At 61, some people start to slow down professionally, but not Jackée Harry. “I love what I do — I’ve always been that way, and it hasn’t changed,” says the beloved sitcom veteran, who is known for starring on shows 227 and Sister, Sister. “It’s gotten more intense, if anything. That’s who I am: I like to work and be around people.” She’s tried scaling back her schedule, but job offers just kept finding her. “People kept calling,” she shares. “They were like, ‘Uh, no.’ Like The Godfather. Every time I tried to get out, they pulled me back in!”
Now, as she juggles starring in Tyler Perry’s sitcom The Paynes on OWN with appearing on the syndicated game show Funny You Should Ask, Jackée exclusively opens up to Closer Weekly about the cost her unflinching work ethic has had on her relationships, the joys of being a mom (and grandmother), and the surprising item that tops her bucket list — scroll down to read our Q&A with Jackée!
You’re busy as ever these days. Where do you get your energy?
I guess Jesus! I don’t know. It’s just an inner drive. I’m a workaholic who developed a strong work ethic early. I always wanted to be my own person and to have my own money!
Was acting your first career choice?
No, I was a history teacher and I still love teaching kids, especially younger women. I love giving them a sense of self-esteem and teaching them how to be confident and make smart decisions.
When did you know you had a talent for performing?
I did a play and heard the applause. I thought it was for me, but it was for the whole cast. Still, I thought, “I’m kind of good at this.” Then I went to an acting class one day at the High School of Music & Art [in New York]. Bam! It was like a disease. I never knew I’d like it that much.
As Sandra on 227, you became the first African-American actress to win an Emmy for best supporting actress in a comedy series. Does that make you feel proud?
I don’t even remember that day! I just wish more [African-American actresses] had more opportunities because nobody’s won it since. And you don’t want to be the one and only.
Jackée with the Cast of 227.
What have some of your toughest struggles been?
I’ve lost quite a few friends I had in my youth due to jealousy. Men specifically. If I’m around Barack Obama and I go home, they’re like, “What?” I’ve broken off a lot of friendships and even engagements with men because they’d rather me stay home and quit my career. But I’m a career woman over relationships.
You and your then-husband, Elgin Charles, adopted your son, Frank, in 1997. Was balancing motherhood with acting tricky?
If I had a job, Mommy was going. It’s still that way, and [my son] definitely went through a rough patch. But my ex-husband was great. He worked from home, so he was always with him. But it tore me apart sometimes when I wasn’t there. You feel the tear and the rip but if I had a decision to make, I’d choose the job. [My son] wanted to see me more, but he understands what I do. He’s definitely a mama’s boy, even at 24, with a child of his own! I was furious at first, but now I can’t keep my hands off the baby!
What are you like as a grandmother?
I’m, like, “Give me the baby!” I turned into an idiot! That baby can have anything he wants. He’s a gem. He can do whatever he wants — pee on me, whatever! It’s a need to take care of somebody other than yourself. Otherwise, I get bored with me.
Do you have specific dreams for him?
No. I want him to have an education, then he can go from there. Just no dummies in the house!
How about goals for yourself?
I’d love to meet a mature man. People call me a cougar, and I’m not! I like a mature, confident man who has his own life. No silliness. And they definitely have to have their own job!
At this point in your life, being 61, what word best describes you?
Smart. I’m handling myself better than I thought I would. I really thought I’d be depressed as I got older, and it does take hold of me sometimes, maybe for an hour or so. But I stay positive.
You don’t fight the aging process?
I’m all right age-wise. I realized there’s nothing you can do about it. You can get plastic surgery up the yin-yang, but that old body is still going to be there.
What’s left for you to do?
Get a tattoo! That’s No. 1 on my bucket list! I don’t know where yet, though.
Jackée with the Cast of Sister, Sister.
Sounds fun! Anything else that you’re looking to change?
I’m very confident, but I’m still evolving so I’m trying to be a better person and get rid of “the diva,” as people call it. I’m not like I used to be. But trust me, I use it at the airport, if I can. If you put me in front of the line, I’m going!
Be sure to sign up for our newsletter for exclusive news!