I had lunch last year with John Schneider ("Dukes of Hazzard," "Smallville") before his role on Tyler Perry's new OWN drama "The Haves and the Have Nots."
He was enthusiastic about the opportunity and felt they had a hit on their hands for OWN.
His optimism was rewarded. The show has done well for Oprah's network and was quickly granted a second season, which debuted last night and drew a series high 2.8 million viewers.
Schneider, who I spoke to again earlier this week, is enjoying playing bad guy Jim Cryer, a Savannah judge with massive ambitions and carnal desires who is now running for governor.
"He's a 16 year old in a 50 year old body," he said. "He's a great chess player. He's manipulative and a deep thinker. He's great a self preservation."
His relationship with his mistress, played by Tika Sumpter, continues, for better or worse. "They're very much alike," Schneider notes. "But Jim's got three decades on her. He's been playing this game much longer. She's luckier than she is good."
Cryer's more urgent problems stem from his son Wyatt, whose has major drug and alcohol issues, and runs over not just one but two people in a drunken hit and run. "I guarantee Jim is about to handle this in a fashion nobody is going to see coming," Schneider teased.
His wife, on the other hand, "is just a pain in his backside. They have a relationship of public convenience. It's a marriage that begins and ends at the front door."
"Jim thinks he can handle just about anything thrown at him," Schneider noted. "He thinks that anything that happens in the privacy of his own home has nothing to do with his ability to be a good governor - which is something we've heard politicians say before. He's definitely the cockiest person I've ever played."
"When you think he's going to apologize or admit to some flaw, he pulls something out of the air nobody sees coming," he teases.
He said he is amazed how Perry comes up with the plot lines and dialogue. "He manages to write so well so many sides of an argument," Schneider said. "It's the hardest thing to write something that is in opposition to what you believe yourself. Tyler can write arguments from four or five person's perspectives. My hat's off to him. I can't do that!"
Naturally, Perry works quickly with very little rehearsal time, which means the actors have to be ready. But he does allow pros like Schneider who understand cameras freedom to move around while pontificating. "I'm not someone who likes to stand in one place," Schneider said. "It would look too soap opera-ish."
He find Perry's approach exhilarating, comparable to live theater. "It's like being pushed out of an airplane and having the parachute thrown out. You have to scurry through the sky to get the damn thing!"
"The Haves and the Have Nots," 9 p.m. Tuesdays, OWN
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