Life on the set of the highly rated, OWN TV prime time drama The Haves and the Have Nots often reminds the ensemble, multiethnic cast of their storied pasts. The hour-long, Tyler Perry-executive produced, written, created and directed series chronicles the interactions and conflicts between three families based out of Savannah, Ga: the wealthy Cryers (haves), the accomplished Harringtons (haves) and the working class Youngs (have nots).
The Haves and the Have Nots, like other network television soap operas, is loaded week after week with story arcs consisting of illness, illicit affairs, criminal activity, family conflict and corrupt behavior. Based on Perry’s 2011 stage play of the same name, the actors agree OWN TV’s inaugural scripted series is a welcoming, well-oiled machine in front of and behind the camera.
“[Tyler Perry] is the hardest working man in show business,” says Renee Lawless, who plays well-to-do, matriarch Katheryn Cryer. Lawless declares this fact with a soft spoken, breathy Southern accent. “He wears many, many hats, but in the middle of it all, he’s checking in with us making sure we’re okay. If we have an issue, he listens on and off-set. It’s an absolute privilege.”
Seated to Lawless’ left is Angela Robinson, co-starring as the self-made, conniving and homophobic attorney Veronica Harrington. The former Miss Florida A&M University concurs with her fellow vocalist and Broadway thespian regarding Perry’s availability to his talent.
Robinson has no qualms insisting she can be verbose describing Perry’s work ethic. “He’s always 100 percent present,” the sultry-voiced Jacksonville, Fla. native says. “There’s never been a time that I’ve been on-set with him that I didn’t feel like our show and our time together was not his priority.”
Transitioning characters from stage to screen, Lawless and Robinson believe, results from vigorous yet invaluable training. Considering Perry’s career rose from dramaturgy to blockbuster film and television programming, the actresses feel completely in their element daily. Robinson, whose character’s essence echoes Diahann Carroll’s role as Dominique Deveraux on the ‘80s hit Dynasty along with films from the ‘30s and ‘40s, explains the distinction between theatrical performances and roles on a multi-camera production.
“Our show moves a whole lot faster,” Robinson says, referring to the set as “exhilarating.” “Theatre is all about taking your time. You really get to hone in on the characters. On [The Haves and the Have Nots], you don’t really get that time: one or two takes and move on. Everything I’ve done my entire career has prepared me for this.”
Lawless, a product of University of Cincinnati’s Conservatory of Music, shares that her muse for Katheryn is Angela Channing, played by late actress Jane Wyman, on Falcon Crest. She restates Robinson’s assessment of her theatrical background, adding The Have and the Have Nots is a contemporary to any Shonda Rhimes-developed series.
“We’re right up there with them,” the Knoxville, Tenn.-born talent suggests, juggling a series of hand gestures. “They’re on our level. If we didn’t already have that training and understanding, we would be stumbling and falling a lot.”
Sharing how she’s often complimented on her character’s voice, Lawless points out what makes Katheryn unique. “That training has helped us with stamina,” she adds. “It’s not something that I’m putting on; it’s part of the character. Once I get into Katheryn, I do my own thing.”
The lone male present this particular afternoon, Tyler Lepley, takes on the role of hard-working, tow truck company operator Benny Young. Benny is often the peacekeeper on film, seeking to keep his family ties solid. A former football player and personal trainer, the actor resembling Grammy-winning recording artist Drake draws parallels between his personality and his industrious, family-oriented character.
“You have to be very disciplined in every scene and role as you would on the field,” Lepley declares with his tatted up, brawny arms folded across the conference table.”
Lepley, briefly employed as a case worker, couldn’t directly correlate his criminal justice studies from Kutztown University with drama and performance. The easygoing Pennsylvania native possesses compassion similar to Benny: acknowledging how he has a big heart.
“I’ve loved first, blindly and had my heart broken,” Lepley recalls, mentioning his character is adapted from his close friend as well as two years of therapy. “I know people like this in real life. I draw a lot from real experiences as opposed to other television shows.”
Following a sneak preview of the fourth season’s premiere over lunch, the present cast members of The Haves and the Have Nots remain tight-lipped about what to expect the remainder of the season. The performers reiterate that being one of OWN TV’s highest-rated shows is the direct result of “giving and loving.”
Like his co-stars, Lepley recaps the success of The Haves and the Have Nots in totality is rooted in Perry, or who Lepley calls their “fearless leader,” creating a healthy balance between leading and sharing.
“He comes in, and he’s able to collaborate with you,” Lepley concludes. “It’s no-nonsense, but it’s a good example of how to get the job done and work hard to get it. He’s still just as humble as he was back when he didn’t have anything, so it’s real cool.”
The fourth season of The Haves and the Have Nots premieres Tues., Jan. 3 at 9:00 p.m. EST on OWN TV. Check local listings for channel.
This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a visiting instructor in the Department of Communication at Georgia State University. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.