[EXCLUSIVE FEATURE] CRYSTAL FOX: A SHINING STAR [ @only1crystalfox ]
There’s nothing like connecting with someone you’ve admired and been inspired by for so long. I’ve had the pleasure of watching Crystal Fox in many of her roles for a great part of my life, and like many actors and actresses, she’s one of the reasons I do what I do in my career. She’s shown me and so many others through her success that it’s possible to do what you love and be happy. She’s taught us what it is to work hard and build a strong legacy by the work you do in the world, not only with her acting, but the work she does for her community. Today, we were blessed beyond measure to talk to Ms. Fox about her magnificent career, her longevity, and the amazing work she has been doing with her new community-driven upstart. Of course, she talks to us as well about The Haves and the Have Nots. Everyone knows she’s been stealing the show with her outstanding portrayal of Hanna Young on the hugely popular series created by Mr. Tyler Perry. Because of her amazing work, the show has gone not to be come OWN’s most popular scripted series to date. We’re happy to present to you; Ms. Crystal Fox: A Shining Star!
U.G. Digital Mag: First and foremost, I am immensely grateful to you for so much. First, this opportunity is so amazing for me. I’ve watched this show from episode one, and wouldn’t dare ever miss one episode. Then, there’s the bonus that I’ve followed you since ‘In the Heat of the Night’. As young as I was, that was something I watched with my grandmother, and I feel like you brought us together in that moment. I remember you in Driving Miss Daisy. Today, The Haves and the Have Nots is another connection between my mother and I. We watch this show together weekly, or we’re calling each other at 8:59 to say the show is coming on. Thank you for that.
Crystal Fox: It is my absolute pleasure. You have touched my heart with my whole soul, from the start of my desire to act until now. It is all I ever wanted to do is tell the truth, and tell one that people could feel. You go into the theater and disappear, and go into another world. I did it because I didn’t feel like I had a voice. When I did it, I wanted to be the voice for the voiceless, as you hear people say. I wanted people to be moved by something. You have blessed my whole soul with that. Thank you so much.
U.G. Digital Mag: You’re welcome. I’m so glad to know that. With your character, Hanna, there are so many people who relate to her. They spend their lives trying to live by the teachings of God, and nevertheless, they experience scenarios that are hard to deal with. They feel the world is against them, although they do the right thing. How difficult was it, or is it, to play a character this deep?
Crystal Fox: First of all, two things happened for me. When I read the breakdown, it hit my gut, almost like you described. I know that life. I know our struggles, my own personal struggles, the ones I’ve witnessed people have, and those our people have. I’ve seen a woman like Hanna, either who has been a part of my life as blood family, or someone who took on the responsibility of helping raise me, and people who raise the community, and I have never seen people work as hard, and struggle as hard against adversity, and raise solid people, as we call it a blue collar worker, and I’ve never seen them in a lead role like that. The responsibility of it, and the joy I got from it, it has been a blessing, and it blesses me everyday. I love this character because I know who she is. The joy I got in getting the job was met with the same feeling of “Lord God, please help me deliver what I know can happen with this character”. The responsibility I feel to the people she represents was so great. I said I will trust you with this as I do with the rest of my life, because you know the intention of my heart and soul. For me, getting it, and realizing I had to do it, were the hardest moments of my life. Then, living in her is easier because I know who she is, if that makes any sense at all.
U.G. Digital Mag: It makes perfect sense. You have to excuse my language, but you do a damned good job with this character in The Haves and The Have Nots. When I tell you I was crying with you at the start of this season when you were in the hospital after Q was killed. I would imagine that it would be difficult to dig so deep for that type of raw emotion in scenes like that. How do you bring yourself to that place?
