Deborah Joy Winans talks play, makes a new family on OWN melodrama, ‘Greenleaf’

Photo Credit: Derek Blanks
Photo credit: Derek Blanks

OWN network’s new nighttime drama, “Greenleaf,” a scripted series about a Black megachurch based in Memphis, is where reality meets TV. Here, rolling out chats with Deborah Joy Winans, a member of the singing Winans family who’s expressing her creativity in a new way. She’s the daughter of Mom and Pop Winan’s third oldest and twin son, Carvin Winans.

Winans’ first venture into acting was playing her aunt CeCe Winans in the Angela Basset-directed “Whitney,” a TV movie. Now she’s expanded her resume by playing Charity Greenleaf, a daughter of Bishop James Greenleaf Lady Mae Greenleaf, who founded the powerful church filled with secrets, sex and scandal.

What is the highlight of “Greenleaf” to you?
The highlight of the show to me is family. There’s a love and familial bond that is undeniable when watching this show and [that] makes it very real and very special.

Tell us about your character, Charity Greenleaf-Satterlee.
Charity is a good daughter that doesn’t feel the payoff of being so good. I think she feels unappreciated and I think that is something she has carried with her for a long time. She looks for ways to find that love and acknowledgment through her kind and caring husband, Kevin. Her freedom is found in her worship when she sings. Although, I’m not sure she is fully aware of that.

How did you prepare for the role?
I think Charity and I have similarities, so most of my homework for this role was already done. I’m not the daughter of a bishop but my dad is an elder in the church. I sang in the choir growing up and more recently served on the worship team at my church in California. When this was offered to me, I simply began to think about my life. I think my biggest challenge going into this was being married to someone on screen whom I never met.

Courtesy of OWN
Courtesy of OWN

What is your favorite line or scene?
So far, my favorite moment is when Mac folds his napkin at the end of the dinner scene in episode one and looks at Grace. WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOHOOOOO!!!! What a look. Greg Alan Williams is absolutely incredible to me. I also love Lady Mae at the end of the dinner scene where she stands up and says, “We don’t talk like that in this house, we don’t swear to God, this is not Arizona.” This cast is amazing.

What’s it like working with the actors on the set? Did you make new friends?
It was so much fun. Quite an enjoyable experience. Everyone was so giving and so ready to help you succeed. I actually made a new family.

What can the audience expect?
The audience can expect to be uplifted, shaken, hurt, perplexed … to feel all the human emotions that are natural to feel in life when things touch us. This show, though written for TV, has writers and a cast that captures real life and can touch you in a very real way.

What is your performance background?
I got my BFA in theater from Wayne State University. Before I graduated from Wayne, I spent a month in Moscow at the Moscow Art Theatre School for additional training. I then traveled to California where I received my MFA in acting from California Institute of the Arts. My first job out of CalArts was performing monologues at the Women of Faith conferences across the country. I’m currently in the middle of a play/musical called “Born For This.” We just closed at The Alliance Theatre in Atlanta and are headed to Washington DC’s Arena Stage where we will run from July 1-Aug 28. The only TV I did before this amazing opportunity was a small roll in the TV movie, “Whitney,” directed by Angela Bassett.

What else are you good at creatively, in addition to acting?
I’m not completely sure yet. I often joke with my husband and say to him, “You know I have two theatre degrees right? That’s all I know how to do.” LOL! He went to Pepperdine Law School, has four degrees and passed the California Bar first time around, so I always make sure he doesn’t expect too much from me. I do think we have learned a great deal from each other and I’m trying a few other things so we will see what the future brings.

Which do you enjoy most?
I enjoy working. And, I really enjoy the fact that I get to do what I love and call it work.

What was the last film/TV show you saw that you didn’t act in and thought, now that was good? Why?
I just binge-watched “The Americans;” it was incredible. The premise of the whole show was so out there, and the way they wrote it and created it was amazing.

How you do spend your day, when you’re not shooting?
Catching up with my family, working on the next project. Face-timing with my niece, Sophia, because she can talk all day and she is hilarious.

Who are the gurus in your life?
My husband, my mom, my pastors and my acting teachers. There are quite a few and I’m sure I will continue to learn from others along the way.

What’s next on the horizon?
Next for me is tackling “Born For This” at Arena Stage in D.C. from July 1 – Aug 28, 2016. That is where my focus is.

Yvette Caslin
Yvette Caslin

I'm a writer, image architect & significance marketer. Love photojournalism, creative expression & originality.

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