Written by | Ray Cornelius
Tyler Perry’s hugely popular night time soap, The Haves and the Have Nots is back for season 2 on OWN and part of the drama that keep fans coming back every Tuesday night at 9 p.m. is centered on the character “Jeffrey,” played by actor Gavin Houston.
Jeffrey is a repressed, black gay man that is as complex and unpredictable as the show’s vixen, Candace, played deliciously by Tika Sumpter. Couple that with his love for a man he can’t have, the fear of losing everything because of his sexuality and his occasional neurotic outbursts, and you have a character whose plot continues to thicken with every episode.
I caught up recently with the 36-year-old University of Florida grad to discuss his new found success and how Jeffrey’s ‘coming out’ episode resonated with so many of the show’s viewers—gay and straight.
As an actor, how has your life changed since the show started?
I have received a lot more recognition I would say from fans and people in general. I’m actually headed to Puerto Rico to work on a new film because the director started looking at episodes of the show. Certain scenes from it helped win them over (in terms of casting me) and helped them to see what my abilities were for their script. However, I’m more excited because of the feedback and the reactions we’re getting from the fans of the show. Sometimes, you go into the studio and never realize the affect your work has on people. So, having social media and being able to hear responses is truly a blessing.
How do you prepare to play Jeffrey? Describe your acting process?
For me, I usually try to strip my character down to a blank canvas and just start painting. I then ask, “What does this human being need?” I don’t look at whether he is gay or straight. I just keep asking, “What can this human being not go on without?” “What does he want?” “What is his overall objective in the scene?” So I strip him down to that and then I try to infuse pieces of myself and how I’ve experienced things in my own life. I then use my imagination and try to be present in the scene with the other characters and play off of what comes naturally at that moment.
The last episode of the first season when Jeffrey ‘comes out’ to his parents was pretty intense and very true to life. Did you receive any coaching or instruction for that scene?
WOW! So many people connected with that scene and it was just as real for the three of us actors as well. I have such a huge bond and connection with my television parents Angela Robinson and Peter Parros and can be vulnerable with them. There was a point in the scene where I went into a zone, almost like a player in a basketball game where you don’t hear anything or see anything but you’re present and aware of every little feeling you have. Tyler cleared the set that day and it was just the three of us. There was no coaching just raw emotion. There were also no appointments in the scene like, “there has to be crying here.” It was just real and created in that moment with honesty and truth.
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What has the reaction been like from the African-American community?
They’ve been very supportive. A lot of people who disagreed with the lifestyle and the character in the beginning had a change of heart when they saw that season finale. They were like “as much as I don’t agree with his lifestyle, I felt for that character, for the person.” They put down all of their own judgments and all of their predisposed emotions they had about the character and just felt something for the human being. So I think that really shifted people’s thinking and made them look inside themselves because of what that character had been getting from his parents and found compassion. They were like, “This is tough and difficult for this person, who really just wants to be loved and is now being rejected by his own mother.” So the audience looked at him differently once all of that came about.
Have you received any negative feedback about playing a gay character?
No! I went on the journey with everyone in the sense that they couldn’t stand my character in the beginning. Why is he doing this and why is this character doing that…sniffing Wyatt’s shirt and all kinds of craziness. (LOL) There was even a spoof about that story line on the Chelsea Lately show. But at the end of the season finale, that is when the audiences’ eyes were changed. They looked a little deeper into the person and how risky it was for him to come out and be himself. Of course there are those who didn’t like it but they respected the character. Now they’re excited to see where this new alliance will go between Jeffrey and Candace and where the journey takes this character.
FAN QUESTION: Is Jeffrey written, directed and played out the way you envisioned him to be?
I do in the sense that understanding this character and his relationship with his parents. If you’ve noticed Jeffrey is almost childlike which I think is very true to life. There are some people who are adults but they’re adult “children,” who haven’t worked out things from their childhood and have carried things into their adult life. All of the immature things Jeffrey’s been doing are because he’s still a boy and has never stood on his own. A lot of people felt like, “why is this character doing this?” But I think his extremes are justifiable because he is still dealing with childhood issues and trying to cover up who he really is. But I think the character will evolve this season and audiences need to see characters grow.
Will Jeffrey find love this season?
Aww man! I will say this, he will find more love for himself and who he is and I definitely think he’s going to potentially see what’s out there. (LOL) That’s the best I can say and who knows what will come from that?
FAN QUESTION: Is Gavin Houston single, in a relationship or dating?
WOW! (LOL) I am single at the moment but I am in a relationship with God first and foremost. I also have a great relationship with my daughter and I am preserving that. Right now, it’s just really about my career, that’s what’s most important.
The Haves and the Have Nots airs Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. EST on OWN.
Photo Credit: poptower.com