On OWN's The Haves and the Have Nots, Renee Lawless plays the tough and calculating Katheryn Cryer. Off-screen, however, she's as warm, funny and enchanting as they come. We spoke with Renee last Tuesday to discuss the current second season of The Haves and the Have Nots, but also to get to know this talented actress a bit better.
There are just a handful of episodes left in season two, and things on the Tyler Perry-created soap opera will continue to be deliciously complicated. "As far as Katheryn and Jim are concerned, we are still the combatative couple that we are," Renee teased. "Jim is still quote-unquote trying to handle everything. But I am slowly getting tired of relinquishing that power to him. Everything you're seeing is getting ready to step up a little."
She also talked with us about how her character developed in season two, and hopefully will continue to in season three, which is set for sometime in 2015. "Coming back was a lot easier. I'd already done the work on the character and discovering who Katheryn was," she reflected. "This time around allowed me to pretty much explore more of her vulnerabilities. You always saw, with the exception of what she was in private, a very tough exterior. Whereas this season, I was allowed to be the mother. I think this season was about what it's like to be a parent, for everybody in the cast. I got to open up that maternal side of her and it was a lot easier."
That doesn't mean that Renee didn't enjoy her character's more vindictive scenes, either. Asked to name some of her favorite moments from the show so far, she told us, "Probably the 'Nine' speech [from season one's "Number Nine"]. That's probably the fan favorite, and it was also one of mine. I did in that moment what every woman that's ever been cheated on wanted to do. Mr. Perry wrote a speech for me to not crumble, not cry, not fall apart, not throw something across the room - although I wanted to - but to stand up to the other woman.
"And that is a proud moment, because of what it meant. There have been a lot of women that have been cheated on and they never get that moment. They never get to tell the other woman off or sometimes even meet the other woman, and I got to do both! it just built up into this moment where, the other woman always thinks they have the other hand, and this was something where absolutely, no, you don't."
"Also, just another moment where I confide in my maid [Hanna] something that I can't even confide in my own family, and she sits there and prays for me."
Does she ever wonder why Katheryn hasn't just dropped her cheating husband after nine mistresses? "At the end of season one Hanna asked me the same question. And I said because I don't want another woman to put the jewels in the crown that I gave him," Renee explained. "I made him who he is and I have now built up this family name and I'm not about to let his indiscretions bring that down. I've worked too hard for it. My goal is to make him miserable. Ironically, ninety percent of my fans say not to leave him. They just want me to slap him!"
With so much going on in the world of The Haves and the Have Nots, she prefers to enjoy the show along with the audience. "When I get a script, I read the whole script just so I know what's going on," she said. "Once I read that and have an understanding, I pretty much concentrate on what I'm doing for a couple of reasons. We shoot very fast on this show, and it's a lot to do...and then secondly, I want to be just as surprised as an audience member and as a character as the audience is. I watch the show in real time like everybody else. I haven't seen it before that moment."
A stage veteran who has appeared in touring productions of Beauty and the Beast and Wicked, Renee is getting her breakout role on TV by playing Katheryn Cryer, and we asked her what else she'd like to add to her resume. "Moving forward, I do want to expand my life in this television medium, but I also have a lot of hopes and dreams for the bigger screen, for film," she told us. "Doing characters that make me laugh, make me cry, make me angry, make me frustrated, make me happy.
"I want to be a good storyteller. I hope that this experience, which has also been a learning experience for me, is a stepping stone or a jumping off point to other things. I think what I'm doing is big and what I am doing is great, so I hope that larger projects come my way and maybe larger roles."
Her dream projects range from the past all the way to the far future. "I'm a big fan of epics and action movies and period pieces," she continued, "and I would hope sometime I'd get that opportunity in film - to play either a biographical character or a fictional character, in any type of a period piece or setting. [And] I've been a Star Trek fan forever!"
Right now, though, she's thrilled to be playing Katheryn Cryer, appreciating The Haves and the Have Nots and its audience around the world. "Our fans are incredible and they're very loyal. We have so many people that do love it and those people are passionate and they enjoy tuning in next week," she said. "I know our show isn't for everyone, but it's for a lot of people.
"I think the thing that makes us successful is our characters are relatable. Everyone on all financial levels can relate to every single person on our show, and that is a big deal to me. And I don't think a lot of television shows necessarily have that," Renee continued. "It doesn't matter that Katheryn's worth fifty million dollars or not. People completely understand her." It also helps that the woman who rules with an iron fist is played by an actress that we absolutely love.
The Haves and the Have Nots airs Tuesday nights at 9 PM ET/PT on OWN (check your local listings for specific channel). For more with Renee, follow her on Twitter (@MsReneeLawless) and visit her website (reneelawless.com).