Jackée Harry was glowing. She was at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium on Sept. 20, 1987, and Bruce Willis presented her with the Emmy Award for outstanding supporting actress in a comedy role, making her the first African-American woman to receive the honor. She won for her role as Sandra Clark on the #BlackGirlMagic standard-setting sitcom 227 (1985-90), beating out Justine Bateman (Family Ties), Julia Duffy (Newhart), Estelle Getty (The Golden Girls) and Rhea Perlman (Cheers). You also certainly remember her as Lisa Landry, the adoptive mother of two long-lost twins named Tia and Tamera, from the timeless Sister, Sister (1994-99).
Harry is still glowing — more than 30 years and countless film and TV appearances later. The woman admired and known to many as Ms. Jackée (who’s superinteractive with her fans on Twitter) makes an illustrious return to the small screen on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) as part of the Tyler Perry-created series The Paynes, a spinoff of Perry’s former TBS comedy House of Payne (2006-12). Before the new show’s Jan. 16 premiere, the free-spirited Ms. Jackée previewed her role as JoAnn Payne, confirms a Sister, Sister reboot and details, between infectious laughs, her love for HBO’s Game of Thrones.
How did you get involved with The Paynes?
Tyler Perry said he’d work with me eventually. He called one Sunday … and he said come on down. … It was really that simple, but it took years. I waited years because I’ve always wanted to work with him.
In your mind, what’s the biggest difference between the spinoff and the original show?
Curtis and Ella, they retire and move to Florida. They come down and begin a whole new TV family. Ella [Cassi Davis] is still an activist and involved in the community and Curtis [LaVan Davis] is still a fool. You get to see more of the two of them. It’s funny. They were funny on the House of Payne, but this is their show now.
How would describe your character, JoAnn Payne?
I play Curtis’ first cousin. I’m a crook, but I also am helpful. I’m working up a new scam. We’re sort of like Lucy and Ethel, me and Cassi. We’re always doing schemes. But she knows how to handle Curtis. I’m standing here with her now, looking at her! Ms. Cassi Davis!
Everyone is wondering — is a Sister, Sister reboot actually in the works?
Sandra Clark, because the show is on OWN right now. They’ve been playing it every weekend, all weekend long.
What do you remember most from the night you won your Emmy?
Nothing. I don’t remember a thing because I didn’t expect to win. I’ll be honest, I thought I’d just be nominated one time and that was it. But I won the first time out.
What’s your favorite current TV show?
Game of Thrones is my favorite. I love it. Dragons and you know what!
Who’s your favorite Game of Thrones character?
Emilia Clarke’s character, Daenerys. Her and her dragons. I actually love all the women on the show. The little sister, Arya, and Sansa. They’re all fabulous.
Are there any young actors or actresses that stick out to you nowadays that you’d like to work with?
Regina King, of course. She’s my favorite. Zendaya. She’s just phenomenal. … Yara Shahidi. I did work with them, but when they were little kids. Now they’re all grown up, so I’d like to work with them again.
.@Zendaya Had a blast working with ya, lemon drop! See you again soon! xox
— Jackée Harry (@JackeeHarry) August 4, 2017
— Jackée Harry (@JackeeHarry) January 4, 2018
If you could have dinner with one actor or actress, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Bette Davis [laughs]. Uh huh. I wanna hear All About Eve! I would love to because she’s in one of my favorite movies. Or even an Alan Rickman. He’s my favorite villain. I would love to have dinner with him. I think I’ve seen Die Hard about 600 times.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Show up, be on time and know your lines.
What would be your go-to karaoke song, and why?
Boyz II Men, “End of the Road,” because I could get the best harmony with it. I do that at Taco Tuesdays!
What’s one thing you’d like to accomplish in 2018?
To evolve as a person … become kinder and more empathetic … and try not to be as much of a diva!
What will you always be a champion of?
Education. Forever. That’s my No. 1 thing. Formal or informal. Books, computers, however you get it, but it’s gotta be done so we can keep up. Because if we don’t teach these kids, there will be no tomorrow for them.