Greenleaf Season 4 Q&A with Deborah Joy Winans
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with the gracious and stunning Deborah Joy Winans in New York City to discuss Season Four of Greenleaf and what we can expect from her character Charity. Read below to find out the new path Charity will be on before tuning into all-new episodes of Greenleaf on Tuesdays at 10 pm on OWN.
Where did you dig deep into or what did you tap into to play Charity the last few seasons with all the layers you dealt with between your husband being gay, losing a child, postpartum depression, pill addiction?
Deborah Joy Winans: You simply just try to go on the ride with her and that’s what I found myself doing from the very beginning. Just trying to take this ride with her, being open to every script that we got, doing my research, especially when it came to dealing with a loss of a baby; I've never been pregnant myself, my husband and I have been married now just a little over six years and we haven’t been trying (for a baby) and I wanted to understand first, what that was like and so I talked to quite a few women, and also, what it felt like to lose. You want to make it as authentic as possible, you want it to be as sincere as possible because we are touching on things that people have gone through in real life and we don't want it to seem like a caricature of their life. You want them to be able to see it, to touch it, to relate to it, understand it, to feel peace and not to feel shame. It was really a lot of research and being open and allowing myself not to judge Charity but to really just get on the ride with her and whatever came out of that was what it was going to be. I was very happy to take that ride; it was hard because she went through so much, I feel for her. She thought she was married to her best friend then (he) turns out (to be) not quite the lover she was expecting and she had a lot of layers she had to dig through to get to the truth of the matter: Why did she marry him? Did she see signs? She did but she really wasn't paying attention because everything else was so much bigger. Dr. Van Zant got to the bottom of that and so this season you see a freer Charity, someone who is more willing to speak her mind than anything and at this point, it doesn't matter the cost.
After watching the season premiere last night, how was it filming that dinner table scene and the now-infamous “dookie” scene which will undoubtedly be a Gif going forward?
DJW: (laughing) I forgot about that (scene) and I got so tickled because she’s angry and to her, it almost feels like this righteous anger that it’s very much validated. She’s kind of tired of always getting the short end of the stick. It was great and so much fun and clearly if you just say dookie a bunch of times you are cracking up (laughing). The outtakes were hilarious! We all had our moments where we just could not keep it together! But it was fun and we’re a family and that’s what it was when we were able to hold it together; you understood the importance of how she felt at that moment and that was exciting to me.
Some of the themes I noticed from this season preview, as well as the first episode last night - I am not my past, as well as a moral compass. I see Charity is really taking charge, where or when did she abandon the music aspect and really make it a goal to be a pastor? As we saw in the first episode of this new season she is really pushing for it.
DJW: At the beginning, she is talking about wanting to teach and preach and if you remember the very first episode of the first season Grace comes home and I think that’s the catalyst to her remembering what it was that she felt she was called to do. You know how a lot of times that you can have a gift to do something but that’s not really your focus. Your focus is this is your passion, this is your love, this is what you are called to do. This just so happens to be another gift that I have (singing), that’s how Charity feels. Singing is oh I can hit a note that’s fine, but that’s not my passion, that’s not my calling and for years she (Charity) has been put to the side, oh you do this (singing) so well this is what you should do. You recognize that people, really your family, your parents, in particular, feel like if they see a gift (in you) that they like then it’s like oh that’s what you do, that’s what you need to be doing. But you have to follow what’s in your heart and for so long Charity has been quiet - “Well I want to, oh ok” - and Grace comes home and I think that is the catalyst of her feeling like I’m tired of being put in this box. (laughs) Nobody puts Baby in the corner! She wants to, similar to Lady Mae in the third season, she wants to step into what she feels she’s been called to do - she's not trying to sing or be the backdrop anymore; she’s tired of being invisible. So she tried again last season and her father really told her no in a very rough way, and now she’s no longer hiding behind her feelings or emotions and she’s no longer taking what they say and saying, “Oh ok.” She’s tired of it, she’s grown up and been through too much to not speak her mind; she’s been through too much to not be fully aware that life is what you make it and if you don't fight for your dreams then nobody else will. And that’s where she is; she’s ready to fight for them (her dreams) no matter the cost - and that’s very dangerous - and I think that we will see that she’s playing on the devil’s playground and you cannot take fire into your bosom and expect not to be burned. She’s very grown, but we will see how she handles the decisions that she makes and if she’s still up to really fully taking responsibility for her actions.
What have you brought to your character Charity, and describe a few things Charity has given to Deborah Joy in real life?
DJW: I think that I have brought just a sincerity to Charity. I think oftentimes, especially in things that are meant to have a lot of drama, the humanity of that person is often missed because it’s just played up so much, and I feel that I have been able to bring just a real sincerity, a real authenticity to who she is so that people have sympathy for her. They don't just think she’s some young little brat and she’s spoiled and she’s silly and she’s a caricature; they actually relate to her, they actually feel for her and that is what I wanted. You know nobody is perfect - everyone always makes a mistake - but to not laugh at her but cry with her, I think that I was able to bring that. Charity has just given me a new perspective on life. She’s allowed me to not just look and judge. She’s allowed me to try to see the heart of people and not just look at what they are doing and simply (say), “Well they hurt me so this is it.” No, you recognize that hurt people hurt people and that gives you a different perspective and often a different eye into how they are feeling, and you’re not so emotional about it, but (instead), you say, “How can I help you?,” because you recognize it’s not about you. Charity has really given me that perspective on life in general; she enjoys life, she gets hurt but she gets back up again, she never gives up, and I love that and I’m certainly taking that with me.