Crystal Fox: I do not mean this in any arrogant way, and you’ll understand why later. It’s not difficult because I have witnessed my own sense of hardship, but I know other people who have witnessed such hardship. In this particular season, we shot what you saw last year, and what you see now is a culmination of the same season; they just break it up and show it in two seasons. This storyline is one of the most important that I have been able to share. There are certain aspects of Savannah that they shoot the exteriors of. I went last year to meet the people that live on the street where they shot. Those people are an extension of our show. They are like cast members you never get to meet. They were so happy to see me. I met a woman who was the epitome of Hanna. She was on her porch, across from where Hanna’s house was. The girl who took me to her was elated, but when she got to the house, she kinda bowed her head. I asked, “how are you”, and she said “we’re making it”. The young lady said they had experienced some hardships. Come to find out, her daughter was supposed to graduate that year. She had a picture of her in her graduation cap and gown. I asked what happened, and it turns out the young lady went to a party with a friend, and they witnessed a drive-by. The shooters came back and killed her and her friend because they witnessed it. When I left, I went back home, and went to work, and those were the scenes I was shooting about Q’s death. For me, it was the most truth I wanted to tell. I had never seen a child killed on television, and I knew it would be jarring to the audience. I thought, it’s happening in the news but we don’t see it. It takes the sting off when we tell the truth about it. I wanted to honor the pain these families feel over the senseless violence more than I’ve honored any truth in my life. For me, this whole season is dedicated to that family. That scene for me; I could not let go of the girl. She feels like another cast member, and I could not let go of any kid taken like that, or any senseless loss. We have to stop killing each other. I did it for those moms and dads, and everyone else. The response; I tear up. People keep inundating me with responses from that moment. It means so much because it was for them and the families.
U.G. Digital Mag: I appreciate you telling that story because it shows your heart. It’s amazing you could relate your work to real life, and what someone else is going through.
Crystal Fox: Yes. That’s what I try to do. I feel like I can’t afford to miss someone if what I deliver is going to be healing, helpful, or do something for someone else’s life. I commit to telling the truth.
U.G. Digital Mag: Clearly there’s nothing you can give away about the storyline to come because Tyler wouldn’t have that [laughing], but what are some things you would love to see with the storyline?
Crystal Fox: I can give you a sneak because this season is so heavy. Candace still doesn’t know about the baby being killed. We have to have service or something for the baby. That’s inevitable so I can say that. Because it is so heavy, I know everybody is asking is she ever going to stop crying [laughing]. Does God ever bring her joy? So far, we haven’t had the luxury to show that. But we just shot about 4 seasons of material, and you will see Hanna laugh, smile, have a little joy, and date somebody. I can’t wait for you guys to see that. It’s like, finally!
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s amazing, and I love how there’s so many different characters that surface. Your love interest, Ro Brooks, has done the cover of our magazine, and so has Angela Robinson. It’s amazing to see so many different people, and so many black people. I love the way we are growing and doing so many things. Tyler has done an amazing job with this show.
Crystal Fox: The funny thing is Viola [Davis] is a friend, and I’m paraphrasing her speech, but the bottom line is the difference in black and white people getting scenes is opportunity. We were always working; we just had fewer opportunities. I’m grateful for Oprah, and Tyler, because they have a platform that can provide that for us, and others who are providing opportunities for us. Once they see us, the doors open a little more.
U.G. Digital Magazine: I love how supportive the entire cast is of each other. Everyone certainly has many other things going on, but it appears that everyone is shouting for each other in every capacity which is amazing. I know Jon Chaffin has done amazing things outside of HAHN, and so has Danielle Deadwyler. It suggests real family which is hard to find on such large casts.
Crystal Fox: First of all, I got chills because when I started, I felt like the baby of the cast, and now I’m like the veteran. I worked with both of them, and consider them my babies. Jon understudied me in ‘God of Carnage’ with Jasmine Guy here in Atlanta at The Alliance. Danielle is my baby for real. I love her. Not only is she a fabulous actor, but she is a producer, a writer, and people have no idea. She can do anything. She’s a mommy, which cracks me up because she’s so fun. Angela and I knew each other before this. We did ‘Voice of Syracuse’ at The Alliance. We’ve done musicals together, and she was my friend for a while. I didn’t know she would be on the show until right before we filmed. I love every minute we film with each other. A lot of them, including Renee who plays Mrs Cryer, are theater-based people. It’s collaborative, and normally that happens. You almost become an immediate family. We bring that to the table, and I’m glad we don’t forfeit it either. Heck, yes! …and Tika? She is Candace, but she is my baby. I can not scream high enough for anything good that happens for her. When anything happens for anybody, we are the loudest cheerleaders in the world for each other because we took this journey together. It was a risk. Tyler said it was a risk for him.
