As Oprah Winfrey paged through a script for the soapy drama Greenleaf, she knew something was off. For the saga of a scandal-plagued Memphis megachurch, creator Craig Wright had written the role of Lady Mae — steely wife of a powerful bishop (Keith David) — with Winfrey in mind. “But the instant I read it, I said, ‘No, the person who should play this is Lynn Whitfield,’” says the 62-year-old OWN mogul.
She recalls asking Wright for another role: “‘I can be a sister or something.’” Winfrey spoke; Wright listened. He cast her as Mae’s straight-shooting estranged sibling, Mavis. (And, yes, Whitfield signed on as Mae.) On June 6, Weight Watchers spokeswoman Winfrey, calling from her home in Santa Barbara, revealed more to Us while, she says, “watching the fog coming in.”
Us: Why was Mavis the right role to bring you back to scripted TV?
OW: It wasn’t about the role, it was about the story. I love hearing stories, telling stories, sharing stories. I’ve shared 37,000 on the Oprah show! Every day I was like the town crier. Now I can still tell stories but use the platform of drama.
Us: Mavis runs a jazz and blues bar. Are you a fan of those genres?
OW: I’ve never listened to jazz. It’s just not something I ever paid attention to. But I thought, If I’m gonna run a jazz club, if I’ve got Miles Davis’ posters in my bar, I should at least know what his horn sounds like. So that’s what I listened to on my iPhone in my trailer.
Us: And are you hooked now?
OW: No, I cannot say that! [Laughs.]
Us: Greenleaf is filled with sex! Will Aunt Mavis get some action?
OW: Whoo! You wouldn’t go there! Aunt Mavis don’t want that kind of action! But there was possibly some action between her and the bishop long ago. That is part of the tension between Mavis and Lady Mae. That will be revealed at some point.
Us: You’ve lost 30 pounds since October with Weight Watchers. Are you in the best shape of your life?
OW: Yesterday, I was in the gym working on my triceps, and I was thinking, just as I did the 50-pound pulldown, I am going to be in better shape by the end of the year than I’ve ever been in my life. I really just smiled at the notion: Wow, what a thing.
Us: You’ve said that bread is your weakness. What kind?
OW: There is a seeded bread that I bring from South Africa. I bring home 10, 20 loaves. I am so bad with this bread. I’ve literally been in hotels and brought my own: “Please, can you toast this? I have my own bread.” They’re like, “You have your own bread?” And I’ll pull it out!
Us: What else do you save your splurge points for?
OW: Tequila shots or a glass of wine.
For more of Winfrey’s interview, pick up the new issue of Us Weekly, on stands now! And watch Us Weekly’s Christina Garibaldi, Ian Drew and Jamie Blynn discuss Oprah’s diet secrets during our Us Weekly Facebook Live News Update earlier today.
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