OWN TV network joined forces with the Tribeca Film Festival on April 20th to premiere OWN’s upcoming television series “Greenleaf,” which is executive produced by Oprah Winfrey.
Winfrey who also has an acting role in the series along with cast members Lynn Whitfield, Merle Dandridge, Keith David, Lamman Rucker, television writer Craig Wright and director Clement Virgo were in attendance at the premiere and spoke about the series after the first episode was screened.
Speaking on the essence of what the show is about at it’s core writer Craig Wright stated:
What I keep telling people about this show is it’s not a soap, it’s not a sermon, it’s a story about a woman who returns home because she misses the family and the faith she left behind. It doesn’t purport to be a portrait of any specific church or any specific community. It’s a story about a loss faith and an attempt to get it back by setting things right and about all of the challenges and obstacles that come in your way when you try and fix the system.
Emmy Award winning actress Lynn Whitfield who recently had a recurring role on the VH1 series Hit the Floor, stars as Greenleaf family matriarch Mae Greenleaf to which she spoke on taking on the role saying:
Well when I saw the script and then they said well Craig wants to talk to you and he said well we’re really interested in you for this. And I said well I don’t know why there’s not too much there. I didn’t now who Lady Mae was from what I saw. And he said no don’t worry about it you’re gonna see from episodes to come. And I said oh I see why you want me to do it, and he said Oprah loves you and wants you to do it.
Oprah having previously co-starred with Whitfield in the 1989 tv movie the Women of Brewster Place, chimed in saying:
“You were the only person who I wanted to do it.”
Whitfield went on to further elaborate on how the story of Greenleaf is not a typical one:
“So my point to the answer that there was not much there is, you haven’t seen what happens but what Craig promised me and what Clement promised me was boots on the ground everyday was that we would explore and it would be collaborative. And so I’m discovering who she is in every episode and it’s very exciting. What I loved was that this story we have not seen on television. What I loved although there is something mentioned about race was this was not about racial problems or financial difficulty. The people you just met have to deal with themselves and their lives and their problems. I just loved that it was so eloquently written and the setting and everything. And this lady loved the story and was behind it and believed in it and to speak about belief and how you war through getting to the truth.”
Keith David speaking on how he stepped into role of Bishop James Greenleaf the patriarch of the Greenleaf family, David explained:
“Having in my own life having wanting to be a minister at one point, I was immediately fascinated. What I loved the most about him and there’s a Bishop Wright who I consulted in Memphis. I talked to him about how Bishop is always able to use scripture to manipulate whatever he wants and he said oh I’m the one you want to talk to because I know how to do that. It works both ways. There’s that wonderful time when the minister can speak to you and he will quote some scripture and you go ahh ohhh, and you’re life is changed in a wonderful way and then there’s that time when they use the scripture and you kind of go hey he just manipulated me and he has that way of doing that which is marvelous. The preacher is just a man with all the frailties that humans have and we see that in the story with Bishop. He falls short a few times of a lot of things in his family and in the church. But inherently I think he’s a good person.”
Speaking on a pivotal scene between the family in the series’ premiere episode as well as what drew her to the script lead actress Merle Dandridge stated:
“When I first saw the script first I was completely compelled to it because I felt like I understood and knew this world and understood these people. But when GG responds in that way I think she’s speaking to a question I think a lot of us have in our hearts, and when we’re searching for how to express ourselves spiritually these days and or if they’ve been wounded in some way by the actual institution of the church and are looking for their own path or they’re looking for the way they want to get into God. And I think in some way we are all searching for that, so I was very moved by it.”
In capturing Oprah’s grand return to acting in a television series, director Clement Virgo spoke about the essence of buildup being essential to present Oprah’s arrival in the series:
“Well as a filmmaker I remember when I first met Oprah I said to her well how do you like to work with your director, she said you tell me what to do and I’ll do it. I knew that it was a good opportunity to give her kind of a movie star entrance it was key because I knew that everyone would be expecting that and waiting for her to show up on screen. I wanted to tease it out, tease it out and then bam! you see her onscreen, and you know when you see her it’s like yes. It was good.”
The characters in the series are not just living beings, but the Greenleaf home in itself plays an important role as a non living character and the decision on the home was no easy task which both Clement and Oprah spoke on saying:
Clement: I read Craig’s script and there was this house in the story and I saw this house that they picked and it wasn’t the house that I thought and Oprah said to me what do you think of the house and I said I hate the house I hate the house too. And then I said look give me some time and I’m gonna find you the right house because that’s not the house that I saw. Then we searched and I found this house and I videotaped it on my phone and I sent it Oprah.
Oprah: I didn’t like the house the original house that was found I didn’t like. We are now using the house that’s the school, the house has become the school. Oprah: You remember what you said?
Clement:I said it was adequate.
Oprah: And I said I hate the word adequate. Adequate is just so mediocre. Adequate who wants a adequate house. Do you want to live in a adequate house? Adequate, I said that house should have it’s own personality. I now love that house that the Greenleafs now live in, but it was Clement who wouldn’t settle for adequate and that’s how we ended up with that house.
When asked about producing projects with a certain emotional pull, rather than just interesting plotlines Oprah said:
“Well because I believe that what we all love is a good story whether it’s your friend telling you or your mother telling you we all love a good story. I learned this a few years on the Oprah Show, in order to truly move people you have to connect to their heart and to their emotions. So I’m all about, my real role on Earth is to lift the consciousness to use the platform of television my work in the magazine Oprah Magazine. All of my work is about the same thing it’s about showing people new ways of seeing themselves and seeing the problems and flaws and dysfunctions that we all have, and shining a little light on that being able to lift just enough so you can see yourself in that. So the idea of bringing light, the light of awareness, the light of consciousness to the work is what I’m always striving for no matter what I’m doing.”
Greenleaf will premiere over two nights on Tuesday, June 21st at 10:00 pm ET/PT and Wednesday, June 22nd at 10:00 pm ET/PT on OWN. The first season will feature 13-episodes which will air weekly on Wednesday’s at 10 pm ET/PT.