Crystal Fox talks about her portion of “Haves and Have Nots”
Unlike millions devoted to their favorite nighttime soaps and medical dramas, for years, I preferred a different type of evening viewing: mostly news shows, feature films and other cable offerings, until now. I am practically hooked on Tyler Perry’s “The Haves and Have Nots” broadcast weekly on the Oprah Winfrey Network, also known as OWN. I say ‘practically hooked’ to save room for additional network favorites that have caught and held my fancy. In previous bylines, I’ve raved about OWN’s “Raising Whitley,” the story of actor/comedienne Kym Whitley’s unintended, surprise adoption of an adorable son.
My new OWN favorite, “The Haves and the Have Nots,” follows the complicated dynamic between the rich and powerful Cryer family and the hired help who work in their opulent Savannah, Georgia mansion. From the outside, the Cryers are the enviable face of success and wealth, but behind the veil, the family’s dysfunction threatens to destroy their world of privilege. Cryer family patriarch Jim Cryer (John Schneider, “Dukes of Hazzard”) is a powerful judge whose double-life, including tawdry affairs with high-priced escorts, puts his family and political ambitions at risk.
Equally powerful in her own right, his wife, Katheryn Cryer (Renée Lawless, “Wicked”), is the ultimate matriarch portraying a loving and dutiful wife, but she is willing to do anything to protect her family’s status. Their son Wyatt (Aaron O’Connell) is a troubled angry jock who cares little for his own image and finds himself in and out of rehab. His sister Amanda (Jacyln Betham), a struggling law student, tries harder to live up to her parents’ expectations, but unknowingly has befriended a scurrilous young woman, Candace Young, with the power to ruin the entire family.
The series caped “shero” is Hanna Young (Crystal Fox), the Cryer’s maid and the matriarch of her family. Despite having no money, she has found other types of wealth through religion and virtue. She prides herself on her dutiful son Benny (Tyler Lepley), the glue who helps keep the family together. Hanna does have one dark secret, however, her estranged daughter Candace (Tika Sumpter, “Gossip Girl”) — a manipulative opportunist who will stop at nothing to get what she wants. In a bizarre coincidence, Candace is shocked to find out that her newfound friend Amanda’s father is Jim Cryer, the very man who has been paying her for sex and who also employs Candace’s mother as his family’s maid.
Other intriguingly beguiling characters in the series include the Cryer’s maid Celine (Eva Tamargo, “Passions”), their wealthy friends Veronica (Angela Robinson) and David Harrington (Peter Parros) and son Wyatt’s rehabilitation counselor, Jeffery Harrington (Gavin Houston).
Recently, I spoke to Crystal Fox (“Hanna Young” on The Haves and Have Nots).
Sandra Varner/Talk2SV: You are fast becoming part of the daily vernacular among fans of the show. Your character, Hanna Young is a dynamo who juggles a myriad of emotions that endear us to the saga known as The Haves and Have Nots, singularly, the series that has infused vitality into the OWN platform. Who is Hanna to you?
Crystal Fox: Oh, my goodness! She represents the strength of all the women I’ve either known through my own family like my father’s
mother…the women who have helped raise us as a people. They do what they have to do, they suffer all adversity and still come out strong, always trying to come up and out with integrity. I feel like I’ve known those people (the character), seen them, wished I’d had more around me. But as I struggle to maintain and persevere, I pull from the people I know and their strength to exist as a woman, who is getting older myself.
Talk2SV: Let’s talk about Hanna’s family, her son (Bennie) and her daughter (Candace), in particular. First of all, let me say that the family resemblances are spot on; a rarity in the casting process.
C. Fox: I know (she exclaims). I have to calm myself because I’m a happy and hyper and giggly type of person anyway, but, I’m a very spiritual person too. The spirituality about this show for me is huge; the way we all got the roles and really came together.
Talk2SV: I agree with you, the show feels blessed and I think that’s what brings so much pleasure to us, the viewing audience.
C. Fox: It makes me happy to hear you say that. I’ve worked a long time and been really fortunate to have wonderful experiences with people in plays and other productions; you never know what environment you’re going to be working in so you do your best. But to come together on this television project, we were all so happy, you could feel it. On our first shooting day, our boss, Tyler Perry prayed. He also talked about the energy and the flow; it maintained the entire filming process. We can’t wait to be together again (for the 2nd season) so we can giggle.
From the beginning we talked about the idea of the show taking off and what it would be like if it does. We felt that whatever ‘it’ was going to be, we love that we’re having ‘it’ together and we’re just going to hold each other tight. Now, with all that has happened, when we do get a chance to talk to each other, we just giggle. I can’t even tell you how excited I am about us getting together again, that’s magical. It’s like having a family that’s dispersed and we’re going to come together to have a big celebration.
