In a Hollywood ecosystem overcrowded with reboots, reunions and repeats, there seems to be one show that fans are dying to see return to the small screen. Even so, the cast of Girlfriends almost gave up hope of ever reuniting, script in hand, Persia White told ESSENCE last week.
“We just threw our hands in the air and kissed it up to God, because we didn’t have any control over it and we don’t own the show. So we couldn’t do it on our own,” she added.
Well, prayer works because last month on the Disney Studio lot in Burbank, California, the cast of Girlfriends—White, Jill Marie Jones, Golden Brooks, and Tracee Ellis Ross—reunited thanks to Ross’ current gig as Rainbow Johnson on ABC’s black-ish. The comedy’s producers had an idea to reunite the long lost California crew during tonight’s episode. They’ll play members of Bow’s feminist group, whom she wants to introduce to her daughter, Diane (Marsai Martin), and mother-in-law (Jenifer Lewis), after the two say they don’t believe in feminism.
White was in the luxe Covent Garden neighborhood of London, supporting her husband who’s filming a streaming-adaption, Brave New World, when she got a call from Ross about the possible reunion.
“She said, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ Are you busy?'” White recalled, noting that it was hard to even get on the phone due to the time difference. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, I would drop everything and come back early to be with the girlfriends.’ As soon we talked about it, it wasn’t even a question.”
White said to reunite was “better than we thought.” The four have an onscreen chemistry that makes us believe that they were four friends bound together thanks to Ross’ Joan, who had met each of them during life’s progressions—with Joan meeting Toni while growing up in Fresno; befriending Lynn in college; and becoming tight with Maya when she became her assistant at a law firm.
“It was really mind opening to see that the chemistry stood the test of time, because I’ve been on so many shows since Girlfriends ended, and shows before we had that show, and that kind of chemistry doesn’t just happen. It doesn’t. You can’t fake it.”
Before fans get to see the highly-anticipated reunion, White gave ESSENCE never-before-seen images of the cast filming and shed light on what it felt like to be back with her girls again.
ESSENCE: What was it like when you first laid eyes on all three of your co-stars on the set?
Persia White: To have us all together, that was the most incredible, strange and nostalgic feeling, but then it also felt like home. I kept telling them, ‘This feels so incredible because I’m hearing your voice, and your voice feels like yesterday; so close to me.’ We were together for a really formative part of our lives. To go from my 20s to my 30s, like that’s your biggest development, especially as an actress. And so you’re really growing up together. You’re learning the whole industry together.
Tracee told us in an interview recently that she never got booked on the late night shows during her run as Joan Clayton, but Girlfriends was such an iconic show for us. So it just seems crazy. Can you reflect on that? How does it feel now that you’re still getting recognition?
I’ve gotten in trouble for reflecting on that. People were like, ‘Do you think the fact that you guys were Black was part of the reason you didn’t get press?’ I was like, ‘Yes!’ I said that [before] then a bunch of people came down on me for that and I was like, ‘Why? Why?’ It’s so obvious to me. It was so clear. And not just that: we were women so we had a double whammy. It was painful because like Tracee said, we weren’t allowed to be on all those shows, and we weren’t allowed or given the grace that Sex and the City was getting.
Did you all reach out to [creator, writer and executive producer] Mara Brock Akil during the reunion last month? Was she at all involved?
This [reunion] wasn’t through her. This was a totally separate thing, but we have been in touch with Mara. Mara’s working on different projects right now…I went to the premiere of Black Lightning. She has continually tried to get a Girlfriends movie made for the longest time, and she ran into a bunch of dead ends on that. It just became very difficult, but she was open to it.
Not to get into the drama at all, but Jill Marie [who played Joan’s bestie Toni] unceremoniously left the show. Was there a sense that she was fully on board? Was there any tension on set?
It was so good. And I love Jill. She’s very special to me, and has a special place in my heart because she was always just so sweet to [my daughter] Mecca. So I felt really bad not having her there [in the past]. I would actually beg her to not go. She wanted to live her life. So it was so good having all of us back together. With the whole group together, it felt even better than when we were together before, and it’s because all four of us were together again.
Your character in particular was so imprinted on me because I’m from Baltimore. There was not a person like Lynn ever in my sphere of life—like at all. So to see your character on there: this sort of neo-soul, into incense, with wraparound tattoos was eye-opening. She was not the typical Black woman that you saw on TV at all.
When I got the part, I met with Mara and the writers; they were developing my character. And Mara was really on board with mixing a couple elements of different people that she knew to create Lynn. One was her mom. Her mom was very light-skinned and people used to mistake her for White, and she really wanted that representation. But also, Mara has elements of her that [were expressed through Lynn], you know, the eclectic side, and [she] didn’t really know her Black side until college, and she had lived in this White neighborhood. And I asked, ‘Can I throw a couple of elements in as well?’ So Lynn being vegetarian and Lynn liking nine different kinds of music [was my contribution]. But what I love about the dynamic of the show…is we represented the different parts of Black culture.
I have to ask you about your production company, Night Owl. What are the sort of projects that you like to amplify?
I’ve actually got a comedy script that’s kind of like an African American Fleabag kind of vibe. It’s a comedy script between a mother and a daughter and it’s really outrageous, and fun, and crazy. I just want to do more female-driven content. That’s what I’m really passionate about: making things that are diverse, that are female-driven, and represent the eclectic. We’ve adapted as Black women and we are more powerful now in a lot of ways than we ever have been in the sense that we’re owning ourselves. I feel like there’s a new wave of owning ourselves and not trying to be what society has pigeonholed us as or wants us to be. There’s a wave that’s happening and I would like to help push that forward.
The black-ish episode, titled “Feminisn’t,” airs tonight at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT. This interview was edited for clarity.