Born in New York City on Oct. 1, 1986, Jurnee Smollett-Bell is an award-winning actress and activist of rare talent and conviction. She recently starred in the Emmy Award-winning series “Friday Night Lights” on which she portrayed the character Jess. She’s also been seen on “The Defenders.” Jurnee starred in “The Great Debaters” with Forest Whitaker and Denzel Washington and received rave reviews and the NAACP’s Best Lead Actress Image Award for her performance.
The versatile thespian landed her breakthrough role at the age of 11, when she starred in Eve’s Bayou opposite Samuel L. Jackson.
On TV, Jurnee has guest-starred in “Grey’s Anatomy” as well as “House,” “E.R. ,” “Strong Medicine,” and “NYPD Blue.” Her other television credits include “Wanda at Large” and “Cosby.”
Besides acting and singing, Jurnee is the youngest board member of Artists for a New South Africa (ANSA), a nonprofit dedicated to fighting the spread of HIV, and has traveled to South Africa, where she has met with Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Tutu, as well as with victims of HIV.
Here, she talks about starring as Judith opposite Vanessa Williams, Kim Kardashian and Brandy in Tyler Perry’s latest morality play, Temptation.
Kam Williams: Hi Jurnee, thanks for the time.
Jurnee Smollett: Thank you for taking the time.
KW: What interested you in Temptation?
JS: The challenge of the role. It’s kind of what you look for as an actor. Something that you haven’t done before… something that can really make you stretch… and honestly, I’d always wanted to work with Tyler.
KW: What was it like having Tyler Perry as a writer and director?
JS: It was such a great experience. He’s so down-to-earth… he’s a fun guy… and he keeps a great set. Everything’s on time. He’s the first one to show up, the last one to leave, and he’s really open to suggestions and collaboration. For instance, if I said, “I don’t feel that that dialogue is truthful,” he’d respond with, “Okay, let’s work that out. Let’s adjust it.” He was very open to play, which is what you look for as an artist.
KW: What was it like working with your leading men Lance and Robbie, as well as Kim, Brandy and Vanessa?
JS: It was great to work with the guys, because they really brought their “A” game. I was really grateful to them for being so open and emotionally available, since half of my performance involved looking into their eyes and reacting to them. And what an amazing cast of women. Vanessa Williams, who plays my boss, is such a legend. I’ve always looked up to her. Not only is she so gorgeous, but she is a pro. She gave me some great advice and support, that little stamp of “You got this, girl!” which you never can get enough of. Brandy, I already knew. Although I didn’t have many scenes with her, I was happy that she was in the film because she’s such a talented actress. And Kim was just so sweet to work with. She was very eager and very professional. It was a great, diverse cast.
KW: What message do you think Tyler wants his audience to take away from the film?
JS: I think he really wants the film to start a dialogue among couples about relationships. That you cannot take your loved one for granted. You have to continue to communicate. You always have to work on the relationship. And then there’s another message about choices. The film at its core is really about how thoughts can infect your mind that might lead to choices that can lead to actions and behavior you never thought yourself capable of, if you don’t watch yourself. Since the movie, in a way, is a cautionary tale, Tyler wants the message about relationships to reach younger people, too.
KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: How did you come to develop an interest at such an early age in AIDS in Africa and the Children’s Defense Fund as charitable causes?
JS: I love that question. One of its missions is to help with HIV/AIDS awareness. My best friend is Hydeia Broadbent who was one of the first people in America born HIV-positive. Hydeia will be 28 soon and she’s a walking example of that. But still, as her best friend, I see how hard it is to live with this disease. She wakes up with stomach aches, because the medication is really harsh on your body. It’s nothing that anyone would choose to have. So, I do what I can to educate young people about this disease, because it is preventable.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Jurnee, and best of luck with the film.
JS: Thank you, Kam.
By Kam Williams, Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper