Emmy Award-winning actress Jackée Harry recently talked about how she stays current after being in the entertainment industry for over three decades, her biggest lessons, and advice she wants to give young Black women who are just starting out in the industry.
Jackée Harry started out her career as a history teacher at Brooklyn Technical High School and never thought she would work and live in Los Angeles. She auditioned and studied in New York with some of the most generous and empowering people she has ever met. Many of her teachers in New York helped her get the training she felt she needed to hone her skills as an actor. After receiving roles in plays both on and off Broadway, Harry found herself on the soap opera “Another World” as Lily Mason.
She doesn’t forget her teachers even though she has come so far. So many contributed to her education and start in the industry. Although she lives and works in Los Angeles now, she still believes “New York is the place to learn your chops.”
With Harry’s history of working hard and learning everything that she could, she ended up performing in multiple roles in various genres and mediums — soap operas, plays, and then one of her most iconic roles as Sandra Clark on the 1980s NBC sitcom “227.” “227” was revolutionary in that it was one of the first sitcoms to show upper-middle-class Black characters on TV. It was a show with strong and funny female role models.
While Harry credits “227” as a pivotal moment for her career, she doesn’t want to be remembered only as that character when she has done much more.
“No. It’s been so long ago. I don’t think about that. It’s too long ago. I don’t go back that far, she said. “Sister, Sister” is more relevant because it’s on now, you know. It’s a lot going on and those girls, those twins; they got it going on so it’s more current and relevant. I try to stay current and relevant. That’s what they taught me.”
She continued, They made me get on Twitter and everything years ago. I didn’t want to do it. I said what is this? It’s so invasive. They all in your business. She said it keeps you current and relevant, Tia, now look at her. She’s big time now, got a show coming out; her YouTube show and she started this in 1993, she got me on Twitter. She had to drag me kicking and screaming and then I got on and I didn’t want to do nothing. And I moaned. I was like I don’t want them knowing where I am, I don’t want them to know my business. But it works. It keeps you current and relevant so you don’t stay in the past.”
“The past is good for some things but I’ve seen some things I don’t want to see no more. Certain things I don’t want to see. I don’t want to see me as Sandra no more. I’m done. I did it, it’s done… It was a great time. I made a lot of money. I got a lot of fame. I don’t regret nothing about it, but I don’t go back that far ’cause I’ve evolved as an actor. Thank God. Who knew?”
When asked about TV shows and specifically some sitcoms that come out now, Harry told Atlanta Black Star, “They have to portray people as they are now. You want the ‘Black Lives Matter’ [movement] but you also want the other viewpoints. … You just want laughter as well as the accomplishments that we’re trying to make.”
Harry became known as Lisa Landry on “Sister, Sister” in the ’90s. She learned so much from twins Tia and Tamera Mowry about keeping up with the times and making sure she was putting herself out there. Harry referred to the now-grown twins lovingly and with laughter.
“Those girls, they got it goin’ on,” the 65-year-old. “I try to stay current and relevant. That’s what they taught me. They made me get on Twitter and everything years ago. I didn’t want to do it. … Now I see what [Tia] was talking about. She started this in 1993. She got me on.”
Reminiscing about her time on “Sister, Sister” working with the Mowry twins and her previous teaching experience, Harry said her next goal in life would be to write a book on acting. Her advice to young Black actors entering the entertainment industry today is: “Study, study, study. Take acting lessons. If you don’t have technique it can’t sustain. … You have to develop a persona that’s unique.”
Getting out and meeting people in the industry is also important, the veteran actress said. Whether it’s casting directors or producers or fellow actors, connections and studying are key. Actor have to get over the anxiety they might have and learn to live with rejection, and young actors who “make it” should not get complacent but to continue to learn and excel, she added. “Get so good at it that they want you for everything,” Harry said.
Harry has a new part as Principal Simpson in one of Lifetime’s upcoming cheerleader movies, “The Wrong Cheer Captain.” The role took her back to her roots as she channeled her experience as a teacher. “I like teaching. I like older kids. A young mind to me is one that’s open.”
The project as a whole was very fulfilling for Harry. “It’s really good,” she described the film. “It’s for Black women specifically. I hate movies where women are weak, you know, like we can’t take care of ourselves, because we know that’s not true. We know how to make decisions and get rid of bad vibes and negativity and bad jobs. We know how to do that. They’re evolving into nurturing movies that builds [women] back up. They’re using more people of color and getting more diverse.”
“The Wrong Cheer Captain” and the mission that Lifetime has for young Black actresses and strong women characters and role models is to build them up and give them more opportunity on the channel.
“We build each other up,” Harry explained. “Sisterhood is strong. It’s not weak at all.” She is really enjoying seeing more strong female role models on the channel. Harry went on to say, “I’m so glad. I just want them to write more for women, especially Black actresses, because there’s just not enough. The veterans are working, but the younger women, it’s like they have to write their own stuff. … I think they’re gonna start that next for young women to write their own stuff and portray it on Lifetime.” This all matters, especially to young women in the industry.
“The Wrong Cheer Captain” premieres on Lifetime on Sunday, Aug. 29.