*Actor GregAlan Williams has been on our TV screens for years, as his 30-year career includes recurring roles on the hit USA Network show “Necessary Roughness,” BET’s “The Game” and HBO’s “The Sopranos.”
His film career boasts 42 feature films, including classics such as “Remember the Titans”and “Old School” (starring Will Ferrell). And, of course, there is GregAlan’s seven seasons as beach cop Garner Ellerbee on the most watched television show in the world, “Baywatch.” Oh, and it’s pretty epic that his resume includes work with Pulitzer Prize Winner August Wilson.
Williams currently stars as Robert “Mac” McCready, the controversial brother of Bishop James Greenleaf’s wife, Lady Mae (Lynn Whitfield), on the OWN drama “Greenleaf.” Mac is dealing with sexual abuse allegations towards his own family member, and as Williams told EUR/Electronic Urban Report, “This is a very difficult storyline. It’s not only a difficult storyline for the writers, it’s a difficult storyline for me. Stepping into this guy week after week is not an easy thing.”
“Greenleaf” first premiered last June as the #1 series debut in OWN history and was 2016’s #1 new cable series for women, averaging over three million viewers in Live+3 in its first season.
The mid-season finale airs Wednesday night, so we caught up with GregAlan to discuss his intense storyline and why the series constantly leaves viewers on the edge of their seats.
Peep our conversation below.
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What’s been most enjoyable for you about having this world to play in with amazing actors like Lynn Whitfield and Keith David?
GregAlan: Well, that’s the primary joy. The primary joy is being able to work with the likes of Lynn Whitfield and Keith David and Lamman Rucker, Kim Hawthorne — who is absolutely amazing. I think when I got the script, the first question I asked was, who’s attached? When they said Keith and Lynn, I was like…this is going to be a wonderful show. Of course Oprah Winfrey was part of the show (and) all things added up that this show would be a groundbreaking success.
What do you attribute to why ‘Greenleaf’ has viewers constantly on the edge of their seats?
GregAlan: The show has excellent DNA, and that DNA being the writing. It’s hard to make a good show if you don’t have good DNA. So that’s the first piece, and then you have this amazing cast. You have an amazing production team — Clement Virgo, “Book of Negroes” — so you’ve got this brother who is an executive producer, and he’s always on set and he’s responsible for turning that good writing into something that is believable on the screen. And then you couple that with the fact that it’s black folks telling their own story. And what comes from the heart goes to the heart. So the audience recognizes that this show is genuine. That’s what keeps the audiences able to identity it.
And even going further, some of our best and brightest, and I’m talking in terms of artists over the years, James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson and folks of those ilk, all of those folks have had the opportunity to be part of a television series but it seemed as if the networks made sure that those series that centered around African-American communities and families did not last. They would move them and shift them out of the series. So this show, we all knew that it would be given time to find it’s legs.
What’s the impression you want audiences to take from watching this show, and watching you?
GregAlan: I want folks to be entertained. This is television and it’s primary purpose is to entertain. Because if it’s entertaining then people are going to watch it and it’s going to get the numbers it needs. It’s going to hold the demographics it needs and deliver the promise brand satisfaction to that demographic, which will enable the show to stick around.
As for Mac, what I want people to understand is that Mac is not a pedophile. He’s an an ephebophile, and that’s an important distinction because ephebophiles preference are for post-pubescent girls. And when our kids get to be 13, 14-years-old, that’s when we feel it’s a little safer to let go of their hands, to be a little less watchful. We’re just not as diligent but those are the years that we have to be so very careful because these kinds of folks embed themselves in institutions and organizations and in positions in communities where they can seduce children.
Oprah Winfrey said herself that she wanted the audience to understand that abusers are seducers. And that’s what Mac is. He doesn’t abduct in that way, he’s certainly a rapist, there’s no doubt about that. But his mode of operating and getting what he wants is well thought out and long-term and it involves being able to trust and nurture … Mac is real. Every moment that I’m pretending to be Mac, there are real Macs who are in operation in our institutions, in our communities.
Indeed, this subject hits close to home for many, especially for many in the church. Have you received reactions from viewers who are victims of sexual abuse?
GregAlan: Not me personally, but I have a habit of reading the posts, for example, on Facebook. There are a few Greenleaf discussion groups and so I sort of secretly peruse those after every episode for two or three days to see what people are saying about the show. And the sad thing is that you can almost identify some of the viewers who have had personal experience with abuse. And even some posters will say, ‘Hey, sounds a little personal.’ That was my greatest fear when I started doing ‘Greenleaf,’ was that I was going to encounter real victims of abuse for whom my work had rekindled painful memories and anger.
The reception by the audience, though, has been such that they recognize that GregAlan and Mac are two different people, and while they may wag their finger, the next minute they simile and ask for a selfie. The downside of that I think is that we’re still in this: let’s not talk about it. Let me give you an example, when we were doing the EPK for Greenleaf a couple of months ago, the questions that the interviewer was asking were like, ‘Okay, who’s the biggest jokester on the set?, and ‘Who do you like most,?’ and I’m like, stop it! I’m not going to sit here and clown about this character. Let’s talk about this guy. This guy hurts children. He rapes children, and he’s real. So let’s talk about how he does what he does, and why he does what he does, and perhaps that can help someone identity it within their own families, or come to grips with it, or talk about it for goodness sakes. Because we don’t talk… and I understand because who wants to tell others (that) someone in my family molested me — my deacon molested me, my teacher molested me, my scout leader — who wants to do that? Then that’s compounded by the fact that Black folks, you know… you don’t tell folks your business.
So you would agree that “Greenleaf” explores intense storylines such as Mac’s in order to spark discussion.
GregAlan: Absolutely. And how bold, what bravado, how progressive, how activist — and see, that’s Oprah Winfrey. Oprah Winfrey has been talking about abuse for years, in every form she’s created, or that she’s been a part of. And here, yet again, she has the courage to depict this kind of character, incest and abuse, and it’s entertainment but there are places in some shows, not all shows, where producers and creators and writers and actors need to be willing to take on very real and troubling subject matter.
Lastly, can you tease fans about what they can expect in the mid-season finale, any surprises?
GregAlan: Major surprises. Major developments. Major crossroads. A number of characters are literally at the crossroads in the mid-season finale.
“Greenleaf” airs Wednesday nights at 10PM ET/PT on OWN.