Meet Deborah Joy Winans, The Actress Behind Charity Greenleaf-Satterlee on OWN’s Greenleaf
OWN’s Greenleaf series premiered back in June of 2016, immediately garnering over three million viewers. The debut did so well that it became the number one TV series debut in the history of OWN to date. Starring Merle Dandridge, Lynn Whitfield, and Keith David, Greenleaf tells the story of the renowned Greenleaf family and the scandalous truths behind their Memphis megachurch. The drama series, created by Craig Wright, and executive produced by Oprah Winfrey and Lionsgate Television, is now resurging for a season two. This time around, the secrets lying underneath the church pews have gotten even deeper. Recently, we had the honor of speaking with the amazing actress behind Charity Greenleaf-Satterlee, Deborah Joy Winans.
Though her last name may reap of Gospel music dynasty, Winans is building her own pathway to success, through the world of acting. After receiving her BFA from Wayne State University and Moscow Art Theatre School, along with an MFA from California Institute of the Arts, Winans wasted no time in putting her talents to use. The Detroit native has been diligently working her way up in the film and TV industry for quite some time now. With film credits such as Lifetime’s Whitney biopic (directed by Angela Bassett), in which she portrayed her very own aunt, Cece Winans; Fighting The Battle, and a feature film, called, Fragile World, Winans continue to walk in the path God has destined for her.
Her latest victory happens to be her breakout role on OWN’s Greenleaf, where she acts as the daughter of Bishop James and Lady Mae Greenleaf (Keith David and Lynn Whitfield). Winans also participated in the series’ official soundtrack, for the hit single, “The Master’s Calling”. The song charted on Billboard’s Gospel chart, even gaining her a ‘New Artist of the Year’ Stellar Award nomination.
When she’s not in front of the cameras, Winans enjoys uplifting the youth and inspiring women all across the world.
Greenleaf, season two, premieres Wednesday, March 15th, on OWN.
Read our exclusive interview with Deborah Joy Winans below!
Parlé Mag: You portray the youngest daughter, Charity Greenleaf-Satterlee on the hit OWN series, Greenleaf, which will be coming back on March 15th. I am so excited about that!
Deborah Joy Winans: [laughs]
Parlé Mag: How does it feel to be apart of something that is really making a change in Black television?
Deborah Joy Winans: It’s incredible! It’s absolutely incredible. I think that, for me, growing up, I wish I could’ve seen more people like me to really give me that push to go for what I wanted to do, no matter what. I went for what I wanted; you know, I still decided acting is what I want to do, but being able to be a part of that generation that can show the next generation that you can do whatever it is that you want to do—because we are right here—is so amazing to me!
Parlé Mag: Your character, Charity, she deals with one of the deeper issues, I would say, on the show. Here she is, very much in love with a man, who she’s been married to for years, and she finds out that he’s gay. For you, coming from such a Christian-based background with Christian-based values, how did you go about approaching this role, as the wife? Homosexuality is something that is still not very much talked about, comfortably, within the Christian community.
Deborah Joy Winans: I didn’t really have to approach that; that was all Kevin (Tye White). So, for me, it wasn’t about approaching that. It was about understanding who Charity is and how she deals with that—which is interesting; Charity means love. So, the one thing I try to bring out is her love. No matter what. That’s the only thing that I really had to kind of go into playing Charity with. It’s remembering the foundation of who she is.
Parlé Mag: What’s something that you admire most about Charity?
Deborah Joy Winans: I love her love for singing and for worship. That’s always been my–Deborah Joy, favorite part of service in church. It’s always been the worship because I think that, when it’s really good and it’s pure, it really sets people’s hearts and minds in the place that they need to be to receive the word of God. Worship has always been my favorite, and I admire when she gets to get out there and just worship. I think it’s amazing.
Parlé Mag: How can we expect to see your character evolve this season?
Deborah Joy Winans: Well, season two, Charity grows up. As we saw towards the end of season one, she started to stand up for herself and make decisions that she thought she needed to make. I think we’ll see a lot more of that in season two, and we’ll see her coming into her own and really figuring out exactly what that is.
Parlé Mag: We all can’t wait to see! Now, Greenleaf really gives an in-depth look at the hidden truths behind religion and the reality of some people in the church. What are your thoughts on religion in this new world?
Deborah Joy Winans: Well, I don’t think the world is new. I think it is what it always has been. I just think that more things are becoming more acceptable to the world. But, religion, I think, is a staple; it is a foundation. I don’t really like the word ‘religion’. I like relationships, you know? Whatever you believe, having that foundation is needed more now than ever.
Parlé Mag: Right.
