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Merle Dandridge stars on the OWN TV drama, Greenleaf, as Grace Greenleaf the daughter of mega-church pastor Bishop Joseph Greenleaf (Keith David) and Lady Mae Greenleaf (Lynn Whitfield) who returns to her faith-full family in Memphis after a 20-year absence. The Korean-American actress is closing out the year on Broadway as Papa G on Once On This Island as Greenleaf heads into season three of the hit show and we at SHEEN had the exclusive opportunity to chat with the leading lady herself.

Born in Japan, raised in Nebraska and college in Chicago! At what point in your life did you say, this is how I know I want to become an actress?
I have so many friends who are family to me because of that very seminal time in my life which is when I found my craft and when I was growing out of childhood into adulthood. When I carried my first theatre company there, when I made my college friends there, who are those people that stick with you. “So much of my life is hinged on my time there. It was like a fulcrum that pointed me toward the rest of my career and my trajectory. And actually, I’ll be back in March because of my alma mater, Roosevelt University in Chicago College of Performing Arts, is giving me their first ever Alumni award for their annual gala, so I get to come back again. That’s my favorite town.

You are one of the leading characters in the hit TV series “Greenleaf,” can you tell us more about how that came about?
Well as with any job I auditioned. I got a call the night before the audition, it was about ten pages that I had to read, and I immediately upon reading it, it felt good in my spirit. So, I just went in the next day, the next morning, with the casting director, and just put it on tape and forgot about it. A week later, I was working on another show and I got an email that Ms. Winfrey wanted to meet me, so I got to go to the OWN offices and have the woman herself tell me that she was interested in me for the job and it’s been as wonderful and special as you could possibly dream. I feel like my dreams keep coming true, over and over again. This was a product of preparation, hard work and discipline I’m very, very pleased.

How does it feel to be on a show going into it’s now 3rd season and over two million viewers?
I could never have predicted that I would be a central character on a television show produced by Oprah Winfrey, that it would be so well received, and that it would really land in the heart of our good people. It’s something that people talk about, that provides a window into to certain things that they haven’t been able to talk about previously, and maybe can get a healing from it. The show has all the things that I have always wanted to do as an artist. So, I feel like I’m right in the middle of my blessing and my purpose.”

What is that experience like working with so many talented Icons and new to the industry actors/actresses?
Well, with anything in life, keeping your eyes open and your ears open is the best thing. Listening is how you learn, watching is how you learn, and I am a constant student. I also happen to be in step with people who are very generous with their knowledge so I could sit there and listen to Keith David talk all day long – he has so much wisdom to offer and he is open armed about it. Like I said, I am a constant, willing, and enthusiastic student.

What can we expect in this current season?
Audiences can now see that everything that Grace has gone after from the beginning of the series has finally come to a head and she now has to deal with all of her choices. She has to deal with the fallout and the consequences behind them. She really has to look at herself in the mirror, and I think that during this second half of the second season, you will see a lot of the characters looking back at their own choices and coming face to face with themselves. I think it’s really wonderful work that everyone is doing

What else would you want to do besides acting if given the opportunity?
Well, I feel a lot of the work as an actor is psychology based I might be interested in pursuing something to do with that because I love helping people. I might be interested in ministry, as well I really enjoy being a worship leader. Also, I’d love to do something in music, that’s my other passion. I was very lucky in my 10-year career on Broadway to be around extraordinary musicians that make great music all the time, but that’s a different animal. We’ll see! We’ll see! I’ll never say never, but you never know. And speaking of Broadway, I’ll be going back to Broadway this fall in Once On This Island, which I’m very excited about it!

How are you able to balance such a time demanding schedule without becoming overwhelmed?
That is a very good question. I keep up a spiritual practice I meditate, I pray, and connect with my amazing God. That is always a great compass. As far as keeping up with it, it used to really, really stress me out because my schedule started to fill up and it became one thing after the next. I want everything that I do to be and one day I took a breath and I just thought enjoy it, enjoy where you’re at because you’re living your dream. And if you’re not enjoying it, do something else.

Final words shared….
To everyone, thank you for watching and thank you for supporting me. Thank you for coming along on the ride and making us feel so loved and heard. I hope that you all feel the same way, as we try to stay connected with you.

Connect with Merle on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter where she even does live chats with her TV daughter, Sophia Greenleaf (Desiree Ross). Previews for Once On This Island begin on November 3rd and the play opens to the public on December 9th.

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