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Exclusive interview: Jill Marie Jones on working with Oprah and the positive Black female roles in Delilah

Jill Marie Jones
Jill Marie Jones Pic credit: Brooke Maso

The OWN series Delilah, now in its first season, couldn’t be more appropriately named as its protagonist Delilah (Maahra Hill), an attorney with a small office in Charlotte, N.C., takes on the Samsons of the world.

Delilah isn’t afraid of going head-to-head with the powerful and privileged as she represents the disenfranchised of her city.

Her best friend Tamara (Jill Marie Jones) is also an attorney, but she works for a law firm that does represent the wealthy and powerful, and who sees herself on track to making partner – if she can just wrap up this very difficult case that puts her in opposition to Delilah for the first time in their careers.

The question in Season 1 is how far will Tamara go to make partner, and will she risk putting their lifelong friendship in jeopardy?

“Honestly, I feel like Tamara is between a rock and a hard place,” Jones tells Monsters & Critics in this exclusive interview. “Let’s be very clear. Tamara has worked her butt off at this firm. She’s been there for 12 years and she’s beyond deserving of a partnership. I think it’s clear and also in the writing that when you see her at work, she wants her just desserts.”

But at what cost? And is it possible that Tamara’s drive for success is keeping her from seeing some possible hidden agendas at her own law firm? According to Jones, Tamara wouldn’t put a case before friendship, but it isn’t all that black-and-white. 

“The difference with Delilah is her name is on the door, and Tamara works for a firm,” Jones says. “So, she has a boss; she works for people. So, as much as she can push and try, how far can she push and try? Delilah owns her practice. So, it’s kind of hard for Tamara. When you see the journey of the show, it’s not easy for Tamara. It’s not like she’s choosing partnership over her friendship, which is really her family. She’s put in a situation I don’t think most people would really want to be in.”

For more of our chat with Jones in which she dishes on working with the queen, meaning Oprah, and the importance of positive Black female roles on television, read on.

Maahra Hill, Jill Marie Jones Pic credit: OWN

Monsters & Critics: Do you remember your reaction when you first read the script?

Jill Marie Jones: I’m the type of actor who clearly loves complex female characters. I definitely have a path in terms of what I’m talking about right now. I fell in love with Tamara. The script is amazing, and Delilah is amazing, but I always look to the character that I would be [playing] first.

I would do, let’s say, a film that is a great film, that’s saying something to the world and maybe the character is like an okay character, not bad, but an okay character or I would do an amazing character in a film that maybe would maybe never be seen, but the character needs to have a voice.

Well, I just won with Delilah because it’s an incredible show and I fell in love with Tamara from the very beginning if I’m being honest. I just love how strong, self-assured, self-reliant, and dynamic she is. She works with this large law firm in Charlotte and, clearly, she’s coming up on partner doing her thing. But, also, she has this vulnerability, she’s a ride-or-die friend, and she has this good stuff with love.

And so, you get to see her strong and then you get to see her soft, which, for me, as an actress that’s lovely because sometimes when you’re a strong character, you’re strong throughout the entire world of this character. You’re strong at home, you’re strong with the kids to show them your love, you’re strong with everybody, you know? And so [with Tamara], I get to play around as humans do, because we’re not one dimensional. So, all of that to say, yes, it was a win from the very beginning for me.

M&C: Delilah is about two successful, educated women. Do you think that is thanks to the series being on OWN where Oprah wants to present positive role models?

Jill Marie Jones: If you watch her network, you see so much positivity and what I love is you also see melanated women, where we are not really seen often on other networks. I can’t speak for her, of course, but I definitely think that she moves in that direction of showing us in a strong, intelligent, positive way.

M&C: How involved is Oprah in the show?

Jill Marie Jones: Oh, my goodness. I didn’t think that I could respect this woman any more than I did. Of course, I’m with probably every human on the planet that just loves, loves, loves Oprah, the queen, our queen. But she was so involved.

This woman clearly is a busy lady and the fact that she wanted to see wardrobe, what the hair and makeup were like, these are the huge things in a show, but also things that you wouldn’t think that she would be necessarily wanting to be involved with.