Talk2SV: I love the joy you exude. Conversely, there’s also a consistent through line that is edgy and the tension among the families, exhilarating. Let’s take two scenes as an example: following her son’s false arrest for cocaine possession, Hanna gets on her knees pleading with her daughter Candace (who knows the details of the arrest) to do the right thing and tell the police the truth, though it would implicate her. Candace, in her disdainful and narcissistic manner, storms out of the house, flinging the door, hitting Hanna in the butt–that little stunt made me scream! I laughed out loud. I laughed so hard because it felt so real given the mother-daughter dynamic between those two.
C. Fox: I did too. And, what’s funny for me is that we taped it all but you don’t remember it all. You didn’t see anybody else’s scenes so when we get to see it all together we’re sitting on the edge of our seats too. You never know what will be edited out but I was so glad that that scene made it in.
Talk2SV: Was it written that way?
C. Fox: No.
C. Fox: Can I tell you, that’s the beauty of this. Over the course of my career I have been lucky to have many directors trust and respect me, who give you your way and help you to create their vision and yours. As an artist, this project is very special. Tyler has told us, ‘this is what I gave you in the script, you fill it with the life that you think this character has.’ So he’s given us that freedom. We rehearse, we do our thing, some of us do it together and sometimes we do stuff right on the spot. But moments like that, he lets us have the moment first and then, if he needs to tweak it he’ll do so. The words are scripted and some of it is us; some of it is Tyler, most of it is Tyler, 99.9% is. The rest happens if we feel a different way. But as actors, he lets us act it out once we get the blocking, and that (butt-hitting stunt) just happened.
Talk2SV: The other scene I’d like to explore with you was the praying scene in Judge Harrington’s chambers that brought him to tears. Each time I watch that episode (on my DVR, shameless, I know) I cry every time.
C. Fox: The prayer was written, then Mr. Perry who puts me on the spot, watches what I do. He kept saying to me, “Keep praying.” That’s all I would hear so I’m thinking, ‘oh my gosh, I’ve got the words but, with my heart in it,’ and he just keeps taping. What he did and what he allowed us to do was to hold hands while I prayed and the rest manifested through us, the actors, Peter and me. Again, I can’t tell you, it’s like you try something and you know how it feels to people, to you. I am so moved by how much people are moved by something that I have believed in but didn’t know if what you’re doing is going to affect people like that, at all.
Talk2SV: I’m sure you’ve heard the expression–judges think they are next to God if not God themselves. So to have that particular scene with the judge crying offers a unique subtext that perhaps wasn’t scripted and came across authentically.
C. Fox: Exactly and that’s what I think is the other; I don’t want to call it magic, because it’s something else. It’s that something else that can’t be thought through to make something be a good product. It just has to happen. And I didn’t know that he cried until I saw the show. I was doing the prayer and would kind of look at him but I didn’t really see him, I left the room. When I watched it I was so emotional.
Talk2SV: Let’s switch to the relationship between Hanna and Katheryn Cryer (Renee Lawless); whose bond extends beyond an employer-employee relationship. What feels familiar to you about their concentric friendship within the prevailing hierarchy that keeps them from crossing the lines?C. Fox: I think pain connects; most people can feel pain or a lack of voice, when you don’t have a voice. I don’t know if it’s just a woman thing, instinctively, we recognize strength and when somebody is holding on by their fingernails. We are compassionate so I think you can’t walk past someone crying and not ask if they’re alright. Even if you don’t ask you stand by in case you can do something. I think the first thing that we connected with was parenthood, troubled teens, troubled children; there’s a connection that exists even among people who may not want to speak to each other. Imagine two different women standing on a corner and they don’t each other at all. If one or the other woman’s child ran into the street I bet you that other woman, as a mother or not, would run out there instinctively to get that child.
Talk2SV: The camaraderie between Hanna and Katheryn reminds me of characters in the book, The Women of Brewster Place, specifically, the characters portrayed by Oprah Winfrey and Lyn Whitfield in the TV movie version. Whitfield’s toddler son was accidentally electrocuted, causing her to slip into a catatonic, emotionally-rife state. Easing further into a deeper depression, her best friend, the Oprah Winfrey character, held her close and essentially rocked her back into consciousness and the painful reality of loss. Clearly, it is one of my favorite Oprah acting roles.
C. Fox: I loved that scene, it wears my soul out.
Talk2SV: That is a snapshot of friendship.
C. Fox: Yes it is.
Talk2SV: That closeness is what I see budding between Hanna and Katheryn.
C. Fox: Oh, thank you for that. That’s so tender to me; I hope we do get to keep that connection so it can develop into such a friendship because that’s true intimacy between two women. I don’t think our medium often gets to show intimacy and definitely intimacy, not sex. I just think we need that; to know that whatever else is happening in the world, bonding and relationships take work but the intimacy is so much richer than the flagrant nothingness we deal with right about now.
