Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Bresha Webb has been making us laugh for a few years. However now the affable actress is returning to her dramatic roots in filmmaker Tyler Perry’s A FALL FROM GRACE. In the twisty, turny thriller, she plays Jasmine, a public defender assigned to what’s supposed to be a simple, open-and-shut case. But once she sits down with her client, Grace (Crystal Fox), she uncovers the reasons why it won’t be – and why she’ll also be in for the fight of her life.
This is your first lead role with Tyler Perry, but I’m wondering how his script found you?
Learning more about this project, sitting in conversations with him and Ms. Crystal Fox and Ms. Rashad and Ms. Tyson and finding out he’s had this script for over three years. Ms. Fox read it to give him notes. She wasn’t cast in it until a few days before filming it, which took 5 days. He was putting the cast together in his head and loved my work I did in ACRIMONY and had me in mind since that. He didn’t know my comedic work.
I went to a private screen for Tiffany Haddish’s movie and told Mr. Perry, “I can’t wait to work with you again. You know, I’m funny too.” He looked at me and said, “I have something for you and you’ll hear from me soon.” I was expecting a funny role. He sent me the script and I thought he just wanted to get my opinion. I was honored. So many twists and turns and it was such a different type of movie, talking about morals and the court system and romance and truth. I was blown away when he said he wanted me as Jasmine. She’s on every page. I’ve never done this before. How am I going to do this?! He’s an incredible man. He’s editing as he’s directing and writing. He’s a visionary.
Since he shoots so fast, did you have to adjust your process of how you pieced your character together with the tools you already had?
Yes. I knew we were going to shoot it very fast so I came in ready. I came in on book for all of it. I know the script by heart. I took my best friend with me and he made sure I was on my “p’s” and “q’s.” I did not want to mess this up. I’m working with icons! I couldn’t half-step this. My process had to change quite a bit. I loved the way that he did it because I knew every single intention – every single thing I came in wanting to show in the film. I didn’t have time to second guess myself at all.
I apply this to everything I do now. I go into my work as an investigator – even when I’m doing comedy. I ask myself the same questions like, “Who is this person? What does she want? What makes her interesting? How do I see them? What does she wear? Who does she remind me of?” I was especially excited to tell a woman like this’ story from beginning, to end. Tyler shared with me a documentary that was a humongous asset to my preparation, GIDEON’S ARMY, about public defenders. I’ve talked to my friends who’ve played lawyers on TV, which was great.
My friend Jake August, who is hilarious, he’s played a lawyer in every show he’s been on. I ran to his house and told him, “I need you to tell me how to do this.” He said, “You gotta look down and then look up.” Really the work started when I saw the documentary. I was able to see how much is at risk for these public defenders – how they balance everything, how they have to take their work home with them, how there’s not enough time, how they get wrapped up in the injustice of the system, how much is a disservice to what they’re doing because they don’t have the money and don’t have the resources. They have family life and loved ones and those all fall at bay as they’re everything to their client. They take everything home with them and live with such angst and pressure. That was helpful.
In addition to Jasmine’s personal journey, there’s portions that play like a two-hander between you and Crystal Fox. Were there nuances you picked up that she was giving you in your scenes together that may have opened up a new path to where you went with your character?
Absolutely. When you work this fast, you don’t know what to expect. When I did ACRIMONY, it was impactful, but it wasn’t about me. And then this, you meet Crystal and she’s such a goofnut like me and we’re laughing. But the first day, there was no time for that. My first day of work was the interrogation room scenes where we’re going back and forth and she’s telling me her story and I’m getting more out of her. We did all those scenes in one day. I walked in and she was already there – in that space, as Grace. Crystal was not there. All I could do was walk in and commit as Jasmine. There was no Bresha, no nerves. I had to submit myself to the moment. If anything, she taught me how to unapologetically lose myself and give myself to the character. It felt very much like theater.
And working with Ms. Rashad as well. I know her as my friend and my friend Condola’s mom. We’re talking in the car, but as soon as we walk on set, that goes away and she’s Sarah and I’m Jasmine and I’m fighting for my client and find the truth. And Ms. Tyson. She ain’t playin’ with nobody. She came on set method. She’s as smart as whip, funny and quick-witted. The character she played is so different than her, but she leaned into it. These women have shown me that you can have that same grace and that same commitment that you see on stage, you can have that same presence on film.
As you mentioned, you’ve done comedy before and I think you’re really funny. They say comedy is harder than drama, but was this easier for you? How was your return to serious material?
I put a lot of pressure on myself. I know how I started out; I was “drama, drama, drama, Angela Bassett is God.” That’s how my reps saw me after I left conservatory. When I started doing LOVE THAT GIRL and doing more things with Marlon [Wayans], Jamie [Foxx], Mike Epps and sketch, now I’m the comedy queen, which I’m so thankful for.
I have fun regardless. I’ve done the work and have trained for both, but the basis of it is the same. I know what I want. I know my action. I’ve asked all these questions of everyone I’ve played to make them unique in their own way. I look at it all the same. At the end of the day, I’m so happy to do what I love and just have a good time. Drama, comedy, singing – I do stage. I’m just doing what I’ve dreamt of doing my entire life.
A FALL FROM GRACE is available on Netflix starting on January 17.