Crystal Fox – The Haves and the Have Nots
By: Lisa Steinberg
Q) What are the recent projects that you are working on?
A) We just finished filming our largest number of episodes at one time – about a month and a half ago. It’s about forty-four episodes so by the time they break that down it’s about four seasons worth for the television audience. This year has flown by so fast! Just before we started working (or last year) I did an independent film called Burden with Robbie Brenner and the director is Andrew Heckler. I don’t know when it is coming out, but it’s a wonderful cast. I play Forest Whitaker’s wife. Garrett Hedlund, Tom Wilkinson, Tess Harper and Usher are in it. It’s based on a true story so I’m looking forward to that coming out.
Q) How was your character Hannah Young originally described to you?
A) Tyler told me it was a story that was centered around the patriarchs of two families – a rich white family and a financially challenged African American family. What I loved about it is that he didn’t say “poor” because when I heard the title I was thinking, “Oh, that’s left up to someone’s perception. Who is considered a have and who is considered a have not?” What I found is that as Hannah has become the moral fiber of the show I feel like the character is more of a have than a have not.
Q) What was it that attracted to you to this part?
A) It wasn’t even what he said, when I read the breakdown of the character it didn’t say the matriarch of the family. When I got the breakdown of the audition that I was asked to be seen for it was two roles – one was for Veronica and the other was for Hannah. I had a gut reaction to Hannah because I feel like I have either been around or watched people raise or reared by neighbors or someone we call “Big Mama” or an “Aunt” that was like Hannah. I have a history of people who have worked in mills in my family and as maids and things like that and I have never seen that character in a lead role on television. The conversations between the African American community and the white community where they were talking together and sharing lives together, not as someone’s servant. They have a line here or a line there. You got to see the whole of these lives. So, I had a gut reaction to the breakdown. I wanted to do Hannah from the moment I read the description on the breakdown. So, it wasn’t his description really as much as she was a blue collar maid and I knew she was going to have a lead role.
Q) What continues to challenge you about playing Hannah?
A) To make sure it is grounded in truth. I worried about it for the longest…In one of the seasons Tyler told me I was going to have to deal with the possible death of my son. He told me how many episodes it was going to be and we talked about it. I didn’t want it to be just crying and crying, but it seems like that’s what it ended up being. [laughs] And I was worried about it and worried about it. His thing was, “I knew you were going to worry about that, but the best thing I can tell you is that everything was truthful.” So, I stopped worrying about crying as much as I did it being grounded in truth. Sometimes I get it when the audience is like, “You cry all the time!” It’s not written for me to cry, but I have had some really hard life experiences and I know other people who watch Hannah and depend on her, rely on her or feel with her that cry daily. So, I’m not ashamed of that. As long as it is grounded in truth, whatever the topic is that I’m talking about. The other thing that is challenging is that the storyline hasn’t quite lent itself to the conversation yet, but that is there is an uplifting quality to faith. I know it is hard for them to see it, but there is joy and a sense of contentment to it. But the show is so dramatic that we haven’t had a chance to show that side. So, for me, it’s a challenge in when I’ll get that opportunity.
Q) What can you tease is in store this season on “The Have and the Have Nots?”
A) This season, I have to tell you…One of the things for me is this was…We’ve had some dark seasons. I can’t say that it is going to get any lighter, but this season is one of the most poignant for me. We shot them together so for me, the two seasons that you see – this is second half of it is one season. It means the most to me because I went to visit Savannah to see the neighborhood where they shot the background for my street. I met somewhere there that I consider the second part of our cast – they have been with us since the series began, but we just never met the people. They shot there forever. It was a joy to go there and meet everybody. They had a fit when I went there. But I met a lady whose daughter had served water and food to our crew. Her daughter was to graduate. Her daughter and a friend went to an event and saw a drive-by. They came back and killed them because they saw it. So, when I went back to work this was a storyline that I had to tell and I couldn’t for the life of me let that family go. So, for me, everything they see this season was to honor the pain of senseless violence. It is going to be heavy. I think that sometimes we hear it in the news, but we don’t see the horrible tragedy of it after the fact and what these people go through. I was watching it and thinking, “Wow, I’m tired of it being heavy,” but I’m not tired of telling their story. It does lighten up later. I think because it got so heavy there was no where else to go than to bring us out of this. We’ve still got to contend with a funeral of Candice’s finding out and it’s just a hard story, but from that in the future there will be some joy happening that I think everyone will be excited to see.
Q) Are those your most memorable moments from filming this series?
