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Though primetime audiences might not recognize her face—yet!—they surely know and love her work. And if by chance, you’re among the many folks still catching their breath after last night’s much-anticipated season two premiere of Claws, it’s likely you saw her name flash across the screen during the opening credits, beneath the title of “Executive Producer.”
Along with show-running the in-your-face drama series, Janine Sherman Barrois—whose executive producing and writing credits include Criminal Minds, Third Watch, and ER—is focused, always, on expanding her scope of storytelling. And with the short film, French Fries, which she wrote as part of TNT and Refinery29’s Shatterbox anthology (and airs at 11 p.m. EST/10 p.m. CDT, on TNT, following next Sunday’s episode of Claws, which she penned as well), the two-time NAACP Image Award-winner has officially taken a seat in the director’s chair.
After a recent visit to the New Orleans set of Claws (during which she gave us a mini-tour of the fictional, though now-infamous salon, Nail Artisans of Manatee County), ESSENCE chatted up the ever-talented small screen vet about what we can expect from Niecy Nash and the crew (a.k.a. Desna & the Dixie Mafia) this season, why she’s obsessed with Instagram (follow her @janineshermanbarrois) and how her love of sweet potato fries inspired her directorial debut. Oh, and her three-pronged definition of female empowerment is something we should all be striving for. Listen in…
ESSENCE: You’ve served as executive producer on and written episodes of Third Watch, ER, and Criminal Minds. How did you find your way to Claws?
JANINE SHERMAN BARROIS: After working on a cop show, a medical show and then, a serial-killer show, Warner Brothers was like, “You’re funny, you’ve got to come back and do ‘character work.’” So, eventually, that’s what I did…and I got Claws.
I read [show creator] Eliot Laurence’s script and it was amazing. I was asked if I wanted to run the show and I said, “Yeah, I’d love to do it!” Claws is edgy and we completely push the envelope. The show is also about female empowerment. Like, women of a certain age should be doing what they want to do and have money, sex, and power. That’s key…and why not? That’s female empowerment!
That needs to be printed on a t-shirt! So, what can we look forward to this season?
We’ll focus on the Russians. It’s so funny how life imitates art! [laughs] We knew the Russians were going to be the twist and we knew they were coming! We’re going to continue showcasing these bad-ass women and their stories, too, so, this season is going to be a combo platter.
Wait, is Uncle Daddy scared of the Russians?
Well, he definitely wants them out! [laughs] I don’t think he starts off scared, but he gets scared. And it will be scary watching him sort of be dethroned and try to claw his way back.
No pun intended! [laughs]
Season two sounds like it will be as much of a rollercoaster as season one – and we’re here for all of it! Now, let’s talk about your transition to directing.
Yes! I really want to be a part of the whole creative process. I see [stories] visually as well as how I hear people speak [as a writer]. I like to tell stories with pictures, which is why I’m obsessed with Instagram. Directing fulfills that desire to not only write the story but tell the story, visually.
Can you tell us about French Fries?
Well, first, I really think it’s important to tell naturalistic pieces, with people of color. With French Fries, Sidney, who’s an architect, and her husband, Jason, an artist, are kind of in the middle of a marriage. The story is about how marriage can get cold sometimes, like a hamburger…and fries. You can get stuck in your own way of being, so you’ve got to figure out how to come back together.
So, the film is a slice of life, about a couple. It’s about my relationship, my friend’s relationships and the relationships of other people I know. We shot it over two days last October at the Roosevelt Hotel, which is such a cool, iconic place to shoot in California.
In the film, Sidney is going crazy with deadlines and binges on burgers, fries, and desserts! Does that mirror your creative process?
Whether you’re a writer, an architect, or you do something related to the arts, stress is about your relationship with food…and eating and drinking your way through a deadline. [laughs] Actually, that’s something that everybody who has deadlines knows about.
But to answer your question, I’m a big sweet potato fry person…and ice-cream, too!
You’ve got such a busy life, with a very full plate. What’s your secret to keeping all of the balls in the air? And how do you define success?
Honestly, it’s about learning to manage your time. There’s no, “putting it off until tomorrow.” You’ve got to do a little bit, every day. Also, you can’t wait. You have to be doing.
For me, success is about being able to do what you love – every, single day. I love telling stories, so whether I’m working on a script, producing a project or now, directing, it’s not really work to me. I’m also trying to find balance, too, which can be hard. I’m learning that I have to give my brain a rest, to regroup, so that I can enjoy chilling with my friends and having some wine with my husband.
But truly, success is living your best life, doing what you really want to do. I feel so fortunate that I’m able to do that.
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