As Principal Ellen Simpson in Lifetime’s The Wrong Cheer Captain, Jackée Harry brings a level of verve and believability that belies the ancillary role’s prominence in the made-for-TV movie.
But that’s what the actress, who is best known for her Emmy-winning turn as Sandra Clark on the hit 1980s sitcom 227, has done from the start — gone above and beyond. When The Wrong Cheer Captain airs Sunday at 8/7c, Harry’s character will fretfully wring her hands and question a villainous cheerleader named Anna (The Lies that Bind‘s Soffia Masson), who is at best a bully and at worst, a murderer.
“It’s nice when you work with people who you know and who respect your work,” Harry tells TVLine about Vivica A. Fox, who stars in the small-screen flick as an unsuspecting cheer mom, director Dave DeCoteau (Keeping Up with the Joneses) and the producers. “That’s really the key. With every job, if you can get that, you’re almost there.”
When it comes to Ellen Simpson, Harry says the principal doesn’t want to believe that Anna is as evil as she is, despite warnings from a teacher and Kate (Alexis Samone), one of Anna’s fellow cheerleaders.
“She’s a child,” Harry says of the movie’s baddie. “Mean girls are everywhere still. You can be mean and grow up and not be that way because everyone’s done something to somebody at school, especially in high school and junior high. But there’s more to Anna.”
The Wrong Cheer Captain is the latest offering in Lifetime’s third annual “Fear the Cheer” movie slate, which runs Saturdays and Sundays through Sept. 5 and celebrates all the sociopathic behavior cheering can inspire.
“Lifetime skews toward these kinds of pictures and people love them,” Harry says. “These are whodunnits with a cheerleader theme and viewers get addicted. They don’t know how it’s going to turn out and it’s all in the writing.”
Writing, Harry argues, is one of the reasons she was the last Black woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. In the 34 years since Harry has won, seven Black women (including Harry in 1988) have been nominated but didn’t win.
“Hollywood isn’t writing enough for Black actresses in that category,” she opines. “Viola Davis and Regina King are big Emmy winners, but they’re in dramatic roles. We need to see comedy roles where Black women can sparkle and showcase their gifts. It’s not being written.”
There are exceptions, of course. “Issa Rae is good and so is Robin Thede, but Insecure and A Black Lady Sketch Show are on HBO and not enough people get to see them,” Harry adds. “There are a lot of Black shows, but we’re either not prominent or accessible. I think it will get better, but the writing has to get better and social media will make the change come quicker.”
Days of Our Lives scribes wrote Harry’s character, Paulina Price, just for her — an honor she says she doesn’t take for granted. Harry has also recently enjoyed small turns on FX’s Pose and Netflix’s Family Reunion.
“When people write for me, I’m always happy. I’m honored,” Harry divulges. “I’ll keep doing it until I run out of steam. Paulina Price is a mess. She’s got her money and her love interest, James Reynolds, who plays Abe. And he’s my man, honey. I’m older, but I can get a man. It’s glamorous and there’s a lot of fun and intrigue. I haven’t murdered anybody yet. I’ve never played a role where I get to murder anybody, so hopefully I will.”
Even more than the potential for murder, Harry says, she’s excited that the industry is still making a place for her.
“They’re taking care of me. It’s hard work and a lot of work in a short time,” Harry concludes about her soap role with a laugh. “But it’s fun and the cast and crew is nice. They treat me really well and that helps. I like to hustle. I’m from the old school, I like to work. The veteran actresses are working because we’re more reliable. We ain’t got nothing else to do.”