Powerwomen come in their diverse forms and we at In-spire LS are proud to showcase the most talented and inspirational women from both the entertainment and business world. Unless you have been hiding under a rock; if you’re into your US TV shows, you would have; without a doubt watched or heard of OWN TV’s American prime time television soap opera created, executive produced, written and directed by Tyler Perry ‘The Have and the Have Nots’ If you have, you would recognise our latest spotlight feature; the talented and inspirational actress Renee Lawless. Read more to find out how Renee got into acting, what she really thinks about her character Katheryn Cryer, what it is like working for Tyler Perry and Oprah and learn what in-spires her plus much more in this insightful interview. #BeINspired
How did you first get started in acting? Was it always a passion from childhood or were you a later bloomer?
Basically, I feel like I acted my way out of the womb! I was always involved in church productions even as a small child. I was always acting at home, and in school. But, I grew up in a time where we only had three TV channels and you went to the movies. As a child, I wasn’t exposed to all those things that we are today with reality television. So, I didn’t think people could grow up to become an actress from a small town. It wasn’t until I was older; when I say older I mean early teens, that I knew I could actually make a career out of this. It is something I jave always wanted to do, but like I said it wasn’t until I became a teenager that I thought this was something that I could do as a profession. Yes, I did start pursuing it more in the music route. I started singing first and wanted to become a singer. I was always doing stage, opera etc. And that love went over into musical theatre and then over to television and film.
What has been your favourite role to play and why?
That is a very difficult question for me to answer because I take each and every role I play to heart. I find that every time I get an opportunity to create a role I think of it like my child and how do you pick a favorite child? Theatrically, I have to say that playing Patsy Cline in “Always Patsy Cline” will always be a highlight because she was someone that I admired so much and I loved her music. I also have to say that I very much enjoyed playing Madame Morrible in “Wicked”. But like I said it is very hard to pin down just one. I can’t lie though; I enjoy every minute playing Katheryn Cryer.
I’m a huge HAHN fan, how are you enjoying your role in the HAHN?
As I mentioned before; I love every minute of playing Katheryn Cryer. I can’t wait to receive the latest script. I cannot wait every season to see the journey she is going to take and I like the freedom to explore all of the different layers of Katheryn. Her vulnerable side, her powerful side and her revengeful side. There are so many sides of her that I get the opportunity to get into. I enjoy everything about her! I mean who doesn’t like playing a very wealthy, powerful, in control woman? I mean really! It’s like a dream and I can be in complete control and out of control all at once. It just lets me go through a rollercoaster of emotions. Tyler Perry has written a magnificent character and I feel very privileged and honoured to be able to go to this playground of Katheryn Cryer and just play in her sandbox.
How much input do you have to your character as we see her many layers unfold on screen?
Mr. Perry does write a very good script and he has a vision and a direction, but he lets me bring it to life and sometimes I think she should go right and he thinks she should go left. He will listen to my concerns, why I think she should go one way, but he usually winds up explaining why he thinks she should go a different way and I completely understand that. That’s not to say that there aren’t sometimes that I do give my opinions about certain things and he listens and he goes “Ok. Alright I understand what you are doing. Let’s see it,” and sometimes he sees it and says you are right and that we are going to go with it and other times he will say he thinks it is really good and wonderful that is just not the vision I (he) had. So, the answer to that question is that it is about a 60/40, 70/30. At the end of the day he is the writer and it is his vision, but he lets me steer the car. He made the car, but he lets me steer it if that makes sense.
How has it been working with Tyler Perry and Oprah?
I will answer the second part first! I don’t really work with Oprah, she is my supreme leader boss as far as the network. But meeting her and getting to know her has been really a wonderful experience. But the work itself actually, she leaves it up to Tyler Perry. Oprah is a lovely lady and she’s been very encouraging of me and I thank her so much for that. Working with Tyler Perry is like going to school everyday. Not only is he a great director, a great writer and producer but he’s a very kind man. Although it’s business and he’s a hardworking man, he’s a very giving director and very considerate of what an actor has to go through in preparation, what an actor needs to do and he also knows how to use the right vernacular, the right wording, to get what he needs from his actors. I have learned so much from him. I really admire his work ethic and that I am able to call him a friend. We’re not bff’s but I trust him completely and I think that’s essential in a good director- to completely trust him and respect him so much… AND his love for what he does. I feel so privileged to go to work and to create with him.
Katheryn is a feisty character; do you see traits of yourself in her or is she far removed?
