April Parker Jones has stepped into the spotlight in a big way, with her starring role in Tyler Perry’s latest TV series, If Loving You Is Wrong. The series premiere was the most-watched debut in network history, drawing almost two million viewers, and April’s spirited performance as single mother Natalie is one of the major reasons why the show works.
Last week, we caught up with April to talk about the experience of having her first series regular role, what it’s like when that role comes on a Tyler Perry project, and her own remarkable story of how she’s made it to a deserved spotlight.
“It’s been quite surreal, to be honest with you,” said the actress, a native of Durham, North Carolina. “A lot of the fan base, which is a very loyal fan base for Tyler Perry, it’s on the East Coast [so] the reality really, really hit home when I went home this past weekend and it’s been awesome. It’s been awesome because it’s a long time coming. I can certainly say with confidence that I’ve paid my dues. I’m grateful and I’m ready.”
April’s journey has been a long one, with the support of her friends, family and faith. A multi-sport athlete, she went to the Junior Olympics for track and field. Yet simultaneously, she was pursuing her passion for acting through any opportunity that came her way. She earned a scholarship to North Carolina Central University, where she studied theatre before making the move to the theatre capital of the country – New York City.
After several years treading the boards (and two Audelco Award nominations), she made a huge leap when she, her husband and her daughter moved to Los Angeles, hoping to make that next step forward in her career. It came in the form of reliable supporting performances in major TV shows including Scandal, The Unit, and The Chicago Code, and recurring roles on Jericho and The Fosters. Did she learn anything from working on those series that she’s carried with her to If Loving You Is Wrong?
“More than you know. I credit the experience from those shows in being a component to help me book this show,” she told us. “[There was] a lot of on-set training for me. Jericho was really my first TV experience and I was really kind of a novice to it; I remember Lennie James literally guiding me through the whole setup of how things ran…I’m so grateful for it, [and] certainly anticipating what’s to come next.”
If Loving You Is Wrong isn’t just a major professional opportunity for April, but it’s also a project that she cares about personally, too. “I was really passionate about it, because of the relatability that my character Natalie has,” she explained. “There’s a lot of single moms trying to raise their family, wearing the hat of the mother and the provider and the nurturer…You don’t see a lot of characters like Natalie on TV, with four children, three fathers, raising them on her own.
“She does have an off and on, live-in boyfriend Lushion, played by Charles Malik Whitfield, who is there, he’s the father of the youngest son, but even that relationship is kind of rocky at the times. The relatability is the main [reason] why Natalie is so important to me and frankly, very easy to play. I lived a lot of what her reality is.”
Her own personal experience has given her unique insight into Natalie’s world, and she told us that family is something important to her. “I’m really passionate about the importance of having two parents in a child’s life,” April continued. “A lot of times, a single mom, you feel have to control how the other parent co-parents. I think it’s important that the single mom in that child’s life also allow that father to be in that child’s life, even if they aren’t together. Especially if he’s willing to be. We need to be sure that as moms, we allow the father to do their job. I’m just really an advocate for both parents being a part of raising a child.”
The attention and the workload of a TV series regular can be a lot to adjust to for someone who’s never undertaken it before, but April’s unwavering commitment and work ethic have served her well, and she told us taking this step as part of an ensemble has helped, too. “It makes it so much easier. It’s always easier when a team’s involved in anything,” she added. “And I love working with an ensemble cast. I’m a team player. I always have been.”
Looking back on her journey to this point, she certainly has no shortage of previous performances to be proud of, and we asked her to recommend a few. “I was really proud of my work in The Fosters. It’s such a groundbreaking show, and I was so fortunate to play Captain Roberts, because that role was a man initially,” said April, who had previously tested for the lead role of Lena that ultimately went to Sherri Saum.
She’s also got a few other favorites. “On Scandal, I played the doctor that birthed the President’s baby. I was hoping somebody else would get pregnant or something so I could deliver another baby,” she laughed. “And of course Jericho, another show that was cancelled before its time. That show really changed my life.”
Now she’s able to use all those past wonderful adventures as the foundation for shining bright with If Loving You Is Wrong. For her part, she’s thrilled to have the opportunity. “It’s an amazing experience, a life-changing experience working on this show right now,” April told us. “They’ve treated us with so much respect and professionalism. They accommodate the actors so well. I’m just really glad to be a part of this at this point in my life.” And we’re certainly glad to have her.
If Loving You Is Wrong airs Tuesdays at 9 PM ET/PT on OWN (check your local listings for specific channel). For more with April, follow her on Twitter (@A_ParkerJones) and visit her website (aprilparker-jones.com).
(c)2014 Brittany Frederick. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted. Visit my official website and follow me on Twitter at @tvbrittanyf.