Jackee Harry dishes on ‘Pride and Prejudice: Atlanta’ and her career

Comedy legend Jackée Harry, best known for her Emmy-winning role as Sandra Clark on NBC’s “227,” has been itching to show off her drama chops.

Now she has the chance.

“I’ve been waiting a long time to sink my teeth into some drama. It made me feel like all the years I’ve been putting in as an actor have come to fruition,” says Harry, 62, referring to her role in Lifetime’s “Pride & Prejudice: Atlanta ,” premiering Saturday at 8 p.m.

The movie re-imagines the Jane Austen classic in modern-day Atlanta with an all African-American cast. Harry stars as Mrs. Bennet, the overbearing mother trying to find suitable romantic prospects for her five daughters. Tiffany Hines (“Magnum P.I.”) co-stars as Elizabeth and Juan Antonio (“Empire”) plays Mr. Darcy.

It’s a dream role for Harry, who’s a big Jane Austen fan. “I’ve seen all the interpretations of ‘Pride and Prejudice.’ My favorite of course is the original [1940 film] with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier,” she says. “I love that movie.”

Harry first remembers seeing that movie when she was 12, growing up in Harlem.

“That was when I first started taking acting lessons down at the Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side with Woodie King Jr.,” she says. “ I was there every day after school. I took lessons for five years before I began to think I could really act. And they had us watch a series of black-and-white movies, which I loved. I studied a lot of the actors’ movements. They looked so cool.”

Harry made history as the first African-American to win an Emmy for Supporting Actress in a Comedy (in 1987, for “227”). So it’s fitting that the “Pride & Prejudice: Atlanta” production had a sense of historical significance, she says. “One of the houses [where we filmed] used to be a plantation house, where they kept slaves in their quarters, and they told us all the history,” she says. “So you go [to set] and do your thing, but you feel the ghosts of it. It really made it all the more real to what we were doing — a black version of a classic.”

She says that she’s always identified with Mrs. Bennet, thanks to how the character deals with her family. In her own family life, Harry has an adult son with her ex-husband and is about to become a second-time grandmother. “My grandson is 16 months and [there’s] a little girl in the oven,” she says. “It’s delightful. They live in Texas and I just had a great visit with them.”

While her TV career has chugged along steadily since the ’80s amidst enormous industry changes, Harry attributes her success to something TV’s first big star, Milton Berle, once told her.

“It’s the age of ADHD. You’ve got to hit people quick and they’ve got to be entertained, get an uptick in their day, for it to connect to the next moment,” she says. “Milton Berle once told me — yeah, I met Milton Berle, that’s how old I am! — that it’s not who you know, but who knows you.

“It’s true.”

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