Talk2SV: We came to know you on another TV drama of course, In The Heat of the Night, now some 20 years later audiences have a chance to embrace you again. It seems that The Haves and Have Nots is an equal gift to the network because it has done so much for OWN and for the second half of your career. What’s been the best blessing of being Hanna Young?
C. Fox: The best blessing of being Hanna Young is almost exactly what you just said, I had a fantastic opportunity and gift in The Heat of the Night; however, it was so new to me and I was so gullible because I didn’t know anything about television. Just to get a paycheck from theatre to television was exciting to other people but I’m truly an actor’s actor. I really do think of the money second, I want to do the project.
Following Heat of the Night, I didn’t pursue TV roles because there didn’t seem to be a place for me or anything that really drew me. But when I saw this I had been considering trying to get back into auditioning more or looking for more film and television roles. Honestly, the thought was a drag; the idea of that whole process. When this project came across I connected from my soul.
The audition came across the paper and I remember everybody talking about Tyler and Oprah were doing something –whether it was a sitcom or a drama– I remember thinking, ‘man I wish she would do a drama.’ I hadn’t seen any breakdown or anything, I was like, ‘I don’t want to do another sitcom. I just wish they would do a drama.’ When I got the audition and it said they were doing a sitcom and a drama and I could audition for it and it was for this character, it was like, that’s it, I know that woman! I hope I get it because that’s my part! To get it was like, “Yes!” I get to come back into the houses and homes of people that embrace me and loved me as “Lou Ann,” now with another portrayal that I’m very proud to offer them. I hope they embrace me the same way. The fact that they are doing so is a gift beyond words. Whether it is the last thing I do, how it came about, and sitting in it right now has been one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given in my life as an artist.
Talk2SV: Hanna looks one way at work (she wears a wig), and another way at home (au natural). What is the significance or the symbolism of Hanna’s hairstyles?
C. Fox: Oh my, can I tell you, I could just leap. Thank you for asking the question. Again, it was a choice. When you realize you now have a role that you can do something with, you can empower the character or do something different because you’re going to see it more than once, that’s another gifting and a responsibility. I immediately knew my own personal struggle being a black woman and our hair issues I wanted the world to see it’s not shown.
Most of the time the artists we see on TV and film, even if they start out with a natural, there’s going to be some movie they’re going to put them in wearing a wig, longer hair, shiny and permed. Yes, we like our different styles but we don’t see us take a wig off, braid your hair or not and I wanted to show the realms of those extremes. I wanted to show the reality of that on television. Definitely the way in which we may go to work looking one way and once we’re at home, we look differently. Particularly, when we go to work or we’re around a certain type of people (black or white), or in a certain environment, we change to accommodate that environment. But what are we when we go home?
Talk2SV: It speaks to one of the fundamental rules in acting, show me, don’t tell me.
Talk2SV: You don’t have to say a thing; those of us who get it, we get it. You showed us, you didn’t have to tell us why, it didn’t have to be written, nobody had to stand on a soap box and preach it.
C. Fox: Thank you. And that was the other part. To not talk about it, to just do it because we’re not talking about it every day, we just do it.
Thank you for liking it, thank you so much. I’d like to ask you a question; what were your thoughts when Hanna fell to her knees begging Candace to tell the truth that would set Benny free from jail?
Talk2SV: The scene arrested my emotions. It is typical is the mother-daughter relationship where the mother is dominant and the daughter is subservient, that’s just the paradigm we grow up with. To see the mother humble herself, pleading to one child for another child, arrested my emotions. Right in that moment you are forced to process that scenario and it’s confounding, startling even. More even, it’s so powerful.
C. Fox: I’m going to hug you when I see you because that is the scene that Mr. Perry wrote for us and it arrested my emotions too. My mind said, ‘Mamas don’t bow down to anybody.’ Then I thought, it depends; you (a mother) would only do it (beg) if you really had to. It’s the last plea and it was so hard for me to do that one, to register it, then I realized what I felt. I did what you did to have to portray it; if you had to go up against the devil to help your child you would do it. But it got me the same way. I hope the mamas are not going to be mad at me.
Talk2SV: Admittedly, though I am not one, I think a mom gets it. The cord between mother and child is impenetrable; she will go through hell and high water to save a child. And it is also true that mothers have their “favorite” child as it were. That dynamic is not necessarily evil but it’s a necessary part of the family dynamic. Benny is Hanna’s favorite child as well he would be because of how he cares for her.
C. Fox: Yes. And it seems like the gender, sons and fathers always bump heads and mothers and daughters do the same; it makes sense. And the funny part is they (Hanna and Candace) are probably identical to each other.
“The Haves and the Have Nots” is produced for OWN by Tyler Perry Studios. It is created, written, directed and executive produced by Tyler Perry. Visit the show online at www.oprah.com/havesandhavenots
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