Season 4 of Greenleaf premieres tonight on OWN and it looks like there’s nothing but more trouble ahead for the Greenleaf family.
Though it’s been several decades since Beau Bridges mixed it up with Pearl Bailey and Louis Gossett Jr. in the offbeat slumlord comedy-drama The Landlord, Bridges hasn’t slowed down a bit, and he’s bringing that same energy to his character Bob Whitmore, preacher at a competing and predominantly white megachurch franchise Harmony & Hope that’s now taken the Greenleafs’ church, Calvary, out from under them.
Shadow And Act visited the Greenleaf set in the midst of filming the new season and chatted with Bridges and Lynn Whitfield, who plays the Greenleaf’s indubitable matriarch Lady Mae, about what fans can expect during the upcoming season.
“Bob wants to fold Calvary into Harmony & Hope,” Bridges told Shadow And Act after a tour of the labyrinthine megachurch set in Atlanta, Georgia. “His vision is to have all people worship together. Black, white, whatever, and to worship in respect and freedom together. Bob believes that vision can’t succeed unless we have a strong Black leader in the pulpit so he appeals to Mae to be that person.”
Though Whitmore’s character first appeared briefly in the last episode of season three, Whitfield, of course, has been a series star since the beginning as First Lady of Calvary. Fans of the series know that Lady Mae has yearned for a long time to play an influential role in the church. Her attempts to secure such a position at Calvary, though, were devastatingly rebuffed. She was extremely close to grabbing the position of Calvary’s head pastor when Connie, from the deacon board, unceremoniously pulled the rug out from under her. Instead of promoting Lady Mae to Head Pastor, they want to put her out to pasture and promote her daughter, Grace Greenleaf (Merle Dandridge). So, it is logical that she would be tempted by Bob’s overtures. However, in Lady Mae, Bob meets his match. “Bob is a good salesman,” Bridges laughed. “But Mae sees through him. I have a sense that Bob is not always going to be a bright spot for the Greenleaf family.”
So, is Bob motivated by money or by social and spiritual ideals? “It’s a mix,” Bridges said.“He wants to make money but his vision is to bring people together.”
Bob’s relationship with Lady Mae’s powerful, high profile daughter Grace (Merle Dandridge) also seems to be a complicated one. Grace, understanding that Bob might have something of a soft spot for her, tries a little manipulating of her own. However, Bob won’t be fooled. When Bob senses that she may be trying to play him, “He makes sure she understands that he can’t be played!”
Bridges also explained that he isn’t too hopeful that his character will be the kind of person he needs to be in order to work well with the Greenleaf family. “I think he kind of lacks respect,” Bridges concluded.
Though there are still a large number of episodes yet to be filmed before the end of the season at the moment when we spoke, what is clear is that Bob is definitely a complicated character who will be a pain in the behind for multiple members of the Greenleaf family. “He is a man who loves his family but also a man who doesn’t mind taking advantage of, and manipulating people.”
Whitfield agreed that she sees Bob as a formidable foe more than she sees him as a potential ally. After a stupendous lunch (complete with fresh coconut water served in the coconut and perfect red velvet cake, y’all) courtesy of craft services, Whitfield shared that “Bob will be Lady Mae’s big challenge. Bob will be lording his power over her.”
Her hair freshly done up in a buoyant bouquet of curls, Whitfield is every inch the grand dame Lady Mae. But for a moment, Whitfield steps out of her role to share a real and personal moment in her own life. She had just flown back from a special memorial service for beloved writer Ntozake Shange who passed away in October 2018. A part of the original cast of Shange’s groundbreaking For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow is Enuf, Whitfield reveled in the bittersweet memory of the memorial. “They had a big reunion and there were so many of the artists who worked with Ntozake there. We performed one of her pieces,” she said, including Alfre Woodard, another original cast member. Her tone was at once gentle and genteel. “We’ll always be connected,” Whitfield says, her affection for the lost literary pioneer, and her castmate Woodard, unabashed.
While Whitfield is experiencing peace, Lady Mae still hasn’t cleared the rocks in her path. While she’s on the other side of a near-divorce with the Bishop after finding out about his affair with her sister and his flirtation with the scammer Rochelle (Letoya Luckett), Bishop and Lady Mae aren’t a united front just yet. She’s also coming out of Grace finding out that Lady Mae’s affair means that Bishop isn’t her father, after all. While Lady Mae has always been a bit resentful of her daughter, this news has put Lady Mae in a remorseful spirit, and fortunately, Grace doesn’t appear to be judging her mother too harshly. Lady Mae is still determined to establish a ministry for herself and get from under Bishop, where she has been all of these years. “Her priorities are changing and she is driven by a deep desire to fulfill her purpose,” Whitfield said.
Whitfield also hinted that, at least temporarily, Grace and Lady Mae will call a truce in light of the existential threat Bob poses to Calvary. “Grace wants to preserve Calvary for her family. With the external forces coming to the fore that threaten everything, you’ll see them work together more.”
Speaking of family, how will Lady Mae be handling her role as matriarch of the family? Last season, her other daughter Charity (Deborah Joy Winans) and her granddaughter Zora (Lovie Simone), went through existential crises of their own, situations where they could have used Lady Mae’s full support as a mother and grandmother. Since she was so preoccupied with her own emotional issues, Lady Mae wasn’t able to be there in an ideal way. Will this change this season? It seems that Lady Mae has turned a corner but will it be too late? Said Whitfield, “The question is, will those characters want her help at this point?”
Then there is the potential fallout with the other members of the church who by now understand that a lot of, as Lady Mae would put it, “discord” is taking place in the Greenleaf household. At the end of last season, many of them signed a petition that expressed their resentment toward Lady Mae and the Bishop.
Will Lady Mae, who always strove to keep up appearances, be able to deal with the fallout from members of the community? Said Whitfield, “Though she has always been a person who keeps up appearances you’ll see her this season not put as much value on that. I think the audience will leave this season feeling Lady Mae is more than just superficial. She has substance, she can roll up her sleeves. At the base of everything is the fact that she was molested by her father. She was betrayed by her husband. Through oversight or mistake of some kind, lost her child. Those things need to be dealt with or released or something. I think we’ll see her grow this season.”
Greenleaf airs tonight on OWN.