Jackée Harry Reveals Why She Never Wanted to Do Sitcoms (Exclusive)
By Meredith B. Kile
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Jackée Harry is a legendary sitcom star -- thanks to her iconic roles on 227 and Sister, Sister -- but as it turns out, the actress originally had her sights set on a much different career path!
Harry sat down with Nischelle Turner as part of ET's celebration of Iconic TV Moms this Mother's Day -- "I'll take icon," she quipped -- where she revealed that she originally wanted nothing to do with comedic roles, having gotten her start in serious theater.
"I wanted to do drama... I wanted to win an Oscar, to tell you the truth, that's how I thought of myself in those days," she recalled with a laugh. "I really thought of myself as being all that and a bag of chips."
Even after landing her breakout role as nosy neighbor Sandra Clark on 227, Harry remembered, she still didn't think sitcoms were for her.
"I didn't intend to be out here in L.A. for longer than seven shows," she said of the series' initial run. "I had a very successful career going in New York, and I wanted to go back and get to my life. But as soon as I started rehearsals, they stopped the cameras and cut. I thought I was fired, and I said, 'Oh god, good, I get to go home.'"
"But Brandon Tartikoff, the late, great Brandon Tartikoff, the head of NBC programming, said, 'No we have to sign you to a full five-year contract,'" she added. "A lot of people don't believe me, but I really did not want to do it, 'cause I didn't wanna be funny. I said, if I'm funny, then I'll never go back to what I really wanna be, which is a dramatic actress."
Ultimately, 227's popularity was too much to deny, and Harry stayed on as a regular for four years before becoming a recurring cast member in the fifth and final season. She credits her comedic chemistry with co-star Marla Gibbs for making the show as beloved as it was.
"My timing was good, but when I got with her, it became excellent and then superb," Harry raved of her former co-star. "She's really king. Timing, you can't teach. You either have it or you don't -- and she's got it."
Harry said she took inspiration from the physical comedy styles of legends like Lucille Ball and Mae West, but admitted she cringes now at Mary's "broad" antics.
"I went wild with that part, I don't know how they let me get away with that," she noted. "Right now, I wouldn't ever do that again today. So broad, too big. I see it on TikTok and I cringe."
After 227 came her role as matriarch Lisa Landry on the Tia and Tamera Mowry-starrer Sister, Sister, another comedic role Harry was slightly soured on at the time.
"Drama is my forte, it's just that I got typecast, and I hated it for years," she admitted. "Now, I'm still- I don't brag about my work, I just try to do the best work."
On Sister, Sister, however, the actress did find a sense of accomplishment in telling the story of a "normal" American family -- as well as being one of the only people who could always tell the Mowry twins apart -- even when they tried to pull on-set switcheroos.
"[They had] two different personalities, and I encouraged it. I said, 'You don't want me calling you Tia if you're Tamera, so don't do that,'" she recalled. "But they would fool people all the time."
Reflecting now, Harry admitted of Sister, Sister, "I didn't think we were imparting anything special, but looking back, I see it as just a normal, normal family. No drama, no cussing and fighting and stealing and slapping... I see it now and I'm very proud of it.
"I'm proud of those girls, they've got their own lives," she added of the Mowry twins, ever the supportive TV mom. "And I'm proud of my baby Regina King from 227."
While Harry does have a renewed sense of pride in her career these days -- and gets to engage in daily dramatics in her role as Paulina Price on Days of Our Lives -- there is also a loneliness to still being the only Black woman ever to win the Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series that the actress feels is unjust.
"I'm proud of it," she said. "I don't talk about it a lot, because we should have more... The writing does matter, and I never used to think that way, but it does, so if we get the material we can get it."
See ET's full interview with Harry in the video above, and tune in to Entertainment Tonight all week for more from some of the most iconic TV moms! Check local listings for air times.