Urban News Service — A Division of Zenger News
Crystal Fox is no stranger to fans of Tyler Perry’s “The Have and the Have Nots.” Since the show premiered in 2013, it has remained one of the Oprah Winfrey Network’s most popular series and Fox’s character, Hanna Young, the prayer warrior mother of Candace (Tika Sumpter) and Benny (Tyler Lepley), is one of the show’s most popular and recognizable characters. So much so that Fox shared, during an exclusive phone interview with Urban News Service, that “people who meet me on the street love Hanna so much that [they] ask me to pray for them.”
In “A Fall From Grace,” Tyler Perry’s first film for Netflix, Fox gives those fans a brand-new look. She plays Grace, a lonely divorcée who falls for a much younger man who isn’t who he seems. The fallout of that relationship lands her in prison where the young, inexperienced lawyer Jasmine Bryant (Bresha Webb) leads her defense. Phylicia Rashad plays her good friend Sarah. Tyler Perry and Cicely Tyson also have roles.
At age 56, this is the first starring film role for Fox, whose career has largely been on TV and in theatre. Prior to “The Haves and the Have Nots,” the Tryon, North Carolina native’s longest-running series was a six-year (1989-1995) stint as LuAnn Corbin, who rose from police officer to corporal, on “In the Heat of the Night.”
More recently, she played a memorable role as Elizabeth, mom to Zoe Kravitz’s Bonnie, on HBO’s hit limited series, “Big Little Lies.” Because “A Fall From Grace” is a huge first for her, Fox admitted to experiencing self-doubt.
“The thing that was intimidating to me was whether I could be a strong enough leading lady,” she said.
For Fox and many other Black actresses over 50, there have been few Hollywood opportunities to star in films featuring a strong storyline where they are not just playing someone’s mother or grandmother. In “A Fall From Grace,” she is so much more.
Reflecting on her three-decade-plus-long career as a professional actor, Fox, speaking via phone in New York City, told Urban News Service, “I feel like I’ve been unseen more than anything. The people who have the vision didn’t envision me; they didn’t have a placement for me. But, at the same time, I’m not trying to fault anybody, but they weren’t trying to get to know me either, or people like me.”
That’s why Fox looks forward to seeing more films like “A Fall From Grace” with interesting storylines starring women of color in the prime of their lives. “I hope there will be another chance to do more with women like [Grace] so that you can see how multifaceted we are, especially as we’re aging.”
In the film, Fox and Rashad, who have primarily worked together on stage and are friends in real life, enjoy an easy chemistry as Grace and Sarah. But the relationship between Grace and her much-younger, untested lawyer Jasmine, who convinces her to forego her initial plea deal to stand trial, is one of the most interesting dynamics in the film.
“Her objective is hers and [Grace’s is separate from that]. So, when they come together and you see these opposing objectives, it creates some genuineness [in] discovering what [that] relationship is going to be,” Fox explained.
Fox believes that the relationship Grace and Jasmine develop makes an important statement. “It says a big thing about women supporting women, in allowing another woman to fight for you.”
One of the most challenging parts of her role, Fox admitted, was the romantic scenes between her character and the younger photographer Shannon, played by 39-year-old Mehcad Brooks. “Oh my gosh, can I just tell you, I can do serious, I can do dramatic, left, right, top, center and I’m not nervous. When I had to do that love scene, I felt like I was two years old,” she laughed. Brooks, she shared, couldn’t have been nicer.
Fox, who was blown away by the enthusiastic applause following the private Atlanta screening she and Perry hosted on January 9, said she is grateful that the entertainment mogul and friend cast her in this role, even if she is not sure exactly why. “I don’t know what he saw in me,” she said. “If he believes you when he watches you, that draws him in. So, whatever he saw me do, he believed in me.”
What she doesn’t doubt is that “A Fall From Grace” is a huge opportunity for her. “For me, it can be a big career shifter or something that will propel me forward, so it means a lot.”
“A Fall From Grace” debuted on Netflix on January 17.