To be clear, the OWN legal drama Delilah (Tuesdays, 9/8c) is not a Greenleaf spinoff. But, as executive producer Craig Wright says, the new series was born out of something he observed while making the soapy megachurch show he created.
“One of the things that I had really noticed during the five years of working on Greenleaf was that all the Black women I met, both involved in the process but also the fans, were all managing so many different parts of their lives and really holding it together for everybody,” Wright tells TVLine. “Black women are literally holding so many worlds together, and Oprah [Winfrey] and I just said we want to make a show that mirrors that reality back to the viewers and that says, ‘We see how much you are holding and carrying and we honor that.’ And that’s what made us want to do the show.”
Delilah, which stars Maahra Hill (How to Get Away With Murder and black-ish) in the title role, premieres this week and follows the dedicated lawyer as she juggles everything in her life. She’s a divorced mother raising two kids and her nephew while also finding justice for the less fortunate against large institutions and entities. Her brother, who is a disabled military vet, relies on Delilah, as do her employees and clients. Making matters more complicated, Delilah ends up facing off against her best friend, Tamara (Girlfriends‘ Jill Marie Jones), as opposing counsel in court. Read on as Wright previews Delilah‘s first few episodes — and drops hints about the announced Greenleaf spinoff.
TVLINE | So we’re going to see Delilah manage all of these aspects in her life and career, but also fall short sometimes, right?
Right, because in Black women’s lives, no one sees all of the parts that they are doing. In other words, they might be holding things together for their kids, but their kids don’t know that they are also holding it together for the people at work. And the people at work know they’re holding it together at work, but they don’t know they’re holding it together for all their friends. And their friends don’t know that they’re volunteering to be a part of the political stuff to help get the vote out. Greenleaf was a conversation between Oprah and the network and the viewers about the nature and the importance of the Black church. And I think Delilah wants to be the start of a conversation about Black womanhood, Black sisterhood and its immense value to the world. When you look at the times we’re living in, where President Biden’s plan to rescue America only passed because Georgia was blue, and Georgia was only blue because Black women got the vote out, well, now you can have Black women to thank for America. There’s no better time for a heroine like Delilah, and I just hope all the Delilahs out there can watch the show and know how important we know they are.
TVLINE | That’s awesome. So you are clearly invited to the barbecue.
Thank you. I have to tell you something. So, Ozioma Akagha, who plays Harper, was on a Zoom with me and a few other people, and we were all talking. I said something. Who knows what I said? And she said, “Craig, you’re invited to the barbecue.” And I, as an old white man, said “When is the barbecue?” [Laughs] But now, I get it.
TVLINE | Can you talk about the casting? What made you cast Maahra Hill as Delilah? Did she have to audition?
She did read for the part, and the minute I saw her read, I knew that she was the one. Oprah is very much involved in casting and in all aspects of the production, and I consulted Oprah about it. And I just said, “I know that this woman is it.” And when she came back to do a producer’s session, we talked some more, and then I realized, “Oh, wow. This woman is Delilah.” Maahra has put her daughter first in everything. She really managed her career in a way to allow her daughter’s life to be central. She is really deeply involved in her community, has a great relationship with her daughter’s father that she’s worked hard to make happen. She is Delilah. And when we were involved in the production of the show, she really operated as the moral leader of the whole process, especially during all the challenges that COVID presented. She was a real leader on the set, not only for the artistic work, but for managing the COVID processes and making sure that everybody always stayed safe. Maahra was the head COVID cop, unofficially. She just is Delilah. Nobody else could’ve played that part.
TVLINE | It’s really fascinating to see Delilah take on corporate and governmental conspiracies. Why take on that particular topic? She has a brother who is a military vet who has been injured. What was the motivation behind including that?
