The first season of “The Haves and the Have Nots” has hitched viewers to a two-sided family polemic, equally a bumpy ride, full of unexpected surprises. The season finale promises to be no less spectacular on September 3rd.
Situated prominently as the most popular drama on the OWN cable platform, Tyler Perry’s “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. 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.
I spoke to Renee Lawless about her role as Katheryn Cryer–
Sandra Varner/Talk2SV: Let me compliment you on your performance; your role as Katheryn Cryer and the predicaments she finds herself managing are fully engaged, fleshed out scenarios. How personally invested are you in this character and does she hold any significance to you in any particular way?
R. Lawless: Oh goodness, yes, she does actually. Renee Lawless is not worth $50M like Katheryn Cryer and I don’t live in a Tudor mansion in Savannah, Georgia; however, what I relate to Katheryn is that we are similar in age; I don’t normally say that nationally but I don’t have a problem with that personally. We still have the same hang-ups about image and the way our lives take us over different hurdles so we’re very similar.
As far as the character and the story points between Katheryn with Hanna, I lost my best friend of 32 years to cancer, five years ago. Unfortunately, I had several friends that I could call on to ask questions about what was it like to go through breast cancer as far as what her character is going. Although I have not experienced it, I have been touched by it, tremendously. I feel it is very important to get it right because I did not want to portray her feelings or anything that she was going through in the wrong way. For the people who are suffering with breast cancer or any cancer I did not want them to say, ‘oh, she has no idea what she’s talking about.’ I did invest in that aspect [of preparation] deeply.
Talk2SV: Hanna Young (portrayed by Crystal Fox) is your maid and has become your character’s trusted confidant, your right hand support through your battle with breast cancer. The on screen chemistry between you and Crystal is quite palpable. Is it as believable off screen as well?
R. Lawless: Oh, absolutely. First of all, I was very fortunate to audition with Crystal Fox at my call back; she and I hit it off immediately. I think that is probably what ultimately propelled both of us to getting the roles. Then, a week before production, I learned that Angela Robinson had gotten the role of Veronica Harrington. Angela and I are from the same home town (Jacksonville, FL) and over the years we had seen each other in New York during various auditions. I always wanted to work with her and vice versa. She actually met my mother first; we were both involved in pageants a hundred years ago. I started to break down and cry when I found out that Angela got the part. So there were two women before I even stepped on the set that I already had a very good relationship with and that relationship only grew off set.
When you bring in John Schneider (who plays Katheryn’s husband, Jim Cryer), I’ve been a big fan of him as ‘Bo Duke,’ that completely turned into having a really good friend in John off set. Ironically, the closer John and I became as friends the more volatile he and I got on set. If you think we’ve been at each other’s throats throughout the show, wait until the finale. It’s so funny. I think the whole cast as a unit is very close, we’re all very supportive of one another, we’re very proud of each other’s accomplishments. I think that is why we are so effective on set because of how we all feel about each other off set and on the show.
Talk2SV: Well that said my suspicions are that Katheryn and Jim are not done yet in the intimacy department despite their marital struggles that are rife with dysfunction.
R. Lawless: I’ll give you a little story and a little bit of a secret. People always ask me if I have a joke about what happens on set and every so often I will tell this story. The very first day we shot we happened to shoot episode three before we shot the pilot and that was the bedroom scene with John. John had been actively working out with a new fitness regime because he wanted to look good for the show. In that scene John is supposed to be changing clothes and the camera was on me, it wasn’t on John at the time, but he’s still going through the motions. I as Katherine am supposed to be laying into him with a barrage of insults. Well, John is stripping and takes his shirt off and Katheryn is thinking, ‘you’re a low down dirty snake,’ all the while Renee Lawless is thinking, ‘darn John, you’re wickedly good looking’ (laughter). I couldn’t show that as an actor. I was supposed to be yelling at him but I tell people that was probably my hardest thing to do on the set because I had to pretend like I hated him when he’s just so cute.
