Kelly Jenrette talks All American: Homecoming and her work for the stage

Kelly Jenrette. Photo credit: Diana Ragland.
Kelly Jenrette. Photo credit: Diana Ragland. /

All American: Homecoming, the latest sports drama to premiere on The CW which is also a spin-off series of All American, made its debut in February. The show focuses on Simone Hicks’ journey at Bringston University as she comes into her own as a young adult and athlete.

In the series, Simone has support from her friends on campus but her biggest supporter, who also doubles as a mentoring force in her life, is her aunt, Dr. Amara Patterson. The journalism professor and Bringston alum is played by Emmy-nominated actress Kelly Jenrette.

Hidden Remote had the opportunity to sit down with Jenrette to talk about her role on All American: Homecoming, the consequences of Amara’s decision to expose the cheating happening on campus, and Jenrette’s work on her play centered on an imagined meeting between Betty Shabazz and Coretta Scott King.

Watch the interview below!

Kelly Jenrette on All American: Homecoming and her play about Betty Shabazz and Coretta Scott King

The following is a truncated transcript of our interview with Kelly Jenrette that’s been edited for clarity and time. For the full interview, watch the video above.

How did you go about approaching Amara Patterson as a character when it came to the backdoor pilot with the breaking of the baseball scandal and dealing with the consequences of that story breaking?

Just by seeking the truth. Not judging the choices that are being made or the choices that are not being made. Just putting myself in their shoes and saying this is the decision that I’ve made now ‘Why did I make this decision?’ and then moving from there.

When it came to Amara, it wasn’t that far of a reach as far as being grounded in the truth. I think for her it wasn’t so much about ‘Oh, I’m breaking this story’ as it was ‘the cheating scandal is harming our students in the long run.’ They’re not getting their education. We’re just saying that the most important thing is athletics.

For Amara, she knows that that’s not the most important thing. Even if they do go on to become these amazing athletes and have an amazing career, you’re not going to be able to do that forever. Amara wants these young people to be well rounded individuals.

Amara speaks truth to power and she encourages her students to do so as well, but I am concerned for her character as we move through the rest of the season. Should the audience be concerned?

You should be concerned. I was concerned as the actor portraying her. I said to the writers a couple of times, “Why won’t you leave her alone?” But there are consequences to telling the truth. When people have been benefiting from the lie, when it is exposed those benefits go away and people get angry about that and decide to do something about it.

What’s great about the All American franchise is the sense of community and camaraderie. I feel like Amara is at the center of that in All American: Homecoming as a mentor and advisor. What is your favorite part of playing her character?

The family dinners. You mentioned the mentor part. She loves to give back, to pour into people. I think that’s kind of her happy place. Not only is that my favorite part of Amara but also for Kelly because [with the family dinners] most of the cast gets to come together and laugh and enjoy one another. That would definitely have to be one of my favorite parts.

In All American: Homecoming there’s an element where the adults aren’t just there to be support, they also have their own storylines. Of course, Amara is dealing with the baseball scandal but are there any other storylines that she’ll be working through?

It’s so interesting because even when I watched the first episode, I was like man that was so long ago. There’s so much that I don’t remember because we’re still shooting and we’re just wrapping up episode 12, so I’ve been trying to think, what happened with Amara?

We just get to see her relationships outside of the students and the different relationships that she has with the faculty. I think that’s as much as I can say without NK, our showrunner, coming to my house and getting me.

You’re writing a play for Black Rebirth Collective. Can you tell us about what you’re working on?

The play deals with an imagined meeting between Betty and Coretta. We know Betty as the wife and widow of Malcolm X and Coretta as the wife and widow of Martin Luther King.

It all started from the play, The Meeting, that is an imagined meeting between Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, written by Jeff Stetson. Wonderfully done. At the end of that play I went up to Jeff and I was like “I would love to see an imagined meeting between Betty and Coretta.” And he kind of was like hmm and walked away. Someone overheard me say that and said, “Well, you should write it.” And I did to them the same thing Jeff did to me.

When I got together with these incredible women and we formed Black Rebirth Collective, and I told them about this passion piece that I wanted to do, they were so encouraging and said, “Well, get to writing.” I wrote Betty’s monologue and it kind of went on from there.

What drew me to wanting to tell this story is surely these women had lives before they became the wives of or the widows of. I wanted to see what that looked like. In a biography about Betty, Myrlie Evers-Williams wrote the Forward and in it she said [Betty and Coretta]’s relationship went from rivalry to tolerance to genuine affection and that just really blew my mind. I wanted to explore that and move away from solely defining them as the wives of these incredible men.

Would this be before they marry their respective husbands, an imagination of [Betty and Coretta] as younger women?

Yes, younger women but they’re still married. In the biography, there were things that were revealed. Betty left Malcolm three times, and I was like wait, what? We don’t hear those stories. Or how Betty was reserved but also not. We know Coretta was this incredible singer. What did she want to do with that? Was there ever a time that she wanted to go out and explore that?

Betty wanted to be a teacher and start a school. What did that look like when you have these men who are leading this movement and so much is required of them, what does that do to your life? What do you have to put on hold? What dreams do you have to kind of put up on a shelf in the hopes that you’ll come back to them but then maybe you can’t?

Do you plan to play either Betty or Coretta?

I want to just write it. That’s where I am. I never envisioned myself being in it. I just wanted to tell the story.

To circle back to All American: Homecoming for our last question. Besides Amara, do you have a favorite character on the show?

I would have to say Simone. Even though she plays my niece on the show, I enjoy the complexities of her character. Even coming from our flagship show, All American, and the relationship she had with Jordan and exploring what that looks like now that she’s moved onto another university that’s not in Beverly Hills. She’s across the country, and we get to see how she grows and navigates. How she stumbles through that, how she recovers after stumbling. There’s just a lot of good stuff in that character as well as all of them. But if I had to choose, I’d say Simone.

Next. All American: Homecoming charts a new path for The CW. dark

All American: Homecoming airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on The CW.