By Nadine Matthews, Special to the AFRO
Arguably one of the most interesting themes in good drama is the relationship between father and son. Films and plays like “The Godfather,” “Boyz n The Hood” and “Fences” are classics in large part because of the centrality of this dynamic. Besides “Empire” perhaps, television isn’t noted for delivering dramas that highlight complex father/son relationships. This is one of the many things that make the Oprah Winfrey produced family drama “Greenleaf” a standout.
Keith David plays patriarch and head of the conflict-prone Greenleaf family’s megachurch. Of his character’s relationship with his son Jacob he tells the AFRO, “One of the things I love about “Greenleaf” is we get to explore that story about fathers’ and sons’ expectations and the difference between the expectations of the mother and the father. It’s quite wonderful and especially in these circumstances where there’s a family business and the expectation is that the son is going to take the lead unless he doesn’t measure up and then the expectation is broken on both sides.”
Now at the beginning of “Greenleaf’s” third season, it seems Jacob who has always had a complicated relationship with the Bishop, is finally starting to come into his own when the Bishop’s world is starting to unravel. David feels that the two characters have turned a corner, “I think that Bishop is quite proud that Jacob has taken over Triumph Church and is doing a good job. Whether or not he shares that with his son is something else.”
Unfortunately, the two things most important to the Bishop, his wife and Calvary Church, might just be slipping through his fingers. With the villainous tag team of Tasha Skanks and Rochelle Cross working overtime, he is in trouble with both the IRS and his wife Lady Mae, played by legendary Lynn Whitfield. The combination of David and Whitfield make for some of the most riveting scenes on nighttime television.
He says of his co-star. “[Whitfield] is smarter than your average bear. She is also encouraging and that’s a really great thing when you have to share so much time with someone. Lynn is a great influence because her concern is to protect her character as well as to protect the story. Whatever she says, you can guarantee it has merit.”
“Greenleaf” is also notable for its great dialogue, something David as a serious actor, expresses a great deal of gratitude for. “If it ain’t in the age then you gotta make stuff up,” he says. “When it’s on the page, you only have to worry about breathing life into it. It’s a great thing to be so well supported by our writing and producing staff. One thing about having Oprah at the helm is she oversees every story and I think that one of her prime directives is to keep it real and that’s what we all try to do in our particular way is to keep it real and make the characters human.”
For the New York City native and Juilliard graduate, the character of Bishop Greenleaf is a dream come true in a surprising way. He reveals, “I have wanted to be a preacher since I was seven years old. I’m living my dream. This just allows me to live out a fantasy. This is like fulfilling a bucket list item as far as having the opportunity to play Bishop. It has helped to renew, buttress, and strengthen my own faith and I love the opportunity to demonstrate that the Bishop is still a man with the weaknesses and frailties of all men.”
Being a part of a show where the church is almost a character unto itself, has allowed David to consider its role in current society. “Greenleaf” hasn’t avoided incorporating some of these issues into its storylines. David observes, “The movement Black Lives Matter didn’t start yesterday. It didn’t start with these recent killings of Black men. They’ve been killing Black men for centuries in this country has been in existence. They have been doing that and people were concerned about that. The Black church remains one of those places where we can have an open discussion.”
In addition to working on “Greenleaf,” David will appear in the comedy “Night School” along with Tiffany Haddish and Kevin Hart which is in theaters September 2. The multi-talented David will also be singing with the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra on November 30.