“My calling is as an artist,” he recently told PEOPLE exclusively. “I don’t want to work at Trader Joe’s only because that’s not my calling, but I am willing to go back to that or any similar job if I have to. And this time, I would do it with a lot less insecurity and awkwardness and discomfort than I did the first time.”
“When I took the job at Trader Joe’s, it was rather uncomfortable and awkward, thinking that people might recognize me and that this kind of thing might conceivably happen,” he said. “If I ever go back to a regular job, it’s going so be so much better.”
After the unflattering photos of him working at the grocery store went viral online, Owens, who played Elvin Tibideaux on The Cosby Show from 1985 to 1992, admitted he was “hurt” and “humiliated.”
“The words they used to describe me were so demeaning,” he said. “It hurt.”
Owens previously revealed to PEOPLE that the Bill Cosby scandal was just one of the factors that led him to seek work outside of his industry. He had been receiving royalties from the show for years, but when Cosby, 81, was accused and later convicted of sexual assault, reruns were pulled from syndications, and the checks stopped coming.
“Yes, it impacted me financially,” he said. “At the time that the show was pulled, that did make a difference in our income. That was one of the elements that led to my getting to the place where I said to myself, ‘I have to do something,’ and I was thinking, ‘What can I do?’ and the answer ended up being Trader Joe’s, which is actually a wonderful situation for me in many ways. But I got to the point — I just had to do something to support myself and my family.”
“I didn’t think I was set for life,” he said. “I didn’t think of it either way. I was single at the time, no family, and The Cosby Show paid me some fairly decent money for a single guy who never even expected to be on TV and was just happy to be doing theater.”
“I always expected that one way or another I would work and make a living,” he continued. “Whether it was teaching, directing, acting, little job here and little job there, then I’d patch it together. I didn’t foresee working at a place like Trader Joe’s, as great as that place is. I didn’t foresee going out of the business for work, but I thought that within the business, I would patch together a modest living, at least enough to get by.”
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Owens went on to appear on a number of shows including Divorce, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Secret Life of the American Teenager and Built to Last, but he said steady roles are few and far between.
“The funny thing is, I never go too long without booking something,” he said. “The only issue is the things that I book last one day or two days at the most. I’ll book something for one day but then not work three or four months.”
But since the photos were released, the actor has been receiving an influx of love and support from fans and fellow colleagues in the industry: He recently accepted producer/filmmaker Tyler Perry‘s offer to appear on his hit OWN drama, The Haves and the Have Nots.
He was reportedly cast in a recurring, 10-episode role in the show’s sixth season and will also appear in one episode of NCIS: New Orleans‘ season 5, airing sometime in late October.
He also received $25,000 from Nicki Minaj, but graciously opted to pass along the funds to other actors who are in need, donating the amount to the Actor’s Fund in memory of the late Earle Hyman, who played Cosby’s father on The Cosby Show.