Interview: 'Greenleaf's Deborah Joy Winans
Photo Credit: Deborah Joy Winans Photo Credit: Derek Blanks
Interviews , Television

Interview: 'Greenleaf's Deborah Joy Winans

Deborah Joy Winans Photo Credit: Derek Blanks
Deborah Joy Winans Photo Credit: Derek Blanks

It has been a whirlwind season thus far for the Greenleaf family and their sprawling Memphis megachurch, Calvary. The return of their eldest daughter Grace (Merle Dandridge) last year, turned their world upside down, so much so that the Greenleaf family tree split at the root. Jacob (Lamman Rucker) left the fold to begin his new career with long-time rival church Triumph, while Grace has been steadfast in her desire to seek vengeance against her Uncle Mac (GregAlan Williams). And yet, more than any other character this season, the youngest Greenleaf sibling, Charity Greenleaf-Satterlee has had to find her footing.

With the loss of a baby and her marriage coming to a screeching halt, Charity has had to find her inner strength and truly blossom this season. Determined to step into her own, she’s had to make some extremely tough decisions while forging a new path for herself. Recently, I spoke with Deborah Joy Winans who plays Charity about her character’s stunning arc. We discussed her character’s choices, Winans’ apprehension towards singing, that insane mid-season finale and where we’ll find the newly-single Charity once “Greenleaf” returns this summer.

Aramide Tinubu: Let’s talk about the origins of “Greenleaf.” What was that like getting the call that you booked the series?

Deborah Joy Winans: Oh my goodness! I received the call that I got the part while I was walking from Trader Joe’s on Vine, between Sunset and Hollywood. I literally was in the middle of the street crying my eyes out. Anytime you’ve worked so hard for something, and you set a high goal, and then for something to come through in that sort of way, it does something for your soul. I was in tears. My brother, my sister and my husband were there. We just hollered in the street. We danced. We did it all.

AT: How wonderful! Knowing who you family is and your background with gospel music, were you at all apprehensive about “Greenleaf’s” subject matter since there are so many different layers to the story surrounding the Black church?

DJW: I think that I knew that I was supposed to do it because of how everything came about. I think anytime we talk about church or talk about people’s faith or talk about anything that may seem taboo, everyone is apprehensive. I think everybody is sort of, “How far do we go, how much do we pull back?” There is always a constant checking and re-checking. There is a “What do we write? How does this work?” My hat goes off to the writers for being able to find all these nuances and all of these layered stories for these characters, that the audience can relate to. And, they can also feel the drama that is TV. They can read between the lines. I think that we all care so much about how people receive [“Greenleaf”] that we work hard to make sure it comes across as sincere and true and authentic.

AT: Though Charity is a singer, and your family is so huge in the singing world, I read that you have never been passionate about it. Have you grown more fond of singing because of your character or is acting your true passion?

DJW: Oh yeah, I’ve never loved singing. (Laughing) I have never loved it; I never wanted to do it. I love my family, I love their music, I’m a total fan, but singing was never anything that I loved to do. Acting has been my goal since I was a child. My parents would take us to double feature movies on the weekends, and I would just point at the screen and tell them that that’s what I wanted to do. That’s what I pursued, I went to college, and I got my BFA at Wayne State University in Detroit where I’m from, “313 stand up!” (Laughing) Then I moved to LA, got my MFA from Cal Arts and just continued to pursue it. There were a lot of times where it seemed like it wouldn’t happen or it couldn’t happen, a lot of times where I had doubt and wondered, “God is this where you’ve called me to be?” But, once you prepare, you work hard, and then you surrender the rest to God. I think once I got to that point of surrendering the rest to God and I said: “Look, if this is what you want me to do God, I feel like I’ve done my part, you have to open the door.” That’s what he did.

AT: Last season, Charity was cast aside especially when Grace comes back into the fold. This season she’s had this incredible journey from the loss of one of her babies, and her divorce after finding out that her husband has these feelings for men. Now she might have the opportunity for a new career and a new love. What was the most shocking aspect of Charity’s journey for you this season so far?

DJW: I think that last season we saw Charity beginning to step out of her shell, starting to sort of grow up and learn how life works. She’s the baby, and we know that the babies in the family sort of get what they want, and I think that she realized there was a certain point where she had to grow up, she had to figure out what was going to be best for her. This season, was the growing up. To me, Charity’s biggest shock was in the fourth episode where her husband is trying to be [intimate] with her, and she just can’t do it. I think that’s the point where she realizes, as much as she loves this man, this is not their partnership. She can not do it anymore.

