In 2008, writer/director Tyler Perry released “The Family That Preys,” a powerful drama about the friendship between a wealthy matriarch and a working-class woman. Though one of Perry’s best, it does leave the viewer feeling somewhat incomplete.
Renee Lawless, one of the stars of the original TV series “The Haves and the Have Nots,” points out that the show serves as a kind of backstory for Perry’s film.
“I think that film, because it did not have a Madea character in it, was one of Perry’s more–for lack of a better word–darker movies,” Lawless said when reached by telephone for an interview. “The comic relief came with Kathy Bates, but there wasn’t that Madea coming to make laughter in the middle of the drama.”
Moving from the big screen to OWN
In this OWN original series, Lawless plays Katheryn Cryer, the matriarch of a large and privileged Georgia family. Her husband, played by veteran actor John Schneider, is a judge who likes to stray from the comforts of home.
The series pushes traditional TV boundaries in new directions. Katheryn’s daughter Amanda (Jacyln Betham) recently got revenge against the man who raped her. During that episode, it was hard to tell how far Amanda was going to go to even the score.
“We are even darker [with] more twists and more controversies,” she explained. “There’s a scene in that movie where Kathy Bates’ character is speaking with her daughter-in-law. She’s saying ‘You know, my husband had his hotel room and he had his affairs. I had a few myself.’ You get this sense from her in that conversation that there is this massive backstory to this woman’s life as well as her relationship with the Alfre Woodard character that we don’t get to see.”
Somewhat of a Cinderella story
When asked how she got involved in this project, Lawless said it was somewhat of a Cinderella story.
“I was on the road with a Broadway national tour of ‘Wicked.’ I was getting ready to give notice and was realizing I needed to find other work,” she said. “There are various actor databases out there that can send off notices saying ‘Hey, there’s a project that might match your profile.'”
On that particular day, the actress explained, she chose to click on the link and read Katheryn Cryer’s breakdown.
“I went ‘That’s me. I know that woman, I can play that woman. I can do this.’ Then I clicked on it again, opened up the file and realized it was for Tyler Perry,” she explained. “I have a manager, but I self-submitted for this: I sent in my own resume and headshots. Two weeks later, I got an audition.”
Another outlet for original programming
With 3.4 million viewers, “The Haves and the Have Nots” has become the highest-rated show in OWN’s history.
“[The network was] behind us in the beginning, and now they are putting everything behind us. It’s very encouraging; they are extremely supportive. It also opens the door for them to bring in other projects like our show,” Lawless said. “We’re kind of helping each other. They’re grateful for us; we’re grateful for them. It’s a good marriage.”
The actress also pointed out that Tyler Perry was thinking about creating his own network before creating the series. At the same time, Oprah Winfrey was looking for other programming, other things to add to her network.
“They are very good friends, and they were having a conversation. I think he said ‘Why don’t I just write something for you?’ They have such a solid friendship that it was mutually beneficial to both of them and it worked.”