On Friday, July 15, a frank and poignant conversation between Brook Kerr’s Portia and Vernee Watson’s Stella on the eve of Trina’s trial earned high praise from fans on social media. Digest spoke to Kerr to get her take on the episode.
Soap Opera Digest: What did you think when you first read the script?
Brook Kerr: When I got the script, it just really flowed, and I really have to give a shout-out to the [outline writer] Shannon Peace and [dialogue writer] Charlotte Gibson. It was beautifully written and I think for Portia, this was kind of the first time she really opened up to someone else besides Curtis. I think she’s got just so many plates spinning — she’s worried about the schizophrenia, she’s worried about things from the past, possibly coming back to the forefront, she’s got a daughter who is on trial for something that she obviously didn’t do. And these are the problems that happen in so many households; no matter what the issue is, if there’s a child that’s going through something, you better believe that after they go to school, or after they go to bed, their loved ones, their family, are in the next room trying to figure it all out. It’s not just the logistics of court [that’s on Portia’s mind]. It’s also her daughter’s spirit, her daughter’s heart. So when I read the script, I saw that she’s spinning all these plates but she feels like she has no control anymore. She feels hopeless. Portia feels like she’s holding the burden for everyone. With Stella, she has someone who might have a little bit of a sense of understanding of what she’s going through and Portia doesn’t have trust anymore that everything is going to work out. She has that doubt. Like, everybody wants to have trust and faith and believe that the right thing is going to be done, but Portia just wasn’t feeling it right then, you know? I think when Portia kind of shares where she’s at, the last thing she expected was to [show] any kind of emotion or break down. I think she was just having the conversation that we all have in our head, that sometimes we that don’t say out loud. And again, it’s not having control, and [wondering], how can sometimes so beautiful as a young love or a young flirtation turn into something so sinister and vile and literally life-altering? And then to be logistical about it, it’s just the facts, I mean, it’s just common sense — if my daughter is on the stand versus Josslyn being on the stand….
Digest: She might be received differently by the jury.
Kerr: Absolutely. And it just kind of overwhelmed Portia. She feels like there’s nothing she can do about it and it’s the most helpless feeling, especially when you feel you’ve done everything right.
Digest: When Portia voiced, “Maybe because I have a really good job, Taggert had a really god job, and we were able to provide Trina with some privileges and advantages that we didn’t have as kids, perhaps that came at a cost in terms of Trina’s life preparedness,” I was so struck by that — I don’t feel like that’s something I’ve ever seen talked about in daytime.
Kerr: Oh my gosh, it’s everything, you know what I mean? Because the things we do for our kids — we want any trauma, any problems that we had, any bad experiences, it’s like, “Oh, no, no, no, that’s not going to happen to my baby. My daughter’s not going to have to deal with that.” But then it’s like, how do you let them know how privileged their experience was? You give them everything, but there’s always that one thing that maybe you missed. I think that’s what every mother in the world feels like, “I’ve prepared them,” but then all of a sudden, something comes from left field. It’s definitely something that I’ve thought of as a mom.
I think a lot of families feel that way, that whatever personal life experience you have, you’d move heaven and earth so that your child doesn’t experience, but also, they may never understand what you went through, you may never understand what your grandma went through.
Digest: I think in many families, there’s a silence around struggles the previous generations went through because you don’t want the current generation to feel the burden of it.
Kerr: Absolutely. And they touched on it perfectly. As a young girl, I didn’t realize what the silence or the weird energy with the adults was about certain things. When I got older, I certainly figured it out. And that’s the whole thing, the whole cycle of life — “My son’s gonna do better than my dad.”
Digest: On the day of taping, did you and Vernee get a chance to work on the scenes before going up to set?
Kerr: We did work on the scenes, yes. I love working on scenes with her. I think we both kind of saw how great this was and we were like, “Okay, let’s do this!” That day, there was so much [material] going on that day, but we definitely worked on it and I think we both understood it in a way of like, “Okay, let’s go up there and see what happens, let’s go up there and go full force!” We understood the layers that were being expressed in the story.
Digest: I was curious, watching the scenes, how much you tried to plan what you wanted to do vs. how much you were just going to let it unfold in the moment. I was like, “Did she know, ‘This is where I’m going to tear up?’ ” or, ‘Here is where I’m going to give her this look?’ ”
Kerr: The whole thing was organic. We worked on it as far as material-wise, but we didn’t work on it performance-wise. And we did that in one take.
Digest: Get outta town!
Kerr (laughs): I know. It was crazy! I think we both trusted each other, as well, and she was pretty clear on her point of view. That’s why I thought it was so beautifully written, because it’s like, here’s a woman who is opening up to a woman who raised the man she’s forming her life with, and Portia hasn’t had that type of [confidante].
Digest: Were you pleased that the show went there and addressed these issues of race and of racism in the justice system?
Kerr: Oh, absolutely. I was extremely enthralled, proud, all the things! As soon as I read it, I was like, “Oh, yes, yes!” Because that is a layer that’s there, regardless of whether they write it or not, and to be able to go ahead and express it, it just makes a more full experience [around] what is happening to this girl and to everyone, the whole family, and everyone who cares about injustice. I was very proud that they went ahead and addressed this layer.
Digest: So, you and I had been texting the day it aired, and I told you, “Go on Twitter!” What was it like when you saw all the comments and all the love you were getting?
Kerr: You said, “Go on Twitter,” and I was terrified! And then … [gets emotional] I was crying, just as Brook, because you do some work and you think it’s good, you think, “Oh, this is going to be great!” But you never know. You never know if people are going to understand, or if people are going to overthink it or pay attention. I just felt such a responsibility that day, but I also thought, “Maybe people won’t get it. Maybe they’ll be like, ‘What are they talking about?’ ” But when I saw that people were like, “Yes, finally!” it made me feel seen. It made me feel seen as an actor. I was and still am so happy that people see what families go through, [families of] color or not. There’s so much there. When I finally went to see it, people saw all the things and I was super-happy, I was overwhelmed and I was grateful, grateful that these words were written so poignantly.