AT: Of course not, and who could blame her?

DJW: That was the biggest shock because, you know, you go on a ride with your character and even when we were shooting the scene, it really dawned on me. I said, “This is it for her. She can’t do it; she can’t be with her husband in this intimate way because she knows that it’s not really his true identity.” That was the biggest shock for Charity, feeling like her marriage has failed. She says to her father “I’m divorced,” and that’s hard because her parents have been married for so many years.

AT: No married person ever wants to get to that point.

DJW: In a family of faith, you don’t believe in divorce, you believe you can make it. Her mother says to her ” You can bend it, you can do all these things, but if you break it, it’s over.” [Charity’s] got all these expectations that she feels she needs to live up to, but she just can’t do it anymore. I think all of that culminates in her just figuring out how to start over, what is she gonna have to do, but also recognizing she doesn’t have to do it alone.

AT: Was there any aspect of her story that was just really hard for you to handle? I know that you said that moment between her and Kevin was very shocking, but, the miscarriage storyline was also very difficult.

DJW: Yeah, that was a really, really, really hard moment. You don’t forget the child that you lost just because you were about to have another one. You don’t forget that child, and so even when we come back in for the second half of this season, you’ll see how Charity is able to cope with that. I think it is also very hard for Charity to see the possibility of new love.

AT: For sure, because when she can’t really trust anything, I did want to ask, do you have a favorite Greenleaf family member?

DJW: You know what, I honestly don’t because I love them all, they are really like my family. I love Bishop; I love Lady Mae, I love Grace, I love Jacob. Jacob is the most annoying big brother that you would ever really have. Everybody plays the part. Grace is the most amazing sister, always trying to make sure that I’m okay, always trying to make sure I have what I need. Kerissa (Kim Hawthorne) is always like “You good? All right ’cause let me show you something.” Then the girls, Lovie [Simone] and Desiree [Ross] are amazing. Lynn [Whitfield] is like our mom in real life; she wants to make sure that everybody’s okay all the time, Keith [David] has so much wisdom. So it’s a real family.

AT: We have to talk about the insane mid-season finale. I just did not see any of it coming. Were you shocked at all by the ending?

DJW: Oh, of course! We were all surprised. We were like “What? What is happening?” But I think people will be happy about it because we as humans like to take our own revenge, we like to make sure the person that has wronged us pays for it, and we want to see them pay for it because we feel like that’s what we deserve. I think it will be satisfying to a lot of people. I think some people will be like “Whoa, wait a minute, did he have to do that, or did she have to do that?” But yeah, we were all shocked. We were like “What? We’re going there?!”

AT: Exactly! It was unbelievable to me, especially knowing that this wasn’t a complete finale. It’s just the midway point.

DJW: Exactly.

AT: Can you talk briefly a little bit about where we’ll see Charity when the season picks up?

DJW: Oh absolutely. Once we pick back up in the second half of season two, Charity will be getting a little antsy; she’ll also become a bit more bold. Though she’s the baby of the family, she’s not a kid. She’s in her early thirties, and she has a child, she’s divorced, she’s got a new career blossoming, and she wants to see if there’s anything else that can blossom along with that career. (Laughing)

AT: What’s next for you, I know that the second half of “Greenleaf“ will start up in a few months. Are you working on any new projects?

DJW: This summer, I will be in California in Santa Monica doing a play called “Born for This: The Musical.”

AT: Congratulations

DJW: Thank you! It’s at the Broad Stage. I’m really excited about it because it’s a project that I get to work on with my brother in real life and I think it’s a great musical, a great story and it’s great singing. It’s really funny to me because I’m like “God, how did I say I never wanted to sing and end up doing all the singing?!” But I want to do what God has called me to do and whatever gifts he gives you, you should use all of them. I’m trying to step up to that challenge and get out of my comfort zone and do what I feel like He’s called me to do.

AT: Lovely. Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Deborah.

DJW: I appreciate you, thank you, I appreciate the love.

AT: Of course, absolutely and congratulations on the mid-season finale.

The second half of the 16-episode sophomore season of “Greenleaf” will air this summer.


Aramide A Tinubu has her Master’s in Film Studies from Columbia University. She wrote her thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger, and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can read her blog at: www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami

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