How Rick Fox Was Cast as Grace's Love Interest
Editor's note: Merle and Kim were interviewed separately. For the sake of concision and a more conversational tone, their responses have been edited and combined.
OWN: How was Darius Nash first described to you?
Kim Coleman: The writer's room reached out to me just to give me a heads-up to say we're going to introduce a new character, a central love interest for Grace. We wanted an African-American male in his late 30s/40s. Someone who was intelligent, could play a news reporter, who was a strong, solid actor and attractive. I knew instantly, for a love interest for Merle, I had to look at actors who had a little height to them because she's a tall lady. Shortly after, I got a copy of the script and started the casting process.
OWN: How long was that process, from when the character came about to when Rick was cast?
Merle Dandridge: I think it was a couple of months, or at least a month. We were well into the second episode, and his character was meant to be introduced in the first episode, so there was a bit of a panic. It was a red alert, all hands on deck. We were trying to do everything we could to find a Darius, and that meant I was often [on set] late at night reading with people. We had people driving in from all over the place, flying in to read together and get the right chemistry, and no one was willing to settle for "oh, that'll work." We had to knock it out of the park. The audience wants to see Grace go on a romantic journey with a fantastic leading man and find some joy.
KC: It took a little over a month and a half. The process of casting Darius was significant because of the role and the potential relationship with Grace. It was a little more specific. Over the month-and-a-half process, we saw lots of actors who were great. [Oprah] liked a lot of them. The showrunner liked a lot, but there was always some little element missing, and that's when Rick came into play.
We were fortunate enough that he was available and that he was interested. Rick's a great actor. I've hired him before. He's solid; he's intelligent; he has height on him. He's not a shrinking violet. He's like a manly man. I thought this would be great if the chemistry works because that's important when you are casting a love interest.
OWN: What were some of the challenges in finding the right person?
MD: Well, obviously, I'm 5' 9", so trying to find a tall guy was [a consideration]. There were a lot of great tall actors out there, but there's also a certain ease and confidence that we were looking for.
Tye White, who plays Kevin, had just finished a project with Rick and chimed in, "Why are you guys even looking? You know who you need is Rick Fox." I threw his name into the hat along with a couple of other actors I know, but I think Casting already had the same idea! The executive producers threw a line out to gauge interest, and he graciously agreed to come in. Immediately, he felt like an old buddy, and we were kindred right from the start. We just had great chemistry.
OWN: Instant chemistry.
MD: From the moment we met. That was one of the greatest things, and that he was so willing to come and play with us. We were just so lucky. We met, it was right, and that's it.
KC: And when I talk about chemistry, he obviously has to have it with [Merle] but with the rest of the ensemble as well. Everything sort of has to mesh and feel smooth and right. One person can sort of not fit into the group, and it can stand out. So, it had to feel like he was from that region, had worked there for a while, and he hit all of the marks.
Photo: Merle Dandridge plays Grace Greenleaf.
OWN (to Merle): We've heard that, because of your height, sometimes when you work with actors, they can be shy or insecure. Is that something you've encountered?
MD: Um, actors can be shy or insecure around me? Really?
OWN: That's what we've heard.
MD: I guess I could imagine. I do have a stature about me, and...I don't know...I guess Rick's size takes all that away [laughs], and suddenly I'm a feminine little girl, which I think they found great pleasure in seeing. All of a sudden, I went from being Xena, Warrior Princess, to a little teenage girl, which the audience clearly enjoyed.
OWN: Rick's like 6' 7"?
MD: Yeeeah. He's very tall, but he's just a puppy dog. He's such a sweetheart.
OWN (to Kim): What made him stand out? Were there one or two things that were the essential reasons he impressed everybody?
KC: Well, number one, he's a really great guy. Very charismatic. He's just a kind person; he's nice; he's smart. It's a combination of all of those things, and he's not bad on the eyes. [laughs]
OWN: That doesn't hurt, does it?
KC: That doesn't hurt. And you know, he seems like a guy she would potentially give a chance and maybe go out with, and vice versa. It seems very real to me.
OWN: Is there anything you'd like to add on the subject of casting Rick?
MD: Let's see. Well, there's something to be said for someone who has reached legendary status and won three NBA championships. I mean, one could say, "All right, I've done that. You know, I'm going to ride that wave, and that's that." But he has that warrior-champion mentality, that unrelenting work ethic, and he brings that to Greenleaf. He has already achieved so much, but he has all of those achievements because he works hard. And that's why we're such good teammates, because we're willing to put in the work to make sure the best story is told.
KC: We were very fortunate to have him. Everyone felt like it was the perfect fit.