Allow Jurnee Smollett-Bell to reintroduce herself. The 26-year-old actress has been in the game for a little bit—from playing a piano-prodigy in the 1990s sitcom Full House to holding her own alongside Samuel L. Jackson in the critically acclaimed Eve’s Bayou. But this Friday, she’ll be coming out as a grown woman. She carries the lead role in Tyler Perry’s Temptation playing Judith, a young married woman who gets tempted to step outside of her marriage.
EBONY.com talks with Smollett about the film, her career, and how the role challenged her to rethink her own marriage to musician Josiah Bell.
EBONY: So you get to be a grownup for the first time on film.
Jurnee Smollett-Bell: It’s definitely unlike any character that I’ve ever played before. She really is a woman dealing with woman challenges and woman problems, so it’s nice. Because as an artist, you want to be able to have the freedom to express different sides of you.
EBONY: Why did you want to take on this role?
JSB: As an artist, you want to stretch. That’s the only way you’re going to grow. If I stay inside my comfort zone, do roles that I’ve done before, then I’m never going to get better as an actress. And so I wanted to take it on because I was terrified of it. The different colors, the art of Judith, is very complex. But we as females are very complex. I have friends and girlfriends who have had experiences like [hers], and those are the different emotions and muscles that you want to be able to exercise as an artist.
EBONY: Where did you pull from?
JSB: I spoke with people at counseling centers and marriage counselors and therapists. I’ve also been pretty observant in my life. I’m that person who’s the ear to my friends, and also I just randomly found ways of searching. I even tweeted questions, like asking people about relationships, just to read feedback. Stuff like that.
EBONY: Did doing this movie challenge you to think about your own marriage in any particular way?
JSB: I think there were things that resonated with me in just how important it is to not be comfortable. You have to nourish that relationship, you have to work on that relationship and value it constantly. The thing we see in the film with Judith and Bryce is, Bryce gets so comfortable he starts to take Judith for granted. Those are the things that, when there’s that kind of gap in the relationship, [it] opens you up to vulnerability. People can start to fill that gap with thoughts and doubt about your relationship, about your marriage. And then a guy comes along and fills Judith up with all this gas about how “you deserve better, I would treat you better” and all that kind of stuff. Those thoughts lead to choices and behavior that she never thought she was capable of.
If I stay inside my comfort zone, do roles that I’ve done before, then I’m never going to get better as an actress. And so I wanted to take it on because I was terrified of it.
EBONY: Most folks talk about the start of your career as Eve’s Bayou, where you were the lead as a little girl. But before that, I remember you as Denise on Full House. Has Hollywood made it easy for you to grow up?
JSB: It’s been kind of seamless. It’s not without its challenges, but I’ve just been blessed enough to be able to work with directors and actors that I’ve learned from, and I’ve been able to mature in my roles. It’s just interesting because I’ve always played my age for the most part. I’ve been blessed.
EBONY: You’re not just an actor. You’re civically involved too.
JSB: I have so many passions outside of my passion for acting. My passion for philanthropy and activism, HIV and children… Honestly, I didn’t find myself dwelling on [when I wasn’t getting hired]. I just live my life. I go where I feel God is calling me. And I have such an amazing foundation in my mother, my family, and now my amazing best friend who just happens to be my husband. He keeps me so balanced, man. I can get a little scattered and want to be everywhere and want to do everything for everyone. And he seems to kind of keep me grounded in a way of taking care of myself and taking care of, um, you know, me. So I’m glad to have him.