Talk2SV: Funny story! As you explain, because John Schneider is irresistible I think Jim and Katheryn will have at least one more good romp before the season ends (laughter).
R. Lawless: I can’t speak to what’s going to happen in the future. I never know where the wonderful, fabulous Mr. Tyler Perry is going to take us. I will say that I don’t know if it’s because I’ve put my thoughts to the universe but all the times where he takes us is exactly where I would love to go. So, who’s to say, maybe? I don’t know what Mr. Perry has on his plate but I will say there are times when I’m yelling at John on set and I’ll stop and say, ‘will you quit smiling, just don’t smile, I can’t do this if you’re smiling at me,’ because he’s so cute. I’m not sure what will happen between Katheryn and Jim, we’ll see.
Talk2SV: Talk to me a bit about the one and only Tyler Perry; I’ve settled upon the notion that “The Haves and the Have Nots” perfectly combines Tyler’s creative strengths in this soap opera-ish platform. The show’s arc and the characters (in my opinion) pivot; they cull at a perfect convergence. Given his body of work– plays, TV shows and films– Haves and Have Nots approach his apex, again, my perspective. What had been your history with Tyler Perry before this show?
R. Lawless: First of all, I was the supreme fan of Mr. Perry. Diary of a Mad Black Woman –if you ask anytime, anywhere, before this show happened– I will always say is my favorite movie, period. More than Titanic, more than Gone with the Wind, only because it got me through a huge break up years ago; I tell everybody I could quote the entire movie.
Because of that movie, I reached out. I’ve seen a lot of his other films and I have been a very big fan because of his ability to weave family drama, hardships, with spiritual and secular terminology, getting the point across but doing it in a way that’s not in your face. I think he pours his heart and soul into everything he does. Although he may not have gone through that particular conflict (in his stories) he has been through a conflict that is similar and it’s very evident in his writing.
He’s also deeply spiritual and a Christian. He loves the Lord, so do I and so do a number of other people (working on the show); he imparts that love into the shows. As far as the HHNs are concerned, the first day I walked on set I was trying not to do a deer in the headlights because I’m in such awe of him. He’s one of the hardest working individuals I’ve ever worked with or ever seen.
And I do agree, I think that this show is the culmination of his genius, his way of making drama as well combining it and bringing that drama to the television screen. We shudder to use the words “soap opera like” but if that’s the genre that it’s becoming, I mean, we’re not going to fight it. If that’s what makes it successful we’re not going to fight it.
Talk2SV: Many actors live through a type of have-and-have-not trajectory over the course of their acting careers. Have you ebbed and flowed as an actor?
R. Lawless: Oh, heavens, ebb and flow is synonymous with actors. I live on Broadway, people are on Broadway one day and they’re in the unemployment line the next. You can be on a hit Emmy Award TV show for six seasons and then not work for another six years. That is part of being an actor. I just came off the road with a show before I got this; I thought I was going to be unemployed again. I planned to be unemployed and I was going to go back and audition and look for my next project. I happened to audition before I left the road, was very fortunate to get this job and went from one thing to another; that’s what we (actors) all strive to do. Unfortunately that is not always the case with actors. We all ebb and flow.
The beauty of The Haves and the Have Nots is the show is basically about what it means to have. It’s not a racially based show—yes, there are black actors and there are white actors—really, the only time race ever comes up is when Hanna is talking to her son or Veronica is talking to her son and it’s in reference to something that has nothing to do with race. She’s just making a statement. Our show is based on the Cryers who have all this money but they are so empty and void of so much.
I consider Katheryn Cryer to be a hollow oak tree whereas Hanna Young doesn’t have much monetarily but so much else: the love of her son, the love of her faith, all of that. The Have and Have Nots has an ebb and flow, just like actors. In many ways I would never trade it because I think those ebbs and flows that actors go through make us who we are and it makes us the actors we need to be to recreate these situations as best we can. We get the lowest of lows and the highest of highs much like the average person. I am grateful for my ebb and flow of life.
“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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