Disney+’s The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder is back for a second season. Premiering on Feb. 1, the show will pick up with its entertaining and laugh-out-loud stories, while highlighting culturally specific experiences of the Black community and addressing universal topics. JoMarie Payton is back in her role, voicing the family matriarch, Suga Mama.
Payton is one of America’s most beloved television mothers, starring on Family Matters as Harriet Winslow for all but the show’s final season. She’s been in the game for 50 years and remains one of the most in-demand actresses of today.
Ahead of the Disney+ release, Shadow and Act spoke with the legend on what to expect in Season 2. She also dished on why she’s fine if Family Matters doesn’t return for a reboot, talked about the impact of both shows in not just Black culture but overall American culture, and gave insight on her longevity in the business.
S&A: Congratulations on Season 2. Obviously, with the new season, there was a desire for the show to return. Why do you think that old and new fans of the show yearned for it to make a comeback? How are you handling the reception for this revival?
JP: It’s back because it wasn’t finished. When you don’t finish stuff, it has to come back for you to finish it. We’re coming back with the message that we put out over 20 years ago. That was a good message put out there by some really talented people, and we’re happy to be back now delivering new messages and putting polish on old messages, making you laugh, love and learn. I’m excited to be back with the beautiful cast that we have and feeling blessed that we have the same writers and producers.
S&A: We're excited to have you back and Bruce Smith and Ralph Farquhar previously said that they were excited this time around because they said they were interested in exploring deeper subject matter and being able to push the envelope. And now that you guys have a second season, what themes and topics are you happy to showcase?
JP: It’s some of everything that you can think about, especially things that were taboo years ago that people kind of peeped at, and we’re making them open their eyes very big. We are paying attention to discrimination, and we have a beautiful Juneteenth episode that it’s absolutely outstanding that I know you guys are going to be able to appreciate. We deal with racial injustice. We deal with a lot of different things on another level that we couldn’t deal with two decades ago, so we’re excited about that. We are pushing the envelope, but we have the ability with the talent that we have, and the writers that we have, to bring that to you [and] to make you open your eyes and your heart to be receptive to some of the things that are important enough for us to talk about. We are hoping that in these new episodes that we have, people are just loving. And we know that they’re loving them because we get the mail, we get the responses and all, and it’s saving lives. I believe The Proud Family is actually saving lives. We’re keeping people out of the space of not wanting to live, and you have to be able to live it to function. We are letting people know that it’s OK to be who you are, where you are, with who you love, and what you believe–and that’s what the show can do. And I think that’s why people love it so much. They were happy to have us come back and have us be the ones to deliver these messages that are so important.
S&A: You have a lot of guest stars this season. You worked with Gabrielle Union and Anthony Anderson. Was there anyone in particular who you were the most excited to work with?
JP: I know a lot of them, and I’ve been in this business almost 50 years, so I’ve worked with quite a few of them, and I was excited when we worked with Lizzo last season. Anthony I knew, but for all of them, I’m more excited that they’re excited about working on this show. I don’t think there’s anybody that casting asked to come in and be a guest on this show that has turned it down, because I think they’re loving the fact that they’re part of something that’s really special and that’s groundbreaking on a lot of levels. We’ve always said what we needed to say and what we feel and we don’t apologize for it. We’ve just gotten a little out and prouder about it. We’re just happy that we are in that space where we say, ‘OK, it needs to be dealt with.’ We’re going to deal with it.
S&A: What about Lizzo were you so excited to have her participate in the show?
JP: Well, I was excited because she decided to do it, for one thing, and she came off so good.
I was excited about her, and also Billy Porter. I love Billy Porter, and the talent that he has is just phenomenal. I was excited about working with all of them and telling my granddaughter about it. But I was happier that they were excited to work with us.
S&A: You mentioned that you've been in the business for 50 years. You definitely don't look like it, and you've had such an amazing career and you continue to be a working actress. What would you attribute your longevity to in this business that is forever changing. You deal with sexism and racism and ageism, and all of these things, but what would you say is the secret to your success and your longevity?
