Tyler Lepley and Crystal R. Fox are stars of 'Tyler Perry's The Haves and the Have Nots.' (OWN)
Divine intervention, by her own account, helped Crystal R. Fox land the perfect TV role of maid Hanna Young in “Tyler Perry’s The Haves and the Have Nots.” The drama is returning for its second season at 9 tonight on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network.
Fox, who was born in Tryon, N.C., spent her childhood living in Highland Park. She classifies herself as a theater brat, with stage credits that include “For Colored Girls,” “The Amen Corner,” “Two Trains Running,” and “Fences” for which she earned both the 2009 Independent Reviewers of New England Award and a 2010 Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding Actress-Large Company.
In addition to her theater projects, Fox has starred or guest-starred in various television and film productions through the years. The veteran actress has appeared in films, including “Driving Miss Daisy” and “Separate But Equal,” and television series, such as “Law and Order,” “House of Payne,” “The Sopranos,” and the long-running “In the Heat of the Night” in which she played Sgt. Luann Corbin from 1989-1995.
But landing the “Hanna” role has given her reason to continue to trust herself in her craft as well as her life’s path.
What led you to pursue acting?
Feeling like I didn’t have a voice as a teenager, and how sad it was. I wanted a place I could speak to people and they could speak to me.
How did you get the role of “Hanna”?
It was God all over the place. I was on my way to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to work with Lou Bellamy on August Wilson’s “Two Trains Running” when I got a callback from Mr. Perry’s casting on New Year’s Day, my birthday. I was four hours from Oregon. I had auditioned for both the role of wealthy Veronica Harrington and maid Hanna Young.
Talk about your character.
Hanna is the matriarch of a young family. We usually make judgments when actors play maids. I always wanted to do good work but in roles that had a responsibility to image. When I thought about playing this character, I thought about my grandmother. I connected with the character because she has moral strength. She leans on her faith because of her adversity.
“Hanna” has a handful dealing with daughter “Candace,” played by Tika Sumpter. What’s the story behind their relationship?
That felt real to me. Families have estrangements. I have my own that’s in the midst of healing. That’s what I think has happened with Hanna and Candace’s relationship. The reality of it happens in families all the time. When relationships are hard, you never stop loving.
Speaking of family, did you feel any pressure to pursue performing arts being the niece of civil rights activist and jazz singer Nina Simone?
Me and my aunt had a connection. It wasn’t just the art — but the struggle. I spent summers with her in upstate New York as a child. She enjoyed watching my work on “In the Heat of The Night.”
What is it like working with Tyler Perry?
It’s wonderful working with him. In theater, I’m use to adhering strictly to the script. In television, you rely on the directors. He gave me the ultimate challenge by trusting me.
Have you had a chance to meet Oprah yet?
Yes. That was overwhelming. On the third day, Miss Winfrey came to the set. She wanted to thank all of us for taking part in her collaboration with Mr. Perry.
How many episodes were filmed for the first season?
Sixteen. Everything was done in five to six weeks. This is rare. Twenty-five years ago it took seven to 10 days to shoot a one-hour episode of “In the Heat of the Night.” We (Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey and cast) went into this together, knowing that this is something new.
Do you have fond memories of Detroit?
Yes … Top Hat, White Castle, Boblo Island. I lived in Detroit for 12 years.
'The Haves and the Have Nots'
9 p.m. Tuesdays