Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, 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
It would seem incredibly ironic that Crystal Fox returned from a pilgrimage to better find herself and be gifted the role of someone struggling with her own identity. Though that’s where the two superficial similarities greatly diverge as the role is of accused murder Grace in Tyler Perry’s first Netflix film, A FALL FROM GRACE. In the thriller, the theater-trained actress plays a lonely divorcee who gets mixed up with a con artist (Mehcad Brooks). While self-abnegation keeps her in prison, her lawyer Jasmine (Bresha Webb) uncovers clues that may lead to Grace’s exoneration.
I know you’ve worked with Tyler Perry previously, but I’m curious how this script found its way to you.
That’s the interesting thing. He’d asked me to read it before just to see what i thought about it. There was someone else he was considering for the role [at that time], I think. But I always believe that what’s for you is for you – things find their way to you when they’re meant for you. He feels the same way. I had gone on a trip, the Camino de Santiago. I had been walking on this pilgrimage for seven weeks and I came back and told him I had gotten home safe. I thought that’s what he wanted to know. But the next thing he said was, “Do you want to do this movie?” I said, “Yes,” but I thought I was being punked. He was serious.
What a wonderful thing to come home to after a spiritual journey finding yourself. You got to go find someone else.
Exactly. Go to work.
Not to sound pejorative, but this movie felt very play-like. Did your theater training come in handy? I know he shot this in 5 days, so there’s no time to second guess your instincts.
Absolutely right. That’s how I approached any of this. Tempo-wise, when we did THE HAVE AND THE HAVE NOTS, I wasn’t sure I could handle the tempo until two of the actors on the show said it was like a soap opera. When I thought about that, I thought about using my theater skills.
Speaking to that a little more, there’s a few scenes that are two-handers between you and Bresha Webb. What was the collaborative process like?
Usually, if you’re listening to another actor, that does dictate where you go – where conversation goes. I think that’s exactly what happened because it’s two theater-trained women, we did that for each other.
I assume it was a blessed experience not to have to spend weeks in a palpable state of emotional distress. But how did you lift yourself out of that daily, or hourly?
[laughs] Yeah. This one was a little more challenging for me. It didn’t dawn on me until we’ve been talking, I realized that not only did I have to go to this heavy place to do the physical acting, but there was a moment when I had to sit down and read the entire script to do the narration. That was challenging for me because now you’re required to act an entire arc of a person in words, sometimes before I had done the flashback sequences. That was interesting. I was nervous whether or not I interpreted in a way that matched what we were acting.
All of that didn’t lend itself to a lot of joy, or giddiness. But what would break that up was when we’d have any moment to go to craft services. Both Bresha and I are very silly – and so is Phylicia [Rashad]. We’re silly at heart. We’d have these moments with tidbits of laughter and then would have to go straight back to those gut-wrenching scenes.
Since you play best friends with Ms. Rashad’s character, did you have much bonding time beforehand?
We’re friends already – for years. If there’s such a thing to have in a 5 day shoot, it was like I was playing friends with my friend. “Let’s just play.” There were some scenes where Tyler would just record us when we’d think we were on a break, socializing. That bond was already there.
Did you have to do any baseball bat practice and were you sore after?
Can I tell you what was funny about that, they had a stunt person, who kept assuring me, go ahead and hit them. I would wind up and every time I thought I’d hit a person for real, I’d hesitate. Wind up. “Ooh, sorry.” Wind up. “Ooh, sorry.” I was too timid to really go ahead and whack. We’d change it around so I could move and hit the chair, but that was a little nerve-wracking. However, when they would remind me of what he just said, I could not stand that line – the one in the trailer about “low-hanging fruit.” I felt like let’s beat him for every bad thing any man has ever said to a woman in life. And then it was kinda sickly refreshing. [laughs]
It’s funny. The day after my screening, I saw a news story about a dude who had “allegedly” been scamming multiple women out of their money and love. I was gob smacked at how real-world based A FALL BEFORE GRACE actually is!
I’ve worked with Tyler for so long where some things he pulls from what’s happening in the news. But there’s things he’s lived, or there will be an idea, he’ll put them together and they’ll be ripped from the headlines either right after, or they tie into something we’ve all experienced.
I had no idea what the response was gonna be from the audience. It was amazing how many people came up and told me they’ve had an experience like this. The thing that got me the most who told me that was a man! It had been done to him. A friend of mine’s mom went through something similar and another friend, who’s older is being courted by a younger man, she said, “I saw those previews and I think I’m gonna tell him to get away from me.”[laughs] I said, “Don’t do it yet, girl. It’s just a movie!” And now here it is you tell me this!
A FALL FROM GRACE is available on Netflix starting on January 17.