#LivingYourBestLife: Actress Renee Lawless: Don’t Let Anyone Steal Your Joy

By on May 10, 2017
Actress Renee Lawless: Don’t Let Anyone Steal Your Joy

This is article two of our series titled Living Your Best Life for LivingBetter50.com.

By Vanessa Sheets–

When well-known opera and Broadway performer Renee Lawless, who now portrays the cold and bitter matriarch Katheryn Cryer in the Oprah Winfrey Network hit series Tyler Perry’s “The Haves and the Have Nots,” first came to Los Angeles three years ago, she quickly learned that ageism is an issue in Hollywood. LivingBetter50.com talked with Lawless about the entertainment industry, overcoming adversity, and her acting career.

What was it like breaking into Hollywood at 50?

It was difficult even getting into the auditioning room. There simply aren’t as many roles for women my age. When I did get an audition, I was in the room with stars like Deidre Hall from “Days of Our Lives” and Camryn Manheim who starred on “L.A. Law”- women who’ve been in Hollywood for a very long time. It’s one thing to be a small fish in a big pond, and another to be a small fish in a tiny puddle with a lot of other big fish!

I had a large body of work in one medium, and they had a large body of work in a different medium. Even though I had a starring role in a television series, I had to learn not to depend on my agent and manager to open doors for me. I had to go out of my way to network and meet the right people.

What advice do you give women over 50 in any industry?

My best friend got laid off and had to go back into the workforce. She said that going back into the workplace now at age 50 means she has to be the smartest person in the room to get a leg up. Most people who go to interviews will be asked ‘Do you have any questions for me?’ If you start responding with knowledge about the company, you’ll show that you know your stuff. You have to believe that you can do it, that you have something you can offer. Experience will always trump anything. You may have to take a pay cut until you can prove yourself though. It’s a hard pill to swallow.

Expect to hear no. When an actor goes into an audition, it’s just another day at the office. They prepare, they know their script, but afterwards, they think about where to grab lunch. They have to leave it at the door. If you want to break into a new industry in your 50s, you have to walk in and give the greatest interview in the world, and walk out and go ‘Next!’ You have to look at it as ‘this is just a job to show them how great I am.’ And if they don’t want it, someone else will.

If you’re a woman in your 50s and you haven’t been in the workplace for decades because you were busy running a household and raising children, let’s say tomorrow that something happens to your husband. What are you going to do? And I’m not talking about the person who married a millionaire and has great IRAs. I’m talking about the woman married to the husband who supports them, but when that husband is gone, how long can you live by yourself before moving in with the kids? Thank goodness for the computer age that has helped women keep up with their typing skills. But I also know a lot of women my age who don’t know their way around social media and Microsoft Word. I think it’s very important for women to have those skills so if their world is turned upside down tomorrow, they will be able to support themselves.

When we were 22 and doing job interviews, we didn’t think about it. We just interviewed knowing that something was going to land. But when we’re 51, it feels like the end of the world. The difference is, you’re living with your parents at 22; at 51 you’re paying your own bills.

How did you land your starring role as Katheryn Cryer in ‘The Haves and the Have Nots?’

There’s a talent database where actors can submit for jobs. That’s all I did to get a series regular starring role in a television series. I was a theater person. That does not happen. I didn’t go through my agent or manager. I self-submitted online. What did I have to lose?

As an inspirational speaker frequently invited to keynote at events for women, including Christian Women in Media and Women Veterans, what is your message?

Don’t let anyone steal your joy. You are the only person who can tear you down. I have a passion for people trying to overcome adversity, whether it’s in the workplace, at home, or even among friends. I’ve had a lot of pain and adversity in my life, and while it was horrible and I wish I hadn’t gone through that, it made me 100 percent who I am now. I’ve had my heart ripped out of my chest and stomped on. If I kept worrying about the guy who ripped my heart out, I never would have dated and fallen in love again, and moved on in my life.

You have to know that the sun is going to come out tomorrow. I’m a Southern woman, so I have lots of sayings like that.

How do you like living in Los Angeles?

Tyler Perry’s ‘The Haves and the Have Nots’ films in Atlanta, thank goodness. While LA is growing on me, and I’ve made a lot of friends there and like the area, I love the four seasons on the east coast. And I also like the better drivers.

Is there a favorite role you’ve played?

Playing Katheryn Cryer on Tyler Perry’s ‘The Haves and the Have Nots’ has been the pinnacle highlight of my life. I absolutely love the challenge of her. That said, it’s very hard for me to say because every role I’ve ever played has become a part of me, like my children. They’ve become like an appendage, so to say ‘what do you like better, your right arm or your left arm?’ It’s hard for me to pick.

But playing Patsy Cline was probably the most fun I’ve ever had. It was a two-person show and the other woman who was in the show with me has become a very good and longtime friend. That was a turning point in my theatrical career so it’s always got a special place in my heart.

You’re working on a short television series titled “Renee’s Way or the Highway.” Can you tell us more about that?

Yes! The idea started six years ago while I was on the road performing in the Broadway show Wicked, and it was going to be a way to break into the television market- but that market found me before I had a chance to get it off the ground. We are planning to finally launch the series as a craft show for home decorating, design, and repurposing. I’m planning to do an entire series on Christmas decorating, and a book on that topic in the near future.

 

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#LivingYourBestLife: Actress Renee Lawless: Don’t Let Anyone Steal Your Joy