“I’m attached to it. I’ve only been there a couple of times,” says Campbell, who played Gina, the girlfriend of Martin Lawrence’s character, Martin Payne, on the hit Fox series. “I will forever be linked to Motown.”
Forever is a good word for “Martin” itself, which lives on today through reruns and streaming. To mark its 30-year anniversary, BET+ is streaming a 90-minute special that arrives Thursday to the BET network spin-off.
“Martin: The Reunion” brings together Campbell and Lawrence, along with co-stars Tichina Arnold (Pam) and Carl Anthony Payne II (Cole). Much like 2021’s “Friends” reunion on HBO Max, there will be reminiscing by the original cast members, ample clips of favorite scenes from the show and guest appearances by luminaries such as Snoop Dogg, Tommy Davidson and Brian McKnight.
The nostalgia-laden location for the gathering? A reconstructed “Martin” set, complete with the green couch and “Do The Right Thing” movie poster.
There also will be a moving tribute to Thomas Mikal Ford, the late actor who was beloved by fans as Martin’s friend Tommy. Ford died in 2016 at age 52.
“He was our spiritual guru on the set. He would be so proud that we all got together. We finally did it,” says Campbell.
The special is hosted by comedian Affion Crockett.
From 1992 to 1997, “Martin” followed the comedic adventures of Martin Payne, a radio disc jockey navigating friendship and young adulthood in Detroit (the show actually was filmed in Los Angeles). Its comedic style was, according to Campbell, a combination of a sitcom and sketch comedy, with Lawrence playing multiple characters.
Although the comedy came first, “Martin” had real cultural impact as a show centered on the relationship of two young Black characters in love — a rare premise for that era and one that still could use more small-screen representation.
Nowadays, Martin and Gina are remembered as one of the great TV couples of their day, but Campbell says she and her costars didn’t think of themselves as icons or trailblazers at the time.
“We weren’t thinking that we were going to be pioneers. We weren’t thinking that we were going to be what people consider icons or this was an iconic show. We just were trying to take care of our families and make each other laugh on the set,” she says.
“We didn’t know how people were really responding because we were busy working the show. The fact that people still love it and there are other people that consider us pioneers, it’s really humbling.”
Campbell, who has been acting since she was a child, credits “Martin” co-creators Lawrence and John Bowman, who died in December, with giving her the room to explore and expand her comedic skills. “It was fun work. It was fun to be uninhibited. They taught me everything I know about comedy.”
Although Gina is the smart, sensible one in the relationship, Campbell went to Lucille Ball-like territory in terms of physical comedy. She laughs when she spills the details on one of the reunion clips that finds Gina’s head stuck in the headboard of a metal bed frame.
According to Campbell, the cast members would play cards and banter during lunch while the writers would sit near them “ear-hustling” to overhear personal details and draw ideas from them.
“We didn’t figure it out until the third season,” she says. “Things would just end up in the script.” It turns out her school nickname, Applehead (for the shape of her head), helped inspire the episode about Gina’s headboard dilemma.
“They unscrewed one of the slats, put my head in and screwed it back in, so I couldn’t get it out,” says Campbell.
During the special, Campbell recalls how Lawrence pursued her for the role. She describes seeing him at 1992’s “Boomerang” premiere, where he was sitting next to Diana Ross. There, he first told Campbell that she was going to play his girlfriend.
Later, he visited the apartment she shared with Arnold (who’s now on the CBS comedy “The Neighborhood”) to convince her to take the part. Says Lawrence at one point of the reunion about Campbell’s importance to the series: “She was the glue.”
The co-stars also recall the many catchphrases that the show popularized, including “Wassup!” and “You go, girl.”
Says Campbell via Zoom, ”I’m just starting to watch the show again and … I have to be honest: Most of those catchphrases were inside jokes that we were doing with one another to get the other person to laugh in the scene.”
As for one of the fictional Martin’s favorite exclamations, “Damn, Gina,” she says: “I get that every day.”
Campbell says acting is “all I’ve ever wanted to do. I knew who I was when I was 3, but when I was 5 is when I understood my assignment.”
She continues: “We grew up really poor and I was very cognizant of that, you know, eating syrup sandwiches, or the government cheese, or mayonnaise sandwiches for dinner or lunch or breakfast. Knowing I could help my family (through acting) in some sort of way, that was always my decision, even at 12 years old when I was doing Broadway.”
Campbell says she also was always driven by the goal of touching people emotionally through her work. “I went into it not for myself and not for selfish reasons, but from an artist’s perspective.”
Since “Martin,” Campbell has starred with Damon Wayans on ABC’s “My Wife and Kids” and had recurring roles on many series, including the CW’s “Everybody Hates Chris,” the Fox drama “Empire,” the daytime soap “The Bold and the Beautiful” and the Tim Allen sitcom “Last Man Standing.”
Asked about her 1997 harassment lawsuit against Lawrence and the producers, which led to her temporarily leaving the show and was settled out of court, Campbell declines to comment. “All we’re doing is uplifting one another and supporting one another at this point,” she says
On Monday, during a “CBS Mornings” appearance, Campbell told hosts Gayle King, Tony Dokoupil and Nate Burleson: “We are — we worked really hard to reconnect, to forgive and to really, this reunion is about a celebration of everything that we did, everything that we accomplished and our growth as human beings.”
What Campbell does declare fully and loudly is her appreciation for her TV hometown, both on “Martin” and Lifetime’s Motor City region-set “Rita Rocks” from 2008 to 2009. “Thank you, Detroit!,'” she shouts at the end of her interview.
“Martin: The Reunion” streams Thursday on BET+.