Jackée Harry Talks Her Big Return to Soaps, and Shaking Up Salem on ‘Days of Our Lives’

“STRONG BLACK LEGENDS” PODCAST (2019) – Pictured: Jackee Harry Photo by Michael Rowe/Netflix © 2019 Netflix / All Rights Reserved

After 35 years, Jackée Harry is back in the world of daytime high drama. The star of sitcoms such as Sister, Sister and Everybody Hates Chris recently joined Days of Our Lives as the very rich Paulina Price, a strong-willed businesswoman who makes fast work out of shaking up Salem. And naturally, she made quite the entrance on her March 1 debut: When Lani Price (Sal Stowers) opens the door, she finds her Aunt Paulina draped in jewelry, a fur over a stylish red dress. (A look fans likened to Harry’s sultry Sandra Clark on 227.)

So, why did Paulina come to town? Supposedly for the christening of Lani’s twins, but it quickly turns into more. The rich mogul sees potential entrepreneurial prospects in Horton Square and approaches Lani’s dad, Abe Carver (James Reynolds), to use his leverage as mayor to help push her big plans through the zoning board. 

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The actress likens working with Alison Sweeney to knocking a ping-pong ball back and forth.

The actress’s first big break started in soaps back in 1983, when she played Lily Mason on Another World. Her grand return, then, is a come-full-circle moment. With her story just heating up, TV Insider checked in with Harry from the set, who talked about her return to her acting roots, if Paulina is here to stay, and more.

Why choose Days for your soap comeback?

Jackée Harry: They wrote a part for me. That doesn’t happen to me often. Ron Carlivati, the head writer, and the producers came up with this great idea. During the pandemic, I thought I wasn’t going to be doing anything. It’s really turned out to be great. 

What did you think of the reaction from fans after seeing you introduced on March 1?

“You’re wearing that same red dress you wore on 227.” [Laughs] They love this new character. It’s not brain surgery, but they notice what you’re wearing. Then they notice who you are. They’re watching. Even my sister, who hates everything. She loves it. 

Jackee Harry

What has it been like to dig into a character evolving on an almost daily basis? 

A lot of work. It’s heavier than I thought it would be. You do once-a-week episodes in prime-time or sitcoms. This is more like building blocks. I’m enjoying it immensely because I get to stretch my drama chops, which I don’t get to do often, I do so many sitcoms. It’s nice to have some drama. 

How has it been adjusting to that grueling soaps schedule? 

I’m good now, but it was tough initially. You have to deal with a lot including the safety protocols that come with the pandemic. Here you really do a lot for yourself. That took some getting used to. Your ego gets put back in shape. You get corrected real quick. You really have to dig in and do the work. You can’t skate or depend on prompters. You have to study because if you don’t, it will show up on the camera. 

And right out of the gate you’re sharing scenes with Susan Seaforth Hayes and James Reynolds. What have you taken from that experience? 

I adore James Reynolds. He helps me so much. Everyone has been so welcoming. Susan, I was her in another life. She is so witty, so clever, so bright. Brilliant. Her husband Doug [Williams] too, they’re just really gracious people and are from another time. They’re like old Hollywood, but they embrace the world. And I love Deidre Hall and love me some Alison Sweeney. She is a doll and a peach. 

Paulina’s story arc touches on diversity in business. You play a single mom who didn’t come from generational wealth but worked hard for her fortune.

She’s straightforward and forward-thinking. She definitely has chutzpah, which I have. I’m not afraid of anything. She is really independent, so I’m used to that. I’m learning things I never knew. I didn’t know what BPIOC stood for until the writers wrote it: Black, Indigenous and people of color. I’m learning just by being on this show. I’m watching all the awards shows now where diversity means more than just women. It’s women of color. I love that women are more involved in power-making decisions. I like the fact we can still make decisions and go home and make breakfast or pudding for the baby. That’s the diversity I see. 

We’re slowly learning more about Paulina, including that she has an entitled daughter, Chanel [Precious Way], and she’s building a professional relationship with Abe. What can you tease about your character in general?

I don’t want to give anything away and be fired. You can’t trick me. [Laughs] It’s just great having a storyline with Black people that is so magnanimous. It’s a large idea taking shape. 

Do you see your time on Days being a long-term story arc? 

It’s more we’ll see how it goes. Play as it lays as they say. I’m having a good time. They are being very kind, which is nice. 

Sister Sister

©Paramount Television/Courtesy Everett Collection.

You mentioned 227, for which you won an Emmy. People are so hungry for reboots and revivals — will this be one of them? 

They can do it, but I can’t get in those dresses. Sister, Sister, I would love a reboot. I’m not in on that. They’ve been trying for the past six years. Hopefully, it will get done. 

Days of Our Lives airs weekdays on NBC. Check local listings for times in your area.