I think Katheryn’s rubbing off on Renee. I’m feisty too. I’m a strong person, very strong willed and I’m very opinionated. I don’t get the freedom in my life to speak my mind as much as Katheryn does because I don’t wield that kind of power. I would probably lose a lot of friends if I walked around and acted like Kathryn Cryer all the time. I think as far as women’s issues, we are very similar. We both worry about growing old, our weight. We think about our appearance. We would worry about our children the same and the men in our lives …. things like that. As far as women’s issues are concerned, I think we’re very very similar. But as far as personality, I think she’s given Renée- I mean if I didn’t already have the balls as it is- I think Katheryn’s given me a little more confidence to speak my mind sometimes. I think it’s in reverse, Katheryn’s been the one that’s inspiring me.
Ruling out your own character, who is your favorite character on HAHN and why?
I love love the role of Hannah. I love the fact that she’s strong faithed, I love the fact that she’s flawed and I love her passion and her love for her family. But I would have to say, my favorite character would be Veronica. Simply because up until my current role, I’ve played a lot of evil people in my past and being the bad guy. It’s a lot of fun to play, it really is. So, there are things about Veronica sometimes that I really envy because I wish I got to be that way sometimes. I’ve played those kind of roles, so it’s kinda a toss-up between my mood because some days my favourite character is Hannah and some days my favorite character is Veronica. Then sometimes because I love Angela Robinson and Crystal Fox so much I have a hard time making a decision between the two.
The show HAHN has been a huge success did you envision that it would be such a hit? How have you found it, I’m sure you get noticed a lot!
You know, I knew the power of Tyler Perry and we knew his following, so we knew that his people would love it. I don’t think anyone ever thought that it was going to be the colossal hit that it has become. We are blessed. I’m thankful and grateful for the fans for making this great hit. You know, you hear these things that when you get on a tv show, people will recoginze you and you’ll get noticed. When it first started happening, it really threw me off. I’ve been in plays before, on tour people would recognize me and that was wonderful and nice- but to get to the point where sometimes you can’t even walk through an airport, has been a little bit of wow factor for me. It’s been a bit of a wake-up call, I didn’t expect that. The first time somebody recognized me with my real name, not just as Katheryn Cryer, someone walked up to me and said, “Are You Renee Lawless?” I kinda went oh my, oh my, I guess this is really happening. So, it’s been incredible and I again feel very blessed and very grateful.
You also sing, what made you do a gospel album and do you have plans for any new music?
Oh yes, I started out as a singer, that was my first love. I thought I was gonna be an opera singer and I persued that for a long time. Then that switched into musical theatre and I still sing. I’ve grown up in church. I think I went from the birthing table to the church pew. I’ve sung in church choirs all my life. My home church has a Pastor’s Conference every year and I was always singing in church and the Pastor’s Conference. I was singing at other churches as well and people were always saying do you have a recording, so what I did; it’s called a live sampler- I took some live recordings that I had done at church and complied them into a CD. It wasn’t anything that made the stores or anything big. It was just something to do for my congregation and some others. It’s brought me a lot of joy. My parents loved it and there’s actually a couple of funeral homes out there that bought my CD and they played them in their funeral homes- that’s not a bad thing, it’s a good thing.
Yes, there’s new music, I’m in the process of trying to put together a Christmas CD within the next year or two. As well as another type of cabaret type CD. I’m actually still studying, still taking voice lessons and working on my craft. Stay tuned, there will be new music sometime in the future when my time allows.
In-spire LS Magazine’s key focus is inspiring and empowering our readers to #LIVEWELL. You are also a motivational speaker so tell us about your journey into this? how long have you’ve been doing it and what got you started?
My goodness, I began speaking back in my 20’s. I was in the Miss America Pageant system. I remember right after I won Miss Jacksonville, I got asked to judge a pageant or m.c. at several places. A lot of times you have to do filler and so I just began doing impromptu speaking. People said will you come and do that speech in front of our school, would you come do this speech somewhere else. So, it just always happened and it continued when I was in the Miss Ohio system. It continued in college, I would either speak in churches or in women’s conferences. I thought one day that I would actually pursue it, but I really just went on and did it, whenever asked. I’ve also done master classes in high schools and colleges. When I was on the road with “Wicked” and “Beauty and the Beast”- I would do acting master classes. Then I chose to speak on a motivational level that way, as well as in churches.
But it wasn’t until after HAHN that people were asking me to come and speak more as their celebrity keynote speaker. Then it just turned into more motivational or giving of my testimony. I get a lot of fulfilment out of it. I don’t know who’s getting more motivated- me or the people I’m trying to speak with. It’s like a shot in the arm for me as well. Basically, I just talk about my own life. We all have our own trials and tribulations and somebody out there has gone through or is going through what you might have already gone through. It’s our responsibility to help, inspire, empower and motivate others.
