Renee Lawless, a well-known opera and Broadway performer for years, has made a name for herself on the small screen starring as the bitter and distant matriarch, Katheryn Cryer, in the OWN drama series The Haves and the Have Nots. In an exclusive interview, Renee discusses that fans are going to see more sides to Katheryn than ever before this season and the lengths she is willing to go to protect her reputation, her money, and her family.
You have a pretty amazing background!
Yeah, I was born in Tennessee and then moved to Jacksonville. Then I got married and divorced and then I moved to Orlando. In 1994, I finally moved to New York and everything kind of took off from there. Some people are like where are you from and I always ask, ‘do you mean where was was I born? Or where am I from? Or where do I live?’ [laughs].
I did the acting thing differently. I went to college and was going to be an opera singer, then I did pageants for three years. Then I went to graduate school for voice and opera. I was still doing musicals. I think I did 17 musicals while I was in college and I continued while I was getting my masters. When I finished my masters I realized I wasn’t going to be an opera singer. [laughs]. I loved singing. I appreciated it, but I knew it wasn’t where my heart was.
So I moved to Orlando and while I was there I worked at Walt Disney World. I sung there for many years while I was married. When I got divorced, I had a girlfriend living in New York at the time. She said if I don’t move now I was never going to do it. I always wanted to get to New York, but something always got in the way. I didn’t move to New York until I was 33 or 34, but it changed my life! I have to say in hindsight I am glad I went to New York later. I think it was the right time for me.
By the time I got to New York there was no man, no job, etc. Nothing was going to keep me from reaching my goal. The boyfriends I had along the way knew that they would come second to me. There was never any doubt. I was never going to turn down any job for them. I was on a mission and it was an unstoppable mission. [laughs].
You did your first pilot back in 1994?
I was not an overnight success. [laughs]. In 1994, that audition came around. I was in the middle of the divorce and was living in Orlando while my best friend was in New York. My casting director helped me get that audition at MGM studios in Orlando. They liked me and I got my SAG card, but it fell through. As a result of that, I got a costume performing job in New York seven days later. I kept that job for many years. Three weeks after the costume job I also landed an off Broadway show. That got me my Equity card. I got my SAG card and my Equity card within six months of each other. Then I worked at Paper Mill Playhouse which is extremely hard to get into. So, I landed four jobs from that one audition!
Let’s talk about The Haves and the Have Nots. Over the years, your character has evolved. When we first met Katheryn Cryer she was very passive aggressive, passionate, and I say this lovingly but full of anger and hatred towards her family — specifically towards her husband. But she puts on a face, where she keeps a lot of the major secrets at home and in private which makes her likable.
I think last year it started with the number nine speech. After the death of Amanda she had to give up a little control. I call it the ‘I’ll handle it year’ with Jim [her husband].
We have noticed slivers that she has been a little nicer towards Wyatt and she has tolerated a little more of the crazy that has been going on. She has been softening a tiny bit. I wouldn’t say she has calmed or become a different person by any means, but I would say there are more layers to her that we have been seeing especially since the death of Amanda.
I think as far as Hannah is concerned, you are seeing a lot more compassion. That whole relationship, through all of the tumultuous things– at the end of the day they care for one another. I think this season is about payback, but I think it’s also about calculated people.
I respect Katheryn. I think she is calculated and I think a lot of people look at her and think she does the things she does because she is so unhappy and is so angry. But I think she does these things to keep her family together. I feel the opposite.
Oh absolutely! This is something that some people have figured out. All of it was laid out in season one. Katheryn said it all in season one and everyone either forgot it or came in late. [laughs]. The most important thing to Katheryn is her family name. She will never let anyone tarnish her name, whether its her husband or her son. If it’s an outsider forget it. [laughs]. It’s kind of like, you can yell at your child, but no one else can, otherwise there is going to be hell to pay. I can make fun of my husband, but nobody else can make fun of my husband.
In the next six months there are going to be more layers of Katheryn revealed. More layers are going to surface. Every season somebody or everybody is being tested. Everybody has their own boiling point. I don’t think people really realize how much Katheryn is in control. A lot of people relate to her, not her wealth, but how she handles things and her problems. I think she picks her battle and once it’s waged forget about it.
What is Katheryn going to go through this season? What can fans continue to expect?
This is what I can tell you. I think it’s a season of payback. It doesn’t necessarily mean something bad. But after watching the first two episodes, after taking in the full picture a lot has been given away. The first two episodes have set up the entire season! I am really not given anything away. And when I say season I mean between now and the end of September.
So, what I think you can expect is payback. It might not be the kind you necessarily want to see, but it’s there from the first episode. As far as Katheryn is concerned, I think that she has said, ‘I am my fathers daughter.’ She is in the process of possibly taking back the reigns and I have a feeling that she is not going to stand much longer for that prison. There are no bars that are going to hold Katheryn. I mean that figuratively. I think you are going to see more of Katheryn dealing with everybody.
Is there anything you want to say to the fans of the show?
I want to thank everybody. We are addictive, and people can’t stay away. I don’t know what to say to that other than thank you [laughs]. I think we bring the juice every week. People can’t wait to see what we are going to do next. So, thank you for watching!
Catch ‘The Have and the Have Nots’ on OWN. Tuesdays at 9pm EST.