*Ben Patterson is best known for his groundbreaking role as the transgender brother of Dr. Ben Warren on ABC’s hit drama Grey’s Anatomy. Currently, he is starring in OWN’s “Greenleaf,” alongside media mogul and Executive Producer Oprah Winfrey, who plays the role of Mavis McCready.
The TV drama also stars Keith David as Bishop James Greenleaf, and Lynn Whitfield as his wife Lady Mae Greenleaf and the First Lady of the couple’s powerful megachurch.
Set in Memphis, the series will take audiences into the domain of a prominent African-African church and observe the unscrupulous measures the Greenleaf family members will go to protect their secrets and lies from destroying their religious empire.
Actress Merle Dandridge plays the series’ protagonist, Grace Greenleaf, who is estranged from her family but returns home after 20 years following the mysterious death of her sister, Faith. Ben Patterson plays the character of Noah Kendall, who serves as the head of security for the church and the keeper of family’s secrets. He also has to deal with the amorous history he shares with Grace when she returns despite the fact he has a fiancé. Ben chats with the Electronic Urban Report/EUR on what viewers can look forward to on Greenleaf tonight at 9pm E/P.
EUR: What was it like working with Oprah Winfrey?
Ben Patterson: Oprah is a very kind and generous person. Of course, the first time I met her I was extremely awestruck and at the same time, she knows who I am. The first time we spoke, [Oprah] was very kind and engaging. She is just genuinely a nice person, but you also want to elevate your level of showmanship as far as your acting and hold up your end of the bargain, so to speak.
EUR: There is some apprehension that the series will be an indictment against the African-American church, what are your thoughts on those concerns?
BP: That’s an interesting take on it, [but] I think that if you examine the premise of the show and watch the episodes, I feel like people will see that it’s more of an examination of a family. In any situation, the circumstances could take place; it could be a family that’s politically backed or owns a restaurant. It just happens to be in the church, and it doesn’t necessarily criticize the church in any way shape or form, it is just examining fictitious characters. The criticism is valid, but I do not necessarily agree.
EUR: What are some themes or topics the series will explore?
BP: The first thing that comes to mind is the Black Lives Matter movement because there are a lot of [stuff] happening in the news with police violence. They go after things that are current. [The show] addresses infidelity, mother-daughter power struggles, the father-son relationship, and homosexuality. [In the show] most things that are current right now they touch on it, it is very creative in the writing, and it is very smart.
EUR: As you stated the series deals with homosexuality, and as an openly gay man, with the recent shootings in Orlando, how can storytelling help educate audiences concerning this tragic situation?
BP: I choose not to follow it hardcore because it does nothing but upset me and [I] will ultimately end in tears and feel horrible. It’s an unfortunate thing that happened. I feel like in all tragedies one small glimmer of light that comes from it is you get people that weren’t necessarily in the conversation to open their eyes and go, ‘That’s horrible, nobody deserves to have their life taken in that sort of arbitrary judgment.’
So many people have approached me, and I’m not exaggerating, but they they’ve said, ‘I saw your show Noah’s Arc back in a day, and I was in ninth grade, or I was in high school, and that show gave me the confidence to come out to my parents. [In the end], people can sit down, talk, and resolve issues.
EUR: How important has faith been in your life?
BP: I wasn’t brought up in a super religious household, so faith hasn’t been a massive part of my life. I have [seen] many different things especially growing up in Oakland, having friends all over the Bay Area, and family in San Francisco. It doesn’t become alien to me to see how other people practice their faith in God. Rather than criticize [a person’s] religion [on whether] it is wrong or right, you just see it for it is, it is several different ways of talking about the same thing right?
EUR: African-American audiences are very sensitive to negative portrayals on television and film. How would you address their concerns that the character ranges of African-American depictions include the good, the bad, and the ugly?
BP: I feel everyone has negative aspects in their culture. To be sensitive to it is one thing. But to be objective to it and say well we shouldn’t portray these images, it’s not like it’s the sixty’s and seventy’s where the only [images] that were on television were negative characters. The criticism at that point was we don’t have enough diversity on television, and we don’t have the images that represent us.
The shows that became successful from the 80s on; you get to see the positive images, but then there are people that [say], ‘O.K. but everything is not like the Huxtables.’ But what those shows did is provide the inspiration for a young actor, writer, or director to say, ‘I grew up in this type of situation, and I’m going to write the story that I’ve seen.’
It is important to show those negative characters because it gives a fuller spectrum. You can’t look at any one race and say everything they do is wonderful. People are ready to be realistically portrayed. The more educated and realistic viewpoint would be to [accept] that these things do happen and rather than criticize it or brush it aside, let’s embrace the fact that these things are out there for entertainment and also to educate.
Greenleaf premiered last night, June 21 and continues tonight, June 22 at 9pm E/P. The remaining episodes will air regularly on Wednesdays at 10pm E/P.