Oprah Takes Tribeca Film Festival to Church: Teases Premiere of New Religious Drama, “Greenleaf”

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Queen O premiered OWN’s new religious soap opera Greenleaf at the Tribeca Film Festival, which she’ll also star in, and talked about why she’s tackling faith and spirituality.

Oprah Winfrey, the TV star, is living her best life. At least it certainly seemed that way Wednesday evening at the Tribeca Film Festival.

She was in New York to talk, in some respects, about her Lord and Savior.

She premiered the first episode of her upcoming OWN drama series Greenleaf, about a pastor’s family at a Tennessee megachurch, and how a tragedy forces them all to reckon with their faith and sins. It’s Winfrey’s first recurring role on a scripted series in two decades, and, whoo-ee, it’s a doozy.

The first episode of Greenleaf alone lobs hints of storylines that deal with religious corruption, crises of faith, familial warring, infidelity, incest, suicide, homosexuality, and all the cover-ups and secrets required to keep all those things under wraps when they involve the pastor’s family at a megachurch with over 4,000 members at worship.

Winfrey’s plays Aunt Mavis, the keeper of those secrets and family outsider, who enlists the help of the show’s faith-questioning heroine, Gina (a stunning Merle Dandridge), to help her bring it all to light.

“Being able to do this show is a dream come true for me,” Winfrey told a riotous crowd at the Tribeca Tune-In screening.

It’s not just that Winfrey is clearly having a ball playing the show’s magnetic rabble-rouser. (In the opening credits for the first episode, Winfrey is listed as “special guest star.”) It’s that she’s tangibly joyous about what she thinks the show will be able to do for her OWN network.

Original content brings it onto a whole new playing field, and judging by the audience’s hoot-and-holler reaction—all culminating in a fit of tears at the emotional last scene—it should be a home run.

“When I started this network five years ago every word that was written, the narrative for OWN was struggling, struggling, struggling network,” she said. “Our team got together and had the dream of being able to do this kind of scripted television.”

She credited Tyler Perry, who created, writes, directs, and produces the hit OWN soap opera The Haves and the Have Nots, with laying the foundation for the network in the scripted space. “I can do it and I can do it cheaper than anyone,” is what Winfrey said Perry told her. And from that foundation the network is now able to move onto Greenleaf and, later this year, Queen Sugar, which was created by Selma director Ava DuVernay.

“What this taught me is that dreams, as big as I can dream and as big the dream that God has held for me, things get even bigger and better,” Winfrey said, preaching to an audience soaking up her sermon. And it wasn’t the first time the post-screening Q&A became a bit of a religious experience.

Winfrey appeared alongside Greenleaf’s creator Craig Wright, director Clement Virgo, and stars Merle Dandridge, Lynn Whitfield, and Keith David.

They kicked off the event with the story of Winfrey’s first meeting with Wright—an alum of Six Feet Under and Dirty Sexy Money, two shows Greenleaf is a clear descendant of. Wright explained to Winfrey that before he made it in Hollywood, he was a preacher himself.

“As a joke I said, ‘Was it a black church?’” Winfrey laughed. “And we had this conversation about church and what the black church in particular means in our community. We started going back and forth about it and he said, ‘That sounds like a series.’ I said, ‘I think it is.’”

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SOURCE: The Daily Beast – Kevin Fallon