A) I’d have to say yes, they are hard. They were hard to do, but I feel like so far this storyline has been the most important for me to do and hope that it reaches people honestly.
Q) Can you tease any upcoming guest stars we’ll be seeing?
A) Next season we have an award winning vocalist on one of the episodes. They are a Broadway star.
Q) What have you personally taken away from working on this show?
A) Oh wow! So many valuable lessons! I don’t know if all actors are insecure. I know all people have their moments of insecurity, but we have that self doubt. What it gave me is a certainty of my ability to touch people and that I make believable choices. That was something that I always wanted to know if I was capable of doing. If so, across what mediums? I know theater because that’s where I come from, my background, but I wasn’t certain about film and televisions – if it could crossover that way. Just before this show and once I got this show, I was going to look to determine that for me. If what I chose to give out wasn’t reachable or effective then I was going to look at whether or not I should focus more on just theater or just a particular medium. This shook me out of that. The other thing is I believed that if you just do your best work then everything else that is supposed to come to you will come to you. And anything else that’s supposed to come to you will not miss you no matter where you are. I say that about our show because our fans are starting to ask sometimes why we are not seen or visible. Why are people not interviewing us? I want to be real honest about something, I’m very clear that some people respect our show and some people do not. But we have enough of a large fanbase that, for me, that’s not to be ignored. There will come a time when people can ignore not, but for me the fact that our fanbase is as large as it is and continues to grow lets you know that you can’t keep anything good hidden for long. Anything that is hidden is hidden for a reason. As my boss would say, “Maybe God has kept you hidden for a reason,” and I’m certain of that. So, I am enjoying where I am, but “The Have and the Have Nots” fortifies me as an actor and as a person to know that what I wanted to be I am becoming and the fanbase is letting me know that I’m touching them and that is all I wanted as an actor.
Q) You often work in dramatic roles. What is it about this genre that continues to attract you?
A) Believe it or not…[laughs] I am one of the silliest people on the show. But I think I am drawn to drama because more times than that it has a blend of everything. It has a little bit of comedy and a little bit of weight, but I think I like weighted things because life tends to be weighted. Even joy has a weight to it. A full joy, a full hearty laugh, has a weight to it. I think we believe that and trust that more than another genre.
Q) Have more people started to recognize you when you are out in your spare time?
A) [laughs] I was on “In the Heat of the Night” before this so I had some fanbase from that. Usually they used to only recognized me because of my voice – when I spoke. That was happening with “The Have and The Have Nots.” I wear my hair different and I look different so what has shocked me is that Hannah is a little heavy-footed (what my grandma used to see) and I am a lot more vibrant than Hannah is on television. So, a lot of times people weren’t recognizing me. What shocks me is that more and more people can see like a profile of me in a car and recognize me. It’s kind of a gift and a curse because I like to go out in public and be my regular self. Now that people are recognizing me I feel like I have to look like something. [laughs] Look a little more put together than I usually am sometimes. But it’s fun and I love the fans. I love them!
Q) You are a part of social media. Do you enjoy the instant fan feedback you receive to episodes?
A) Yes, but I have to admit I don’t enjoy social media because I’m not good at it. It is so fast that I don’t get it. Id o feel like a dinosaur when it comes to social media. But I do love watching the interactions on Twitter because our fans are witty and they are so fast and quick witted that I barely get a chance to talk to them. Something that I think is a treat is that our fanbase has grown so much that you get so many responses at once that all I have time to do is acknowledge that I saw them and I try to acknowledge every single one of the comments that is either made for me…Because, again, our fanbase is so large and they are making these comments for all of our actors. I try to comment to all of them or at least acknowledge all of that. It is so fun! And I can take the good comments with the bad because for me whatever it was made you feel some kind of way and you reacted and responded. So, I can take the positive and the negative comments.
Q) Is there anything else you want to be sure fans know about Hannah and this season of the show?
A) As far as Hannah is concerned, I would like the fans to know that I have nothing but the utmost respect for who she is and who she represents. There was a comment that someone said asking, “How do you feel playing a modern day Mamie?” At first, I had to check with myself and ask, “Are you offended” and then I thought, “Well no,” because that’s not how I see myself at all. Someone else who sees it that way then they have completely missed my intention. Evidently, they have missed the reception that 98% of the fanbase has gotten. So, I don’t see her as a Mamie in any way shape or form. A lot of our stories, whether they are glamorous or pretty enough for Hollywood or anyone else that thinks it needs to be cleaned up or whatever, is indeed worthy of telling. Her story is enough.