Beau Bridges and Lynn Whitfield, two veteran actors with hundreds of credits to their name, eye each other warily just minutes into season four of OWN drama "Greenleaf," shot in metro Atlanta.
Bridges’ character - savvy megachurch empire builder Bob Whitmore - has taken over the Greenleaf’s Cavalry World Ministries and Whitfield’s matriarch Lady Mae is plotting to get the church back.
She is annoyed how Bob forced her daughter Grace (Merle Dandridge), the interim head pastor, to give such a short sermon the first week he was in control. But that's how Bob's Harmony & Hope Ministries operates: get the parishioners in and out quickly, he tells Lady Mae.
“Like McDonald’s,” she says, sarcasm dripping from her voice.
Lady Mae then adds: “I don’t want to belabor this point since it’s Sunday. I try to restrain myself from full-on warfare but there are two things that human beings do together that’s best done slowly. Preaching is one of them.”
Bob barely flinches. “I’m all for long sermons. I’ve made quite a few of them myself,” Bob says. “I also run a business.” He then fake pleasantly leaves the conversation.
The battle for the soul of the church is a major focal point of season four, returning Sept. 3.
Whitfield said on set in April at Eagle Rock Studios in Norcross that working with Bridges was a joy: “He embodies his character with such ease. It’s not contrived. It’s finesse. He’s trying to charm us with a certain sense of entitlement.”
Bridges said his character “is pretty adept sussing out people. He knows how to get in there and manipulate people.”
Bob, in his mind, also has a genuine desire for more racial diversity in the pews, but more from a standpoint that it makes good business sense. Taking over black megachurches is one strategy to achieve his goal.
“Putting family first is a mistake,” Bob tells Grace episode two when she demands her two siblings are named associate pastors.
“It’s what I have to do,” Grace responds.
Grace, who spent the first three seasons focused on fixing other people’s problems, has a raft of her own. Not only does she have to spearhead ways to get her own family back in control, but she has to grapple with the fact she isn’t even Bishop’s biological daughter.
But it’s another secret that comes out early in the season that will really raise eyebrows.
“It will rock the church, rock the family and everything in between,” said Dandridge, who relished the acting challenge. “It’s going to shake her faith and force her to peel back the layers in terms of her own issues and problems.”
And though her character and Bridges’ character inevitably clash, she is thrilled to be able to work with what she calls “Hollywood royalty.”
“He doesn’t walk around flaunting that title,” Dandridge said. “He is so deeply invested in the work and the craft, making everything around him better.”
And while Deborah Joy Winan's character Charity up to this point has been dismissed and treated like a lesser Greenleaf, she gets to prove her worth season four. She also might find romance, too, even if it might be viewed as betrayal to her family.
“Charity is finally being seen for who she is and who she could be,” said Winans. “That is the beauty and flaw in all of it.”
And while Grace has been seen as the “golden child” of sorts, her secrets will change the family dynamic. Charity, Winans said, “is going to have fun with it. It’s going to get very juicy!”
“Greenleaf” season 4 debut on Tuesday, September 3 at 10 p.m. on OWN
About the Author
Rodney Ho writes about entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A native New Yorker, he has covered education at The Virginian-Pilot, small business for The Wall Street Journal and a host of beats at the AJC over 20-plus years.