The former ‘Girlfriends’ actress gets real about the importance of Black friendships and confesses to ‘fan-girling’ over her new boss, Oprah Winfrey.
What is it like to hear “the queen” say your name? No, not that Queen. The other one. The talk show queen and media mogul, Oprah Winfrey. For Jill Marie Jones – who co-stars in OWN’s new series, Delilah – it was the ultimate fan girl moment.
“She ended up being on [a] table read and, at the end, she was talking to us and then she said, ‘Jill Marie,’” the actress says. “She said ‘Jill Marie’ in that Oprah voice. And I was like, oh my gosh, she knows my name. But of course she knows my name. She hired me, but I was fan-girling.”
Even though Jill Marie has “been in rooms with the queen,” because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she has yet to meet her in person since working on Delilah. (Oprah joined the table read in question virtually.) “We haven’t embraced, because of COVID and stuff. We shoot in North Carolina, in Charlotte. So we didn’t get to have that. But I’m excited to be able to hug the queen. Our queen. Our American queen.”
It’s fitting that Jill Marie is in OWN’s new series Delilah. The show centers on Delilah Connolly (played by Maahra Hill), an African-American lawyer who goes head-to-head with her best friend and fellow attorney Tamara Grayson. Jill Marie plays Tamara, a go-getting big corporate legal eagle who risks sacrificing her friendship in her bid to win her case.
To a generation of Black women Jill Marie’s name is synonymous with Toni Childs, Joan Clayton’s ambitious best friend from the Noughties hit sitcom, Girlfriends, which is now streaming on Netflix. But the 46-year-old actress insists that, while the two characters are similar, they are very different in one significant way.
“They’re very similar in the sense that they have a great fashion sense,” Jill Marie says of Tamara and Toni. “They’re very fashionable. But what I will say, seriously speaking, if you really know Girlfriends and you really know Toni…deeply, you would understand that Toni’s actions come from a place of insecurity. It’s very clear if you are looking at it.
“She’s codependent and she’s very insecure. Now, she shows up to show out, but let’s be very clear about [that].”
In contrast, while Toni was a shameless social climber who wore her acerbic one-liners like a coat of armor, Tamara is a self-assured, confident grown woman. “I believe she’s always known who she is, unapologetically,” Jill Marie says of Delilah’s BFF. “And so that is the difference between those two dynamic women.”
“Tamara is a self-assured, self-realized human,” the actress adds. “She says what she says, she means what she says… I like to think that Toni today [has] evolved a bit. That’s what my love would be for her, but back then I think she was still trying to figure it all out.”
Jill Marie loves that, like Girlfriends, Delilah celebrates positive Black female role models and their friendships. “Tamara [and] Delilah, they’ve known each other since they were in junior high. They’ve probably been through some things in the past, but nothing like this,” she says. “They’ve never gone up against each other in court and it tests the friendship.”
To Jill Marie, at its core, Delilah is “about family, friendship and law.” The lead character is a lawyer and a single mother raising two children and her nephew, while trying to co-parent with her ex. “She is like superwoman without the cape… She definitely fights for the underdog,” Jill Marie says.
“Representation is so important, but we didn’t know inside of that that’s what was going to come back,” she adds, referring to Girlfriends and its impact. “And I really truly hope that Delilah is that for young Black girls coming up to be able to see us, to maybe want to be lawyers; to dream, to aspire. That’s my hope.” Delilah premieres on OWN on March 9 at 9/8pm Central.