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s amazing. I’m glad you mentioned Danielle also, because you both were in Ir/Reconcilable and she was one of the producers. Of course it also featured Jasmine Guy, Brandon Dirden, Dick Gregory, and Enoch King, among others. The storyline hits directly with so many in regard to shame, forgiveness, redemption, and courage. I said you were just as fiery in that and you are in HAHN.
Crystal Fox: [laughing], Yes, it was funny. I had a cuter, sexier dress on though. You know her sister Gabrielle wrote it. Such an amazing family.
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s beautiful, and It’s opening so many more doors for African Americans. It’s beyond amazing. I love seeing it. Thank you so much for all you give.
Crystal Fox: You’re so welcome. I also want to shout out Brandon Dirden from Ir/Reconcilable. He and Jason Dirden. These brothers are not only wonderful people, but wonderful artists as well. I’m excited that the circle of people I’ve found myself fortunate enough to surround myself with are fabulous artists in their own right. I feel blessed that this has been my life. I’ve been surrounded by this type of talent all around me, from the beginning my career until now.
U.G. Digital Mag: What’s next for Crystal? What do you see in the horizon? What do you aspire for?
Crystal Fox: Well, I do want to do more film and television, although I always want to do theater. Theater is my first love, and always will be. I love it, and it connects me with the audience. You get an understanding, one way or the other, whether they like it or not, immediately. I say it’s the last place we agree to disagree, or agree together. I did a film independently, and I think it’ll be a feature film. It’s called ‘Burdens’. Ironically, there’s also a documentary with the same name. This is based on something different. It’s by Andrew Heckler. I was able to play Forest Whitaker’s wife in this film. It’s based on a true story about the KKK opening a museum with their paraphernalia, and the gentlemen ended up selling it to an African American preacher. The circumstances involved, that’s what the movie is about. It’s based on a true story about Laurens, South Carolina. Usher was in it as well, along with Tom Wilkinson. It’s supposed to come out this year. The thing is, I think it’s still kinda Hanna-esque because its a woman of strong will and faith, so I don’t know if it’s so different for me, but I am with different artists.
U.G. Digital Mag: It sounds like a powerful storyline.
Crystal Fox: Exactly. I like doing things with a strong message. The irony is the ending is wonderful and won a victory. This court case went on about whether or not the black actor owns the museum or not. The case was settled in 2012 and he is the owner. It is no longer a KKK museum. The irony of this black, civil rights activist and pastor owning a KKK museum is crazy. It also shows the power of forgiveness. Aside from that, I have a dream project that I figure if I keep mentioning, you all will hold me accountable to do it. I want to create a play to honor and tribute my aunt, who was Nina Simone. People are doing it left and right, and I’m glad they’re talking about her. I don’t want to tell her story, although everyone thinks I do. It’s artist to artist. We had a bond when I was little, and I didn’t understand what it was about. As I grew into an adult, I realized it was the artist in us, and I learned that. I believe she agreed with me on that. So, as an artist I would like to honor her with something that is art-worthy.
U.G. Digital Mag: I love it. The more we speak about the things we desire and dream of, the more they become reality.
Crystal Fox: I believe that. I really do. I have the resources to make happen, so now it’s just on me.
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s amazing. Now, you have an amazing talent with singing. This will tell you how much I really watch the show and pay attention [laughing]. There was a scene where you were telling Benny that one day, he’s going to learn to listen to his mother. Then you started singing and it was like wow, she’s out of this world. Surely, those who knew you from ‘In the Heat of the Night’ knew this already, but it’s new to those of this generation. Will we hear more of your vocals in any capacity?