Well, there are two reasons. One is, we really like to dive into the specificity of Charlotte and use it to our advantage and make the show special and different and unique. And Charlotte does have a lot of manufacturing companies that do supply things to the military. So that’s real. And then secondarily, I think it’s a well-known fact, for a lot of young Black Americans, the military is an option they consider as a way to move forward in life. So that feels realistic to have Delilah have a brother who was in the military, and her father was in the military as well. We just wanted to make it all sort of work together so that the story could be homegrown for Charlotte, but also have resonance for her family. The military-industrial complex was a great milieu to bring it all together.
TVLINE | Why Charlotte?
It’s a classic but also new Black southern city that hasn’t been seen as itself on television. There are a lot of tropes about the Black South that you can find on any show. You can see New Orleans, you can see Atlanta, you can see Memphis, but most people say, “What’s special about Charlotte?” To that I say, “Watch Delilah and find out because you haven’t seen it before.” Cheryl Dunye, who directed the first two episodes, has a word she uses a lot, which is “Blacknesses.” Which is to say, there isn’t just one American Blackness. There isn’t one global Blackness. There are multiple Black experiences of Blacknesses, and being Black in Charlotte is not the same as being Black in Richmond, it’s not the same as being Black in Atlanta. It’s not the same as being Black in Chicago or L.A. It’s all different. We wanted to use Charlotte because it hasn’t been seen. And we really lucked out because Charles Randolph-Wright [who also worked on Greenleaf as a director] is a producer and director on Delilah, and he’s from Charlotte. And because he’s from Charlotte, during a time of COVID when shooting was really, really hard sometimes, because of him, we were able to get into all kinds of amazing locations. And he was really deeply committed to showing Charlotte to the audience and introducing this city to viewers. So it was a perfect fit, and thank God for Charlotte.
TVLINE | With Delilah and Batwoman and The Equalizer, there are a lot more shows with kickass Black women taking the lead. Why do you think that that’s happening now?
I would never dare to name what it is we’re witnessing with Black women. I’m just grateful for it. I find working for Oprah to be the most inspiring creative mission of my life. And so to see that that spirit is spreading, that feeling of Black female empowerment and Black female wisdom and Black female empathy and also Black female vulnerability… Black women are getting powerful enough that we can began to show what it’s like when they’re not powerful and when it’s not so easy. That way, we cannot just deliver the trope of the strong Black woman but also have enough space to deliver the vulnerability and the reality. This is just a human Black woman, and she’s not always strong. To be able to be a part of that conversation for me is an immense blessing and an honor that I just am grateful for every day. To be a part of the unfolding of such a positive movement of energy in the world is a great thing.
TVLINE | Before I let you go, I have to ask you what everyone wants to know: the Greenleaf spinoff. What’s that look like, and are you guys working on that now?
I am working on it now as we speak. I am very excited about it, and I think to fans of Greenleaf that one of the most central things to the DNA of Greenleaf is the voice of Lady Mae [played by Lynn Whitfield]. And all I can tell you is that if you are sitting around waiting to hear Lady Mae preach again or waiting to hear Lady Mae tell Charity to put on her big girl pants and get her act together, well, we are working overtime to get you that story. Lynn is an amazing talent, and I am excited about the prospect of being able to work with her again. That character has meant so much to so many people and so much more than any of us could’ve guessed, I think. That character stands for so much. I started my TV career on Six Feet Under, and I always used to say, “Six Feet Under was a machine designed to kill Nate Fisher.” Once Peter Krause’s character died, the show was going to be over, because then David, his gay brother, would assume leadership of the family. And that was what the show was really designed to make happen. And I think looking back, you realize Greenleaf is a machine designed to put Lady Mae at the head of that church. That’s what it was. We just got to that part at the end of Greenleaf. With great anticipation, I’m working to show what it’s like to have Lady Mae at the head of the church. In a perfect world, if there was a Season 3 of Delilah and a Season 2 of the Greenleaf spinoff, I could see Charity getting into legal trouble in Charlotte and needing a little help in a crossover episode.