JP: My work ethic. I go in there and I do my job. If you hire me to do something, I don’t go in thinking 50 or 100, I go in there and give you 125 percent. Being able to make a living doing this is a blessing. I don’t expect anybody to give me anything, and I was taught that by my parents, and that I should work for what I have. I’m happy that God blessed me to be a storyteller and happy he chose me to tell a story in this element. It’s where I feel most comfortable.
I actually set foot on stage when I was 6 years old and I did my first play. I was in Little Red Riding Hood. So I’ve been doing it for a long time [and] I still enjoy doing it. I’m glad that people enjoy seeing me do it on whatever level it is, and whatever gaps I have is OK.
The most exciting thing about it is when I’m not even when I’m not performing, people say they want to see me again. But if they can’t, then they hear my voice on this show. So I attribute it to my work ethic. I am always there when I am supposed to be there and I try to give you what you paid me to give you.
S&A: Would you say that work ethic and humility are the two things that set you apart from others who may not be working as much? Also, do you feel it is what this generation lacks?
JP: In some ways. When I was coming up, it was hard. And I put it in my book. It was hard. There were some struggles, but my mother used to always say to me, “What’s for you is for you.” It never deterred me from doing what it is I felt I really wanted to do. So a lot of actors in my era that are around my age, and a lot of artists, have the same experience. In our day, it took a lot of prayer, work ethic, and you had to have a strong sense of who your family and your real friends were, because this is a tough business. I always tell people that it’s not for the faint [of heart]. It’s hard. Don’t get in this business if you don’t have a good foundation. I tell the young people if you can’t read, don’t get in this business, and if you don’t understand what you read, don’t get in this business because it’s called show business, and they want to see what they want. They want to see what it is.
S&A: We spoke briefly about how reboots or revivals are such a big thing. Obviously, a lot of people know you from 'Family Matters,' and you make history with that show with it being one of the longest-running African American family sitcoms.
JP: Family Matters is the longest-running, all-African-American major network television show in history. There are only there were only three major networks at the time: ABC, CBS and NBC. To date, Family Matters is still the only all-African-American, longest-running show, which speaks volumes because somebody out there trusted a handful of nothing but Black folks. They said, “We gonna put our money on this family.” And they did, and we’re still here, and I appreciate it. Let’s just get that straight.
S&A: Thank you so much for that lesson, because they will try to rewrite history because we have all of these other networks now and streaming platforms, etc. There’s so much misinformation out there. Now, you’re opening up new generations of fans to the show with syndication and streaming, and because it is such a great family show and the show has such relevant topics-- how has the reception been in recent years?
JP: It’s beautiful, because when I run into my doctors that I have now, who were kids when we were on the show, they tell me that their kids are watching that show. It just warms my heart. And then when I walk in there, they say, “Ms. Payton, you’re just a mother to the world.” It’s like kids are watching that show. It just does another thing to you when that happens. I thank God for it. It’s such a blessing.
S&A: You guys have done a few reunion specials but you’ve made it clear that you won’t do a reboot if Jamie Foxworth, who played Judy Winslow, doesn't return. Have there been any talks about a full reunion or reboot where she is included, because she is a part of the show’s history?
JP: Well, let me let me just say this, and I hope this goes viral, because most times I say something, it does, and I’m at a point now where – never say never – but I’m at a point now where I can say I don’t really care either way it’s. It’s only because sometimes you want to do things other people don’t want to. I could want Jamie to come back and all, but Jamie may not want to come back. I still communicate with them back and forth. The majority of that crew is still alive. I can’t speak for everybody. I’m just saying it. I didn’t want to do it. I don’t feel comfortable doing without her. But I’m at a point right now where I don’t want to push the button on anybody, because I got some nasty notes that I was being selfish because I didn’t want to do this show if she doesn’t return. I just sent them back a heart. I sent them a piece of love as what I sent them, which is what they’ll always get for me. But I don’t need to do the show again. Family Matters did what it was supposed to do. It was a blessing that I asked for, and I didn’t even know it was going to be a show. When I was praying and I had my baby, and I asked God for a sign to let me know whether or not I should stay in this business or not, He gave me a show called Perfect Strangers, and that turned into a spinoff with Family Matters. I am still happy with it. We don’t ever have to do the show again as far as I’m concerned, but who knows what might happen later. I’m just saying I’m not going to feel comfortable doing it. If they don’t bring her back, I am not doing it.