Jenifer Lewis Talks About Love, Happiness and the Hereafter

Actress Jenifer Lewis talks to Matt Damon in the "Hereafter."
By Dennis J. Freeman

Actress Jenifer Lewis is feeling pretty good these days. She has a role in the Hereafter, Clint Eastwood’s latest hit movie. She’s found love. She now has control over a mental illness that has plagued her for years. More importantly, she has control over her life.

Lewis, expected to star in an upcoming one-woman show and lends her distinguishable voice to the animated Cars 2, said she is in a good place today. 

“I’m having a good time living,” Lewis told                 

A veteran of numerous films, mostly in comedic roles, Lewis is ready to take on doing more dramatic characters. The Hereafter gives Lewis that crease to ease into doing drama roles with the character Candace in the Hereafter. As Candace in the film, Lewis plays a mother who seeks to connect with her daughter in the underworld through a physic (Matt Damon).

“She is a woman in a lot of pain because she lost her daughter,” Lewis said. “There is urgency and desperation to speak to her through this physic that Matt Damon plays beautifully.

 To get the role of Candace, Lewis had to go through the usual Hollywood qualifying process of selling herself in an audition for the director. In this case, it was performing in front of the legendary actor and director Eastwood himself in order to get the role.

“I auditioned…there were 60 something women who auditioned…Clint Eastwood chose me,” said Lewis.

Lewis, who saw the movie twice already, is enamored with the way Eastwood is able to project the human spirit in the film.

“Clint Eastwood is one of the few (directors) left out there who will leave something to our imagination, if nothing else,” said Lewis. “In this film he (Eastwood) is not preaching or teaching. He’s just presenting the subject matter and run with it as you please… It’s the poetry and the humanity, the intellect and the maturity and the way puts human emotion on the screen and leaves it poetically.”

What is somewhat poetic is the way Lewis has been able to transform herself from comedy sidekick to a serious actor. Then again, Lewis, who began her acting career on stage, starring in Broadway hits such as Eubie, Dreamgirls and Comin’ Uptown, has always been in tune to her craft. It doesn’t matter to Lewis, who recently starred in Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns, whether she’s s placed in a comedy role or a dramatic one; she just loves to perform.

“They are both difficult,” Lewis said. “Performing and being an artist is being in the moment, and that is always a challenge. You apply the homework, you do the best and you leave the rest.”

While Lewis has exceeded on stage and in front the camera, her most challenging role to date has been identifying who she is as a person. In that regards, finding acceptance with herself of being bipolar is bigger than any role or character she’s played in her career.  Part of that journey is not being ashamed of who she is because she is bipolar. Lewis is not alone on that journey.

 According to Mental Health America, there are millions of people afflicted with bipolar. African Americans, however, are more reluctant to speak about or address the mental illness. Lewis decided to tackle her issue head-on and went public about it, appearing on the Oprah Winfrey Show a couple of years ago.

“Just being Jenifer Lewis has been my most challenging role,” Lewis said. “That’s a lot of living. When I have the opportunity to use the media to encourage people to get to get treatment for mental illness, I do. Bipolar disorder is like high blood pressure or lupus or sickle cell or cancer or any other disease. It is a disorder. It is treatable. One can be led to water, but one cannot be made to drink. You have to want to feel better about your life. You have to want to get help. Take care of business and keep yourself healthy so that you can enjoy life.”   

Lewis is enjoying life even more now that she’s in love. She considers herself a lucky woman to have retired Marine 1st Sgt. Arnold Byrd in her life.   

“I am so in love and so happy,” Lewis said. “He’s tall, dark and handsome. He’s intelligent. He’s the father of three children. So he has lived. He has a life and he doesn’t have to borrow mine. I found myself a grown man-a grown man who was looking for an adult relationship. I am one of the most fortunate women in the world.”

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