martin discusses the show <i>Black-ish</i> during her Build appearance in New York City, on Nov. 16, 2017. (Photo: Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Images)
Marsai Martin discusses the show Black-ish during her Build appearance in New York City, on Nov. 16, 2017. (Photo: Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Images)

When the sitcom Black-ish first aired in 2014, one of its young stars, Marsai Martin, was 10 years old. Her character, Diane, from the start was not your typical precocious, adorable plot device. Yes, Diane was precocious, but she was also hilarious, and sometimes terrifying in the creepy yet adorable way only a little kid can be. Diane (or Marsai, really) also possessed perfect comedic timing, something that is routinely bounced off her twin brother on the show, Jack (played by Miles Brown).

Four seasons later, Diane and Marsai have both grown up. In the recent episode “First and Last,” which aired earlier this month, the show made that abundantly clear by focusing on Marsai’s character getting her first period. In true Black-ish style they handled the generally taboo topic with grace, empowerment, and wit. And Marsai further cemented herself as an integral part of the show’s humor and heart.

Yahoo Lifestyle caught up with Marsai after her recent appearance on AOL Build. The 13-year-old talked about her big dreams (“an EGOT!”) and showed maturity beyond her years by tackling a conversation about that period episode — and how she really felt about it.

Marsai Martin and Tracee Ellis Ross on <em>Black-ish</em>. (Photo: ABC)
Marsai Martin and Tracee Ellis Ross on Black-ish. (Photo: ABC)

What’s your full name?

Caila Marsai Martin.

When did you start going by Marsai?

When I started acting.

Does anyone call you Caila?

Yeah! My family.

And how old are you?

I’m 13.

What grade are you in?

Seventh grade.

Do you think you and Diane would be friends in real life?

No. Not at all. I feel like she’s kind of mean. But she has a good heart. Well, I guess we could probably be friends. She could teach me some things and I could teach her some things, definitely. It might work. You never know.

Marsai Martin is known as one-half of the show’s adorable twin duo Jack and Diane Johnson. (Photo: Getty)
Marsai Martin is known as one-half of the show’s adorable twin duo Jack and Diane Johnson. (Photo: Getty)

What’s your favorite thing about her?

My favorite thing about her: that she wears glasses and she’s a twin.

Do you like that she wears glasses because you wear glasses?

Yeah, definitely. So I don’t have to take them off and be blind for the rest of the day.

In a recent episode Diane got her period for the first time.


What was it like to play that story?

It was very nerve-racking, definitely. But it was a lot of fun to actually do, because people can relate to it. So yeah, I feel like that was a really good topic for the writers.

Did they talk to you about it before they did it, or were you surprised when you saw the script?

No I was actually surprised. I was like, “Whoa! OK.” We usually have these table reads to see if we want to change anything and stuff. I was like, at the table read, like, “Uhhhhhhh” [she makes a face].

Was it embarrassing or did they make it seem OK and chill?

They made it seem OK, and then there was a scene in the episode where I had a talk with Zoey and Rainbow (my mom) and my two grandmothers about their period stories and stuff. So I thought it was a great way to settle the story.

<em>Black-ish</em> (Photo: ABC)
Black-ish (Photo: ABC)

That scene in particular was so girl power. Who gives you the most girl-power inspiration on set?

Definitely Jennifer [Lewis], who plays Grandma Ruby on the show. I love talking to her, she’s supersweet. She’s basically the definition of girl power. She knows what she wants, she’s been in the game for a superlong time — she has a new book coming out, which is awesome — The Mother of Black Hollywood. She’s literally the best.

Jennifer Lewis and Tracee Ellis Ross on Season 4 of <em>Black-ish</em>. (Photo via ABC)
Jennifer Lewis and Tracee Ellis Ross on Season 4 of Black-ish. (Photo via ABC)

And who are your girl-power inspirations outside of Black-ish?

Definitely Beyoncé and Rihanna. Rihanna because I love what she’s doing right now with Fenty Beauty and Fenty Puma, she’s really sweet, and awesome, and really down-to-earth. And she basically created an empire! That’s the definition of girl power. And Beyoncé, there’s nothing to say! She’s just in a league by herself. She slays.

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What’s been your absolute favorite day on the Black-ish set?

Every day is an awesome, wonderful day. There’s not really a favorite day — other than my birthday. It’s always a great day coming on set, seeing everybody happy; even if it’s like 5 o’clock in the morning everyone will still have a happy face. It’s so awesome on set.

You do so much stuff; school, work. What do you do for fun?

I usually go home and go to sleep, that’s what I do for fun. Outdoors I have a pool, so I usually swim and stuff. It’s usually superhot in California so we swim. Sometimes I go Go Karting. Just regular old kid stuff.

Lastly, what do you want to be when you grow up?

I want to be a legend. I want to have an EGOT [an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony], I want to host SNL, I want to do a lot of things when I grow up — or now! But definitely doing what I do now but on a higher level.

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