‘It Allowed Black Women to See Me’: Jaleel White Speaks on Steve Urkel’s Alter-Ego Stefan and Why He Initially Didn’t Want to Play Him

Actor Jaleel White will forever be synonymous with his iconic “Family Matters” character, Steve Urkel. But the actor also portrayed three other characters — Myrtle Mae, Cornelius Eugene and the hard-to-forget teen eye candy known as Stefan Urquelle.

For nine seasons, White played the nerdy character who was persistent in his attempts at wooing the girl next door: Laura Winslow. But in season five, Urkel’s debonair and smooth- talking counterpart Stefan was introduced. 

Jaleel White Photo: @Jaleelwhite/Instagram

The character presented White as charming and handsome, and finally gave fans a glimpse of the real man behind the glasses and suspenders. For some, Stefan was just as adored as the science-loving Steve. The latter proved to be true for comedian and “The Talk” co-host Sheryl Underwood. 

“He coulda got it, he could of hollered at me back in the day,” joked Underwood while speaking with White about the role. White, 45, however, was not smitten with the role at first. Tickled by Underwood’s comment, he responded by sharing that the role of Stefan was initially unappealing to him.

“You know what, I never even wanted to play Stefan. I thought Stefan was boring,” explained the former child star. “I mean, thank God I played Stefan ’cause it allowed Black women to see me and the way I actually am. I had no idea, and now that’s the standard.”

He continued by explaining that for his Black fans, especially women, he is recognized as the suave guy. “I mean, I can be driving down Crenshaw and literally off a bus stop, ‘Hey that’s Stefan.’ You know Black people we got that special vision in the ‘hood. And so I’m very happy I played that character because it saved me with my own community.”

In the past, the “Big Fat Liar” actor has shared that his time on the popular ’90s sitcom didn’t always make for the best of times. The role of Steve was initially a guest spot, but quickly became a huge hit with fans. Because of the unprecedented popularity, White claims to have felt the cold shoulder from cast members. “I was not welcomed to the cast at all,” he said in his 2021 episode of TV One’s “Unsung.” “They [the cast] know what it was … I didn’t think anything of it being cast to be on ‘Family Matters,’ because it was supposed to only be a guest spot, one and done.”

White’s co-star, Jo Marie Payton, who played Harriette Baines, echoed hints of tension that took place on set. While recalling her time on the show on E! network’s “True Hollywood Story,” Payton said a shift in the show’s storyline to cater more to Steve only made matters worse. “We weren’t happy about it. I think along the way it got to be a little resentful, but it was just an adjustment that we had to make.”

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