Atlanta’s Crystal Fox credits Tyler Perry for her TV acting renaissance

Crystal Fox stars as Hanna Young in the OWN series "The Haves and the Have Nots," which ended its eight-year run on July 20, 2021. OWN
Caption
Crystal Fox stars as Hanna Young in the OWN series "The Haves and the Have Nots," which ended its eight-year run on July 20, 2021. OWN

Credit: Tyler Perry Studios

She starred in his OWN series ‘The Haves and the Have Nots’ for eight years.

It was 2013. Atlanta actress Crystal Fox, 18 years removed from her regular role on CBS’s Carroll O’Connor police procedural “In the Heat of the Night,” had already figured her days of TV and film were largely behind her.

She had spent the previous decade focused on stage work, starring in musicals and plays around the country and locally at the Alliance Theatre. Her only TV credit between 2001 and 2013 was a small recurring role on Tyler Perry’s “House of Payne.”

But she was given a shot to audition for a lead role on Perry’s first OWN drama “The Haves and the Have Nots” as Hanna Young. Hanna was the matriarch, a maid who grew up promiscuous but eventually became a virtuous woman grappling with two problematic children. She was the key “have not” in the class-oriented soap set in Savannah.

Perry liked what he saw and Fox was back on television, for the first time as the protagonist. And she thrived over eight seasons and nearly 200 episodes. The series concluded Tuesday night and (spoiler alert!) Fox was one of the only main characters left standing by the end of a bloodbath. Hanna’s righteousness, in a sense, was rewarded.

He also bestowed Fox with a lead role in the 2020 Netflix film “A Fall From Grace.” And Fox’s newfound prominence led to recurring roles on HBO’s “Big Little Lies” and “Utopia.”

“The Haves and the Have Nots,” largely shot at Tyler Perry Studios in southwest Atlanta, was OWN’s highest rated drama and helped OWN build its reputation as a home for African-American women viewers who later flocked to scripted shows like “Greenleaf,” “Queen Sugar” and “David Makes Man.” It is also Perry’s final contribution to OWN. He has since moved most of his original programming to Viacom, including BET, BET+ and Nickelodeon.

Crystal Fox (left) played the moral rock of the OWN show "The Haves and the Have Nots" as a maid of the powerful Cryer family. OWN
Caption
Crystal Fox (left) played the moral rock of the OWN show "The Haves and the Have Nots" as a maid of the powerful Cryer family. OWN

Credit: OWN

Credit: OWN

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution spoke with Fox last week after the two-part reunion show was taped at Tyler Perry Studios. The reunion shows will air July 27 and Aug. 3 at 8 p.m. and feature the entire main cast except for John Schneider, who was unavailable. The AJC was one of just three media outlets invited to view the taping.

About 100 of the show’s most loyal fans spent four hours watching the taping without a single bathroom break, rapt by the stories told by the actors and tearful when the actors offered heartfelt soliloquies about what the show and its fans meant to them. Fox herself was so overcome with emotion, she sat silent for about a minute gathering her thoughts before offering her gratitude to Perry and everyone involved for this opportunity.

Crystal Fox (center) during the two-part "The Haves and the Have Nots" reunion show taped July 12, 2021 at Tyler Perry Studios hosted by Egypt Sherrod (left). OWN
Caption
Crystal Fox (center) during the two-part "The Haves and the Have Nots" reunion show taped July 12, 2021 at Tyler Perry Studios hosted by Egypt Sherrod (left). OWN

Credit: OWN

Credit: OWN

Q: Why do you think the reunion show became as emotional as it did for everyone on stage?

A: We realized this was probably the last time all of us would be together for this. We know we’ll keep up relationships individually but looking at the audience, I thought about how much fun we had with each other and what the loyalty of the fans meant to us. We were all surprised how emotional we got that day.

Q: Tyler Perry, I was told, was on vacation when you taped.

A: I didn’t know that. I thought he might pop up.

Q: At least Oprah Winfrey provided video commentary about each of your characters.

A: It was another layer of what I felt was a full-circle moment. It was something historical. It was not just the show itself but the journey we all took not knowing what the outcome would be.

Q: Did you have a chance to talk much to Oprah herself?

A: The first day of shooting, there was this big hush hush. She showed up and watched a couple of scenes. We didn’t get to speak to her long. I’ve seen her at different events and had some small talk. A highlight for me was when the show first aired, I got a voicemail. I missed a call. It was Oprah. She liked a scene I had done. I still have that recording!

Crystal Fox starred in the hit CBS police drama "In the Heat of the Night" from 1988 to 1995. CBS
Caption
Crystal Fox starred in the hit CBS police drama "In the Heat of the Night" from 1988 to 1995. CBS

Credit: CBS

Credit: CBS

Q: Going back to “In the Heat of the Night,” that was your first TV acting role wasn’t it?

A: I was so inexperienced when it came to TV at that point. Theater was my first love. It was my first attempt to project myself into this other medium. I took a chance one day and auditioned. I wondered why it was taking so long. I didn’t realize Carroll O’Connor wanted me to be a series regular. I had no idea. I was panicked. I was supposed to just be a girl who gets killed. I was so nervous when he picked me to play Luann. I had admired him for so long. He was Archie Bunker! He loved I had a theater background.

Q: How did you adjust to TV?

A: I had to learn by doing. One of the directors of photography helped me. He said, ‘You’re used to projecting to the back of the theater. Bring everything down. Make it smaller.’ It was a process of discovery.

Q: How come “In the Heat of the Night” didn’t lead to more consistent TV and film roles?

A: I really wanted to continue to do more film and TV but those options were limited. They just didn’t come my way. Some of it had to do with me choosing to live in Atlanta. I didn’t want to live in Los Angeles. While I was doing ‘In the Heat of the Night,’ the attitude was that actors lived in L.A. When I auditioned and people found out I was from Atlanta, they’d say, ‘There are actors in Atlanta?’

Q: The tax credits here in Georgia in 2008 changed everything.

A: The industry is here now. But even in 2013, I didn’t have any idea I’d have an opportunity like this. I didn’t even know to hope for it. I was surprised I’d be on a series that was this long-lasting.

Q: So how did it even happen?

A: It’s magical. I didn’t even have representation at the time. I was doing a play. Word was that Oprah and Tyler were doing something... A casting director brought one of the producers of ‘The Haves and the Have Nots, Mark Swinton, to the play. He liked me and invited me to audition for two different roles: Veronica or Hanna. I immediately connected with Hanna. I recognized women like her. I hadn’t seen a blue-collar matriarch like Hanna on TV before. I was raised by those women. I wanted to do her justice. That was the draw. I really wanted to do it... After Tyler saw me, he said, “You are Hanna!’ He was so excited!

Q: Tyler Perry has been so instrumental in building and resurrecting careers.

A: It’s a gift of a lifetime, the opportunity he has afforded me to realize my dreams of living a life as an artist. I’m now able to travel the world in a way I’ve always wanted to.

Q: What does your future now look like?

A: I want to showcase my talents beyond what I did with Hanna. I can sing and dance. But I know none of this is promised, especially for African-American actors. You have to break unseen glass ceilings. The hope is that this will open more doors. But I don’t know. I’m just hopeful. It’s a faith walk for me.

ON TELEVISION

“The Haves and the Have Nots Reunion Show”

8 p.m. Tuesdays, July 27 and Aug. 3 on OWN

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