PHOTOS: Oprah and ‘Greenleaf’ Cast Talk Church Drama

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Fans and press greeted Oprah Winfrey at the Tribeca Film Festival screening of her new megachurch family drama, “Greenleaf,” with religious-like fervor. Oprah, the cast and producers walked the red carpet and participated in a panel discussion following the screening of the first of 13 episodes, which will air beginning June 21 on Oprah’s network OWN.

Greenleaf, Oprah, Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey at the Tribeca Film Festival for her church drama “Greenleaf” | Paula Schwartz Photo

“Greenleaf” chronicles the life and power struggles of the Greenleaf dynasty and their family business, which happens to be the church. There’s also, of course, lots of sex, power and money thrown in the mix.

Lynn Whitfield and Keith David head the cast as Mae, First Lady of the church, and her husband, Bishop James Greenleaf, who delivers powerful sermons and tries to keep the squabbling family together. Merle Dandridge plays daughter Grace, who returns home after many years for her sister’s funeral and knows family secrets that threaten her family’s peace. Oprah plays Grace’s aunt Mavis McCready, a family outsider who owns a local saloon.

The series is produced for OWN by Lionsgate Television and executive produced by Oprah, writer Craig Wright and Clement Virgo.

Greenleaf, Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey at the Tribeca Film Festival for her church drama “Greenleaf” | Paula Schwartz Photo

Oprah on Greenleaf – “I Love Every Single Part of It” 

Oprah looked terrific in a black jumpsuit with her hair pulled back in a ponytail. She told journalists on the red carpet it was fun to be back on the screen acting and working on the scripted drama. “I get to vibe with all the other actors, and I love the business of it. I love choosing the cast. I love selecting what’s going to happen in the script. I love every single part of it.”

As for the unusual subject matter of the show, Oprah said, “I think everybody was scared of the church. I’m not scared of it because I love it.”

Greenleaf, Oprah Winfrey
Lynn Whitfield and Oprah Winfrey at the Tribeca Film Festival for Oprah’s Greenleaf | Paula Schwartz Photo

Lynn Whitfield said that in her role as Mae Greenleaf she wanted to honor the First Ladies of the Church. “One thing I did not do is to think that she was a joke or caricature, because they’re not. They are women who believe that they have to protect and take care of their institution. They set an example to women. They’re not a joke, so I take Mae Greenleaf very seriously and try to honor the women who are trying to keep the legacy going and protect their dynasty and protect God’s kingdom and all of that.”

Merle Dandridge, Greenleaf
Merle Dandridge at the Tribeca Film Festival for Oprah Winfrey’s Greenleaf | Paula Schwartz Photo

Following are highlights from my red carpet interview with acclaimed actor Keith David.

What drew you this part, besides the cast and Oprah?

Keith David: Besides the fact that I myself at one point wanted to be a minister, which initially peaked my interest when I found out what it’s going to be about, is that it’s a very well written story, and I’m always drawn by the writing, first of all. Does the writing have any merit? Of course it does. We’re wonderfully supported by Oprah and Craig Wright, who’s just a wonderful writer.

There’s more big money in the megachurch business than most people realize, it seems from the show.

This is big money, and one of the things you’ll see here is it just happens to be the family business. This is a family drama. It’s about what happens when a daughter comes back after 20 years to not only bury her sister but to unbury, to reveal, some truths that have been buried for 20 years, to expose those years.

What did you find out about yourself making this series?

I challenged my own sense of spirit and my own relationship with God, and I found the strength in my relationship. I don’t think God is afraid to be questioned because ultimately He knows the truth.

Did you work with ministers or visit their congregations?

There’s a bishop in Memphis, Bishop Wright, whom I spent time with and consulted with. He helped me on my journey in creating this character.

The character you play, is he a good man?

The preacher is just a man, with all the frailties that humans have, and we see that in this story of Bishop Greenleaf. He falls short a few times, but inherently, I think he’s a good person.

What did you learn about ministers?

It made me profoundly understand how well they have to know the Bible, how well they have to read it and reach people and how clearly they have to be in their own head about where they want to go in the story, and how to turn it around to bring some significance to your life today. And there some people, this Bishop Wright being one of them, who can do that marvelously. Just take a passage and make it significant for right now in your life. It’s not the Bible back then, it’s the Bible now, and that is fascinating.

Desiree Ross, Greenleaf
Desiree Ross on the Tribeca red carpet for Oprah Winfrey’s Greenleaf | Paula Schwartz Photo
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