Knoxville native Renee Lawless is one of the stars of Tyler Perry’s new drama series “The Haves and the Have Nots,” which premieres on OWN at 9 p.m. Tuesday evening, May 28.
“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 mansion in Savannah, Ga.
From the outside, the Cryers are the 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) is a powerful judge whose double life, including tawdry affairs with high-priced escorts, puts his family and political ambitions at risk. His wife, Katheryn Cryer, played by Lawless, is the ultimate matriarch portraying a loving and dutiful wife, but she is willing to do anything to protect her family’s status.
Hanna Young (Crystal Fox) is 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)—a manipulative opportunist who will stop at nothing to get what she wants.
Lawless answered some questions about herself and the new show via email.
How long did you live in Knoxville? Any remaining ties to the community?
A: I was born in Knoxville while my mom and dad were finishing up their degrees at UT, and I’ve got family spread out all over East Tennessee — Oak Ridge, Morristown, Clinton, you name it. I spent most of my childhood in Oak Ridge, and we are all the biggest Volunteer fans in the world. My first car was orange, I bleed orange, and my current car, named Smokey, is covered with UT stickers. I love Knoxville. It will always be home to me.
“The Haves and the Have Nots” seems a significant departure from most of Tyler Perry’s films, which generally are morality tales. Do these characters have redeeming values to emulate?
A: There is a very strong moral thread running through this show, and it comes from every character, but in different ways. My character is a “Have,” when it comes to money, but a “Have Not” when it comes to faith. The new maid I hire, named Hanna, is just the opposite. My character certainly has some redeeming qualities, but they are deeply hidden under layers and layers of baggage. Through her relationship with Hanna, she is able to learn to change her outlook and to find a bit of her own humanity.
Compare and contrast with another wealthy family and their staff, the people of “Downton Abbey.”
A: We are “Downton Abbey” meets “The Help”! My character brought the money and the status into the marriage, but my husband gets all the public adulation.
In “Downton,” the family is far more functional than ours is, that’s for sure. In our show, I think the staff might be a bit more grounded than the staff in “Downton Abbey,” but this is a sprawling drama, so things and people can turn on a dime.
What’s the most interesting aspect of your character?
A: That what you see in the first episode is vastly different that what you will see four or five episodes later. She has long standing in Georgia and the community, and to everyone around her, she can rule with an iron fist. Inside, however, she is empty and alone. Viewers will see some of her layers peeled away and, for an actress, that is just great. I am really excited about continuing to discover and share more about this complex woman.
The series is being filmed in Atlanta? What have you learned about that city that you love?
A: I’ve been in and out of Atlanta all my life, and I have made great friends here, which has been wonderful throughout filming here at Tyler Perry Studios. It’s a wonderful city, and I do love it here. I have played the Fox Theater three times (twice in “Wicked” and once in “Beauty and the Beast”), and I must say that the audiences here are just terrific.
Your impressions of Tyler Perry? And Oprah?
A: Tyler Perry is the hardest-working man I have ever seen in my entire life. He must never sleep. To work as hard as he does (he writes, direct and produces), he never loses his cool, either. He is the calmest creative force I’ve ever witnessed, and he really respects his actors.
I only met Oprah once, and she is the only person I have ever met who made me speechless. My lips just wouldn’t move. I really look forward to seeing her again, so that hopefully this time I can actually tell her how much I admire her.
© 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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