Crystal Fox: I think so. I’m sure Tyler will fit them in somewhere. What’s funny is I feel like it’s another hidden thing people will be surprised to learn about. I sing a certain way on The Haves and the Have Nots because it’s fitting to Hanna, but they’ll be surprised to know I sing R&B. I don’t consider myself a Jazz artist, but my friends beg to differ. They say that I am a singer, but I think I sing just enough to get through a good club act, but I don’t have the discipline to do it the way they do it. I love it when I do though. I hope to do more. I’ve been asked if I will sing more. With ‘In the Heat of the Night’, we did a Christmas album, but it was to raise funds for a certain organization. They did a Blue Grass album, but mine was a Jazz piece. I did ‘Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire’. It keeps coming up, and I’m sure somebody will utilize it. I believe it will be Tyler.
U.G. Digital Mag: Right. He’s gotta just put you in these movies in a lounge like Chandra Currelley [laughing].
Crystal Fox: Exactly [laughing]. That’s what I want to do. Like a period piece, and I can be a club owner [laughing].
U.G. Digital Mag: You do so much outside of acting and entertainment. Can you talk a little about Act to Impact Global?
Crystal Fox: Yes, that’s new for me. I have always wanted to give back to the community, and try to find different ways. Most times, I volunteer with Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless. Elisabeth and Afemo Onilami are friends, and I knew them before Mr. Hosea Williams passed away. I try to do as much as I can. After this election, like many others, I could not move for two days. I didn’t want to complain anymore without action. I tried to get a ThinkTank together to see who else felt the same. Act to Impact Global was born out of that. Friends got together, and people I didn’t know, and we talked about what meant something to us. People say you have to break it down and do one thing, but why can’t we work on each thing? Michael Moore said if we form small groups and attack different things, we’ll be powerful when we come together as a large group. I took that to heart. That’s what I’m doing now. I had my first event to introduce the group to the community, and show that we would be about taking care of our social ills, until we can come together to take care of something on a global scale and politically. It’s very new, and I have no idea what I’m doing. People say it starts with you, so I’m trying to go back and participate with other groups who need support, a voice, or my faith to get them noticed. It’s at the beginning stages, but I hope it does more for our community and our world.
U.G. Digital Mag: Nothing about what you’re doing here says you don’t know what you’re doing. You’re reaching masses. Will the doors open for people outside of your immediate community?
Crystal Fox: Absolutely. That’s what I would prefer. I want it to be as many people that want to do something. We are on Twitter and Facebook, and I take suggestions on how to grow and build. What’s interesting is I did an event called ‘Dance for Diversity’, and we had different types of dancers come out and demonstrate dance and movement. Then we danced with them. It was received so well with the community that they want it to be an annual event. I’m thinking about it, and it was wonderful. The advocacy issues were around voter education, and literacy. It was originally going to be on child literacy, but adult literacy is very poor in Georgia. It went hand in hand, because if we can’t read we can’t vote. Finding out that info and sharing it with the community shed light on something they didn’t know about, and everyone was excited about doing more. I would absolutely like that to be shared globally.
U.G. Digital Mag: We will surely post it on our end, and share it through our social media. We can link through our site as well.
Crystal Fox: Fantastic. Thank you so much.
U.G. Digital Mag: I covered this year’s Essence Fest, and I literally scoured the arena looking for you [laughing]. Were you there with the rest of the cast at all that weekend?
Crystal Fox: No I did not, and it’s killing me because ever since Tyler Lepley has been going, he has said it was fabulous. Each time, I haven’t been able to go. With this year’s festival, I was close to going, and then I got an invitation from Mr. P. I can’t turn down no invitation from Mr. P to do nothing [laughing].
U.G. Digital Mag: It was amazing. I met Angela, and it was amazing because she covered our first issue. It was amazing meeting her, and the fact she remembered was even better.
Crystal Fox: Wow. I love her so much. Can you see that she is so not Veronica?