Deborah Joy Winans: So, it’s nice to have a show that, no matter what, you see these people go back to what it is they believe and their foundation, and where they trust. That’s in the Lord. I think that that’s really great to see because, nowadays, there’s just so much of whatever. Having a strong foundation in your beliefs is ultimately what will get you through.
Parlé Mag: I agree. So, you’re very big on reaching and supporting the youth. What do you think the youth can take from the show and its message?
Deborah Joy Winans: I think they can take, they can see, they can hear, a real family go through real problems. But, they can also see a real family come together and fight what is wrong, and try to do the right thing to the best of their ability. They can see a family hold onto their love of what they have—their relationship with God. They can see that there’s something in having that foundation that, no matter what you go through, if you can always go back to this, you’re going to be okay. I think that a lot of youth need that because of everything that’s happening. There’s a lot of gray; we’re missing the black and white in the world. The right and the wrong. There’s a lot of gray. So, if they can hold onto their relationship with the Lord and have that foundation to always go back to, they can make it through anything.
Parlé Mag: As an actress, what goes into choosing a role and how you will tell that particular character’s story?
Deborah Joy Winans: Well, in this case, you get to create it. None of us knew who these characters truly were when we got the job. We only got a slight description. But, then it’s up to us to take that description and, with the writing that we’re given, create who this person is. From the way they look to the way they walk, to the way they dress. All of that—the costume department, the makeup department, the hair department, they’re all in on helping you create who this person is. So, taking the role, the limited amount of information that I got was that she’s the daughter of a Bishop and a first lady, and she’s the youngest, and she’s married. With that, I get her name, and I’m like, ‘Well, she’s love. She’s a part of the worship. Okay. So, what does that look like to me? How does that feel to me? What kind of stage is she going to be on?’ And, you take all of those things and you just kind of begin to create this character. Really, for me, at least, it wasn’t until we started season two that I said ‘I really know who she is’.
Parlé Mag: I must say, you do a really great job!
Deborah Joy Winans: Thank you! Thank you so much. I appreciate that, Ashley.
Parlé Mag: No problem! So, who are some of your favorite Black actresses who you look up to in Hollywood?
Deborah Joy Winans: Well, you know, Viola Davis is number one!
Parlé Mag: Oh, of course! [laughs]
Deborah Joy Winans: Which should go without saying. My God. She’s always been amazing to me. But, Fences! She broke me down. She was incredible in Fences. I think that Regina King is stunning. I think that Jurnee Smollett-Bell is very, very great. I admire her work in Underground, for sure. Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson—we have so many who we can to pull from now that it’s really quite amazing to me. I think Ruth Negga was wonderful in Loving! Yeah, so, you know, there are quite a few out there who we get to look up to and have the privilege of watching and learning from.
Parlé Mag: Now, besides acting, you are also a singer. “The Master’s Calling” from Greenleaf‘s official soundtrack actually hit Billboard charts! Are you working on any other musical projects at the moment?
Deborah Joy Winans: Right now, I’m not. I only sang for the show. Actually, that was my first time in the studio, recording.
Parlé Mag: Really?
Deborah Joy Winans: Mhm mhm! I never planned on singing. I know I come from a singing family, but I’ve always wanted to act. So, that’s what I focused on; that’s what I got my BFA and my MFA in. When it got to this, it’s funny because I definitely remember praying, years ago, like, ‘Lord, I never want to sing.’
Parlé Mag: [laughs]
Deborah Joy Winans: [laughs] This is all I want to do! To get this role, and to have to sing, is really, really funny to me. I know that God is laughing, at some point, during the day, at me. But, we’ll see. I’ve been nominated for a Stellar Award—the Stellars are the Gospel music awards. So, you know, we’ll see. Whatever doors God open, I will walk through. But, singing was never my intention. All I’ve recorded is what was necessary for the show.
Parlé Mag: What’s to come in the following months for you?
Deborah Joy Winans: Well, we’re still shooting season two [Greenleaf]. We won’t wrap for a minute. So, we’ll still be here [Atlanta] shooting. And, really, just looking for an agent. I still don’t have an agent; that’s something big that I would like to lock down. I would like to look for an agent. That’s it at the moment. I’ve had some musical people approach me; so, we’ll see what that looks like. We’ll see if that’s something I desire to do. But, right now, just focusing on finishing up season two, which we still have a few more months of.
Parlé Mag: Awesome! Well, we want to thank you so much for allowing us to talk with you today, Deborah. I wish you the best on all of your future endeavors!
Deborah Joy Winans: Thank you, Ashley! I do the same for you! I appreciate this interview; it was awesome.
Main Image by: Derek Blanks
Image Number 2: Courtesy of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network
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