OWN drama Greenleaf is currently in its third season, keeping fans of the church drama on the edge of their seats since it’s summer 2016 debut.
Just days after the series was renewed for a fourth season by the network, leading lady Merle Dandridge sat with EBONY to discuss the popular series, her own history with the Black Church and more.
How do you feel about the progression and growth of Grace Greenleaf’s character over the past three seasons?
Grace came home without thinking this entire journey was going to happen. She came just to go to Faith’s funeral and head back out, but as it turned out, all of these things that she had been running from for the past 20 years caught up with her. She found herself in the same place she was when she left.
When she returned, she knew she had a new set of tools to deal with these things. As a grown woman, she was able to really come face-to-face with the call on her life, which she, in essence, turned her back on, and the smooth waters the Greenleafs tried to maintain while she was gone turned into a complete hurricane.
Even with all of the family drama, as a woman of God, she knows she needs to mend things between them while coming face-to-face with these demons. Within Season 3, we’re seeing her freely search inward. Her daughter is growing up and questioning her own faith, she has this ongoing battle with her mother, there’s just so many different things she tackling.
Is there anything about Grace that reminds you of yourself?
The thing about Grace that I really love is that she’s not afraid to get back up after being knocked down, she never lays down and says, “I can’t do it.” She might doubt herself, but she is always fighting and looking for the best in people.
Greenleaf started out with a very passionate following, as do a lot of shows, but you guys have been able to maintain that same level of interest with your fans over the past three seasons, while some shows have begun to taper off. What do you credit with Greenleaf’s staying power?
The momentum that the show has picked up is humbling and really heartwarming, but what really touches me is when I see people on the street and they tell me what the show means to them. When someone tells me an episode helped spark a much-needed conversation about generational strife, that it gave them permission to take the lid off and let the oxygen flow into a jar they’ve been covering, for me, that’s really gratifying. It tells me that we’ve put our finger on a little bit of truth in people’s hearts and lives. I feel like there’s a community connection that people resonate with.
I think part of the reason it’s so successful is also because it addresses issues within the Black church realistically. It removes the “holier-than-thou” curtain that people who grew up in the church may have experienced. What has been the response toward the show from members of the Black church?
My biggest barometer for that would be my family. The Dandridges are steeped in the Memphis church. I recently took a trip home and was able to sit in my big mama’s church and hear my uncle preach while I’m sitting between my dad and my auntie. All of my cousins – I have about 45 first cousins – they all immediately speak to the truth of the show. My job is to pull from the page and make it real, so for me to look into their faces and see how deeply it resonates with them tells me that we’re on the right track.
I’ve actually never had the experience that people often allude to where there’s some kind of strife about what we’re doing from the church. Greenleaf has such great affection for the church. If anything, I get people telling me, “I went through that,” or, “that episode was just like what happened at my church!” They get excited because they feel seen and acknowledged.
Season three has seen some great guest appearances. How was it working with LeToya Luckett, Patti Labelle and Iyanla Vanzant?
LeToya is awesome! She’s a great girlfriend and she’s so good in the role of Rochelle Cross! It’s just so delicious and nuanced and heartbreaking at the same time, you can really see where her pain is coming from and why she’s so driven to do the things she does. The thing is, she’s so smart in the way she does it, which makes the character even more terrifying. On set, she’s so fun and so hilarious.
Now, Ms. Patti? She lights up the set every time she comes, and it is a great privilege to be in artistry with her. Iyanla? Come on! There is nobody more down to earth that her. She keeps it real and I always feel seen and loved-up around her. She’s as warm and nurturing as everyone thinks. Also, who needs their lives fixed more than the Greenleafs [laughs]?
Your co-stars and TV parents, Lynn Whitfield and Keith David, are both highly respected, veteran actors. What have you learned from observing them on set?
The great thing about both of them is that they have such great stamina and endurance, so there isn’t a single moment that goes by that isn’t examined and ferociously worked until it gets to the best place it can be. To be around that is infectious and inspiring.
Check out a preview from tonight’s episode below.
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I will never get over how beautiful this week’s episode is. It made me weep openly for anyone who has ever felt far from God. @silverthroat and the entire cast are stunning, script by our show creator Craig Wright and direction by EP Clement Virgo are both superb. So, tune in friends, come to the altar. See you there. Tomorrow 10/9c on @owntv @lionsgatetv #Greenleaf
Greenleaf airs Wednesdays at 10p.m. on OWN.