But her hands are all inside this show, which makes me feel so good about it because it makes me feel like she’s really behind it and it’s not just her name. We already know Oprah would not just put her name on something that she didn’t believe in. So, yeah, she’s really involved.

M&C: Tell me about the relationship between Delilah and Tamara. They have this rule that they have to make up any arguments they have by midnight, but do you think that the rule not to go to bed angry will survive this case?

Jill Marie Jones: Well, you have to just watch that. If you’re talking about my friendships, then we can have a conversation, but in terms of the show, we hope that these characters make it through.

Delilah and Tamara have known each other since junior high school, and I’m sure life has happened in a way that they’ve been happy and then upset and hurt by each other. But they’ve never been here before, where we are in [the] first season. So, it definitely tests the relationship. The challenge is we don’t know if it makes them or breaks them.

For me, I don’t know if the being mad past midnight rule would work because I feel sometimes people need their time to process, and sometimes, it’s not just until midnight. But I love the idea, and honestly, our writers are so incredible because that’s really cool. I’ve only heard it in a relationship sense, like a lover, a marriage, or relationship, but I think it’s really cool just to even think about that in terms of a friendship, especially close friendships. I think that’s a really interesting thing to incorporate possibly with your close friends.

M&C: What’s interesting about the partnership proposition on the table for Tamara is that Win Jr. promised her that this case would make her a partner, but does he actually have the power to do so, because he seems to have to answer to his father? She’s putting her faith in him, which might not be justified.

Jill Marie Jones: I think this happens often. If you really think about big business, I think it happens, especially family big business. I think this happens often where you have a person, who is the father, or the grandfather of the family and it is time for their retirement. It’s time for the younger person or the junior in that sense to rise. But that senior person just won’t let go, and I feel that’s kind of where they are.

And so, I don’t know what’s behind anything because there could be a veil that I don’t see behind, but Tamara in this moment with what’s aired, I don’t really think that she thinks that what Win Jr’s saying is incorrect.

Now, we might find out that that might not be the truth because that’s the way this show goes. Every episode ends in a dun dun dun, so you just never know. But I do think that that happens in real life with that family dynamic in business that’s a whole ‘nother thing.

M&C: Do you think Tamara is head over heels in love with her fiancé, or is the fact that he is also deputy mayor also part of his attraction?

Jill Marie Jones: The beautiful thing about art is it’s up to your interpretation. I don’t want to say too much, because I would love for viewers to be able to form their own opinion, you know? But I, as Jill Marie Jones, as a viewer of Delilah, not as an actress playing in Delilah, I see their love as being genuine and real.

Let me back it on up. As an actress playing Tamara, one of the things I love so much about her story is this relationship between her and Casey [LaMonica Garrett] is adult. It’s a mature relationship. And even the way they handle conflict, it’s in a mature way. I really love that about this couple.

Now there’s more episodes to come. We don’t know what happens, but I really do love this couple. They’re beautiful. I’m not talking about aesthetically; I’m just saying they’re beautiful in the sense of showing us the viewing public what it looks like to have a healthy relationship. That’s what I love so far. Again, we don’t know what happens in the future. I’m just saying, I really do love that relationship.

M&C: You’ve traveled the world, Korea, Japan, Israel. What do you think of Charlotte where this films?  

Jill Marie Jones: First of all, Charlotte, aesthetically, it’s gorgeous. It’s a beautiful, beautiful city and the people were so kind and lovely to us. I can’t speak more highly of that city. The Carolinas, in general, are aesthetically gorgeous. The foliage … it’s just really a beautiful state, but Charlotte, where I was, which is uptown, is a very progressive area.

I was literally — no joke — looking at what real estate’s looking like here in Charlotte. That’s how much I was really loving the city. And so, hopefully, if God blesses us with a second season then we’ll be back there. The only downside is that it was during this COVID life that we’re in right now, and I didn’t get to see as much as I would love to see. Hopefully, that’ll change.

Delilah airs Tuesday nights at 9/8c on OWN.

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