What has inspired you to start your new vlog series?
It’s taken forever, but it’s actually now turning into something bigger than a vlog series, which I can’t go into right now. It’s probably gonna have its own channel so to speak, stay tuned for that. It started out that I was going to do it about travelling. I, at the time, was travelling with the Broadway tour of “Wicked” and I had all these insights of things about travel, crafting and decorating and how all that worked. My friends kept saying “you really need to put this in a series, you really need to do this.” Then my crafting hobby got bigger and bigger after HAHN. I’ve been on Hallmark Home & Family a few times. I thought “I really need to put this all together”. Not to mention I also have my own personal opinions about things, called “Renee’s Rants”- I’m gonna put that into this series eventually. It’s finally given me a platform to put something together and I feel like I’ve talked about it for a while now. You know it’s like anything, sometimes it takes 7 years for movies to get made, it’s taken me a few years to get this vlog going- but it’s actually in the works. It’s just coming along slowly but surely and that’s what inspired me to do it all.
Who is your inspiration?
I have been inspired by many people, not the least of which my are parents. My parents were my biggest encouragers. The earliest people would be some teachers. I’ve had some incredible teachers in my life that have inspired me so much and encouraged me. From a drama teacher here to a vocal teacher there. So those are the PEOPLE, capital letters- that have inspired me. I can’t say who is my inspiration, if I had to nail it down to one it’d be Jesus Christ. Because Jesus is the way, the truth and the life for me and he’s guided my path for so long. He is my inspiration.
What inspires you?
Wow, what inspires me is people who can overcome adversity, people who succeed in spite of everything that says they can’t succeed, people who have vision, people who have dreams. Children inspire me, the look on a child’s face of joy and happiness even when they’re in a wheelchair- that’s what inspires me.
If you weren’t busy acting on a hit TV show what would you be up to right now?
If I’m not on a hit TV show I hope I’m in a play somewhere or I’m in a theater somewhere, or I’m still acting somewhere. So, let’s say if I wasn’t acting at all- I would definitely probably be a huge event planner. That would include weddings, parties, everything. Obviously, I would probably be desperately trying to have my own craft show or a home and family type show, or a talk show. I would love to have my own talk show. So, I’m still going toward performing aren’t I (laughs), I guess it’ll never leave me. Or if I wasn’t on a hit tv show right now, I’d probably find myself on vacation somewhere in Australia!
What’s the weirdest thing a fan has ever done for you?
I can’t think of the weirdest thing, but I can put my finger on one of the nicest things. After season 1 and season 2 of the HAHN. Tyler Perry had a talk show called “The Tyler Perry Show”. He was interviewing all of us and we had a live audience. At the end of recording one of those episodes, we were talking a bit to the audience and there was this woman who I just noticed in the audience immediately with a beautiful aqua dress and a gorgeous necklace. It was a beautiful stone necklace and I pointed to her and said you’re beautiful and she walked over to the edge of the little stage area that I was in….I said you’re beautiful and that necklace is gorgeous and she literally took it off and gave it to me. I said no I can’t possibly take this and she said yes, you can have it, here. She had told me she worked at a store that it was at and she could get another one. She just handed me the necklace and she would not take it back. You know, I still have that necklace to this day and it’s gotten slightly tarnished but I don’t care. I actually treasure it and I have one of those porcelain necklace display things on the top of my jewelry box. That very necklace is still hanging around that little porcelain neck on the top of my jewellery box as a reminder of that wonderful, kind, generous thing that fan did for me that day.
What would be a good theme song for your life?
I could be funny and say “Rocky Top” because I’m from Tennessee. “Rocky Top” because I’m a die-hard Tennessee volunteer and that’s my family theme song. The theme song FOR MY LIFE would have to be “You’ll Never Walk Alone” because my journey hasn’t been easy but I’ve never been alone.
What do you do when you’re not working?
Other than basically exercising- I love shopping, I can’t deny it. I have a new home and I’ve been busy decorating it. I like traveling and visiting my friends. I like being a little bit of a home body and enjoying my cat, watching TV, going to the movies and just hanging out. I like my hobbies- crafting and stuff like that… did I mention shopping?
What are your goals for the future?
My goals are that the show I am on continues to be a hit. I have the opportunity to not only potentially maybe down the road get on another hit series. My biggest goal is to be in a number of successful feature films and to continue working. I guess that’s my biggest goal- to continue working and making a good living in the field of acting that I love. TV, film, stage, whatever. I love performing, I love acting, I love singing and I pray that the Lord continues to bless me in this field. At the same time, allowing me to continue to speak and inspire others in the process.