Talk about this whole situation with Phil of Harmony & Hope. Is there some sort of romance in addition to being his spy per se?
DJW: Charity is willing to go for what’s hers at this point. She’s not looking at Phil as some romance, she’s looking at Phil as a means to an end. This is what I want, he’s in a position to give it to me and I’m going to use it and I’m going to see where it goes. No, it’s not a romance; he has the power to give me what I want and he’s willing to listen to me and he’s willing to see me, so I’m going to do what I gotta do!
Have you been in a situation where you have wanted something so badly and there have been choices or avenues that may have tested your character, and how did you bring that to Charity this season?
DJW: Absolutely! Well, you recognize that people, when they only see what they want and the motivation to getting it is not right, you see that they are willing to compromise in so many different areas. I’ve certainly had moments where, ooh if I choose this, you know in your heart the way to go and the way not to go. I think Charity recognizes that this is not the way to go but she’s so hurt and she’s so angry and she wants what she wants but the motivation is wrong and that causes you to make a bad decision. I think that’s where she is. People have those decisions every day! (For example) Am I going to hide my faith if so and so doesn't agree with it? No! If I have to hide who I am from you, that means I am not for you! I think that’s most relatable. The bible says the love of money is the root of all evil, not money but the love of it so the root of what is going on with her, her motivation, is really the part that is wrong. That’s the part that is causing her to feel desperate and make decisions that are not the ones that she is going to want to stand by because she doesn’t want to hurt people, she doesn’t want to hurt her family; she loves her family, she loves her church, she loves the ministry that she feels she has to give, especially to other women that have gone through things that she has gone through! But the motivation behind doing it is what is allowing her to make really bad choices out of hurt and anger and despair. But I love the fact that she’s making a choice! I love that fact that she is speaking up, I love the fact that she is no longer timid and no longer just going back to her corner to play by herself because that is what they told her to do. She knows who she is and she knows who she wants to be and who she’s called to be! I’d rather you make a decision instead of letting years go by and regret never doing anything. That’s not what life is about - you make a decision, if it’s bad you figure out, you apologize, you get back up on your feet and you keep going! She’s being bold now and I love it!
Talk about your relationship with the cast and if there was a scene or moment that was like a masterclass with them?
DJW: We have so much fun (as a cast) together, it’s insane (laughs). It’s a masterclass anytime you are in a scene with Lynn Whitfield or Keith David. There is always so much to learn! I’ll never forget my first season and I just looked at Lynn and the way she moved, the way she would just take a breath, the way she would move her eyes - she understands the camera! She understands her relationship with the camera and I just think it’s so amazing; to sit and watch her and Keith David in a scene is just unreal! But you also understand it’s a game that we get to play. We get to come to work and we come prepared, knowing our lines, ready to work but then we come and leave all of that and we listen to each other and we get to play (off of) each other. We may have one idea for the scene but then we come and wow, Keith is giving me this, oh well that means I can (do this); it’s like a discovery every single day and it’s just fun. I’ve learned so much from every single one of them, even the young ones - Desiree (who plays Sophia), Lovie (who plays Zora), they are so incredible! Lamman, who plays Jacob, my brother, we get in scenes together and they can be the most serious scenes but I’ve learned to be easy, I’ve learned to relax and listen, and then we find the moments and that’s what we get to play with, and then the things that make us cry and they call cut, we hug each other and we breathe - we are really family! They call action and we do what we have to do but it doesn’t feel we have to act, it feels like we are really living in these moments, as these people and their lives mean something to us! These characters really mean something to us. So, we really have too good of a time (laughs)!
Now that you have finished filming this new season, what are your final thoughts about this season?
DJW: I think this is our best season by far! I think it is filled with all of the juicy stuff, the lies, the deception, the sexiness; there’s a lot going on (laughs)!But what I took from it is that these people finally begin to understand their flaws and you finally get to the heart of them. And you see while they may be quite dramatic and a little entitled, you see the heart behind what they do, you see they really do love God and they really do make decisions out of their love and heart for God, for their belief in Him. What I want people to take away from this, especially our young women, is that you are worthy! I think Charity never really realized her identity in Christ, never realized that she's worthy no matter her past mistakes, no matter what she’s done. Her past does not get to dictate her future, she is still worthy of everything God has called her to be, all of her destiny is still there and the longer you keep looking back at the things you’ve done and the mistakes you’ve made, you’ll never get to your destiny! And I think it takes us understanding that we are worthy no matter what has happened, we are worthy of everything that God has for us and we don't have to let our past change our future!