U.G. Digital Mag: I can but I can’t figure out how she digs so deep to play the role.
Crystal Fox: She’s nothing like her, except for one way: she’s a classy dresser. She’s beautiful and classy. Nothing like Veronica in the heart though.
U.G. Digital Mag: Yea, I thought Katherine had her for a minute when the season started, but when she flipped it around, I was done [laughing].
Crystal Fox: That’s my baby. I said I was going to have to stand in front of her to make sure nobody harms her [laughing].
U.G. Digital Mag: What are the best ways for people to keep up with you online?
Crystal Fox: I feel like a dinosaur when it comes to social media, but my young folks are trying to help me [laughing]. I’m on Instagram at @only1crystalfox. My Twitter is the same thing. On facebook, my fans always find my personal page, but it’s so full that I can’t really add anyone else. I do have a fan page, which is @crystalfoxfans. I’m working on a website eventually. I guess I need one [laughing], but I don’t know.
U.G. Digital Mag: Again, I have to mention how grateful I am to you. Any final comments at all?
Crystal Fox: Listen, I can’t wait to meet you. I am going try to get to Essence Fest also. Do you love it?
U.G. Digital Mag: I absolutely loved every minute of it. I decided so last minute. I’m based in Cleveland, Ohio. I literally flew out at 6am that Friday morning, landed, and headed to the events. It was absolutely the best time of my life. I’ve already booked a hotel for next year.
Crystal Fox: See! OK, I will definitely try my best to be there next year. I thought it would be too hectic, but I’ve heard it’s electrifying.
U.G. Digital Mag: It was amazing. It wasn’t an atmosphere where people didn’t want to be bothered. Everyone was mingling, meeting, greeting, and having a blast. The entire set-up was really awesome. My cup of tea was meeting the cast of HAHN. It was amazing to meet Angela, Tyler, and Gavin.
Crystal Fox: Now why do you like the show so much?
For starters, I love drama. The characters are amazing. Even the bad characters are really good. I feel like Tyler really does his homework, and picks the right people. I’ve always said he was brilliant with casting. John Schneider has been around for years, and this has become an avenue to showcase his brilliance. You’ve been here for some time, and now people are really getting to know you. Same for Angela. But many didn’t realize you were in Driving Miss Daisy. You’ve worked hard to get here. I love the direction and the writing, and it keeps you entertained. I keep my iPad at work with me to watch the midnight and 3am run of the show, even though I’ve already watched it at 9pm. I love it.
Crystal Fox: I thank you so much and that’s why I asked. They didn’t know who they were gearing it for. They started with 25 - 60 year old women because they just didn’t know. What I love is that even in the beginning, we got compliments from women, and now we have everyone. We have every age, color, sex, and I love it. It’s like a show that no one knew what it would do. We don’t do a lot of talk shows, and we’re kept hidden. Tyler said he was keeping us hidden for a reason, but our fanbase is swelling.
U.G. Digital Mag: You definitely have everyone. I’m 40, my cousin is in her 20s and she’s watching, my son loves it and he’s 10. He comes in ready to watch every Tuesday. During the school year, he makes sure we DVR so he can watch later. I work with someone who’s about 75 years old and we talk about the show. And my mother and I watch together a lot. Regardless of the storyline, it’s believable, and that is what makes it so appealing.
Crystal Fox: Thank you so much from the depth of my heart.
U.G. Digital Mag: I follow you on social media, so we will certainly be posting about it. I’m in heaven for sure by talking to you. I’m forever grateful to you. Thank you for your time because I know you’re busy.
Crystal Fox: That’s alright. I’m never too busy for the love. I appreciate it from the depth of my heart, and can not wait to meet you so I can hug your face real hard [laughing].
U.G. Digital: I love it, thank you.
Crystal Fox: You as well. I wish you all the best, and look forward to seeing you at Essence Fest next year.
Most definitely. My wife is ready. We booked the hotel, and if I could get the airfare today, I would [laughing]. But thank you so so much.
Crystal Fox: You’re so welcome.