Sherri Shepherd Talks ‘Jean of the Joneses’
Stepping out of her comfort zone is something that fuels Sherri Shepherd as an actress. Her comedic and sassy persona plays well on the screen but in her years of childhood it was a personality trait that forged a wedge between her and her mother.
“Sometimes my mother would look at me twirling around and being silly [and] she didn’t know who I was,” Shepherd tells JET . “I would do things to make her laugh and she would just stare at me. She was practical, so even when I said, I wanted to be a comedian, she was like being a comic doesn’t pay the bills.”
But, they do – at least for Shepherd who’s had a lengthy career in stand-up comedy, film and television. Luckily, as an actress you’re trained to emote and the distant relationship between her and her mother would come in handy as she prepared for her role as Maureen Jones in Stella Meghie’s feature film debut, Jean of the Joneses premiering on TV One, October 23.
Starring Taylour Paige (Hit The Floor) Erica Ash, Gloria Reuben and Michelle Hurst, the film centers on Jean (Paige) and her dysfunctional multi-generational Jamaican family, who in the wake of a tragedy, uncovers a history of secrets that will ultimately teach them all a powerful lesson of acceptance.
“I love the strength of the women,” Shepherd, who plays Jean’s mother, expresses. “I love that even though each of them had their own secrets and issues they were going through, they were family first.”
JET caught up with Shepherd to talk further about her role in the film and also the importance of being vulnerable and taking risks.
JET: Right now, women are really working to collaborate and empower one another by showcasing positive imagery, what do you feel Jean of the Joneses will bring to that conversation?
Sherri Shepherd: This is a film where we have a family that is used to holding things in. It’s a strong, second generation Jamaican family and I love that you’ve got to rely on each other and you’ve got to make yourself vulnerable in order to be lifted up and move forward. I love bonding with the women. I play Taylour Paige’s mother who is so emotionally distant because of [her] own hurt. [I need to] really be able to put those hurts aside to connect with my daughter because if I don’t put that aside, it will hold her back. So, in this state today, when people are trying to push [women’s] rights back, if we don’t connect and unify, then we will lose our strength. Our strength is something that no one else can replicate.
JET: I loved the relationship between Taylour and Erica’s characters. They were both at these distraught places in their individual lives, but leaned on each other for guidance and to get through. I also found it was an interesting choice in the predominately Black cast that they were dating White men and the relationships were broken. Was that an intentional decision and how does that further strengthen the storyline, in your opinion?
Sherri Shepherd: I found it to be a real powerful statement. They were seeking something that was beyond them and sometimes in the process, you have to put yourself out there and take risks. I love that at the end, Jean got with Amadou, who is a Black African man.
JET: You’re such a vet in this game, being that this is Stella’s debut project, what was it that made you trust her vision and dedicate yourself to the project?
Sherri Shepherd: It was her first project and when they sent me the script, I was so busy. I think I was going back and forth from L.A. shooting Soul Man and I finally sat and read the script at the kitchen table and I loved it! It was so different from anything that I had seen. The writing was fresh and I loved the fact that you had this family full of women that had their flaws but they were strong. They’re all doing something. My character was an interior designer and she was very successful but her heart was hurting. It was so multi-layered. And also, it was outside of my comfort zone. I don’t do too much drama. I did a dramatic lead with KeKe Palmer (The Carolina White Story) . It was just stepping out of my comfort zone and not going after Erica Ash’s character. She’s funny as heck! But, you know, having to really stay centered and focused on who I was. I was really excited that Stella trusted me with that character.
JET: Because it was out of your comfort zone, where did you pull from to make Maureen your own?
Sherri Shephed: That was kind of the relationship with my mother. My mother, growing up in a certain time period, she didn’t show a lot of emotion. She just got the job done. It was like we don’t have time nor the money for me to fall out and be crying and her always having to be strong. So, sometimes it was trying to find that approval and acceptance from her. I don’t think my mother ever saw me on stage doing my stand-up comedy before she passed away. So, [for the film], we were just trying to forge me as a young adult and my mother as an older woman who had been through a divorce with her husband and never remarried. She was very hurt and sealed that part of her heart off – which is a shame. It was really part of that relationship that I drew on, which is very hard for me to go to that place. And then putting myself in my mother’s shoes to see ‘maybe there was a reason that she was like that.’ So finding out things about my mother and being able to put that into this character of Maureen [really helped].
JET: Jean of the Joneses has universal themes and it’s very layered and complex, but the story is told in this quirky, almost dramedy type of way. Do you feel like the style of storytelling will casually aid in making people realize there are some things we need to work through and heal from?
Sherri Shepherd: Absolutely. I think that there will be things that will make people go ‘oh my goodness that’s my family.’ We all deal with family secrets and stuff that nobody wants to talk about – stuff that only comes at Thanksgiving or a funeral. I think Stella walked a fine line – she didn’t want it to be too broad and she wanted it to be truthful – she achieved it. It’s so different. But there are moments where you just have to laugh and there are moments when you get full of emotion.
Jean of the Joneses premieres Oct. 23, at 7 pm ET on TvOne.