Jurnee Smollett-Bell: Tyler Perry’s latest Leading Lady

Branded Hollywood’s favorite rising starlet thanks to recent turns in “Friday Night Lights,” and “The Defenders,” Jurnee is best known for her attention-grabbing performance as the 10 year-old daughter of a dysfunctional Louisiana family in the 1997 drama “Eve’s Bayou,” a role that earned her an NAACP Image Award.

The star of Tyler Perry’s “Temptation,” the actress, now 27, plays an ambitious married woman whose temptation by a young handsome billionaire alters the course of her life.

Jurnee Smollett-Bell in TYLER PERRY_S TEMPTATION - photo credit - KC Bailey

Jurnee Smollett-Bell in TYLER PERRY’S TEMPTATION.  photo credit – KC Bailey

“It’s a movie about choices,” shares the actress. “Judith, my character, is unlike any character I’ve played before. She is a young married woman who didn’t make smart choices, which happens to the best of us. We know we shouldn’t do certain things, but we ignore our instincts and end up finding ourselves in situations that we never thought we would be in. She starts off so pure, so confident and it fascinated me that she could actually get to where she ends up.”

With a flawless onscreen beauty, Jurnee has proved equally adept at playing a wide range of characters. Whether it’s the geek in the movie “Roll Bounce,” or the only female on a college debating team in “The Great Debaters,” her passion and dedication to the craft is unwavering.

“I am big on research and also very picky about my roles, and that is why I don’t have a resume that is 15 million pages long, because there are certain things I won’t do,” she says.

Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Robbie Jones

Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Robbie Jones

Those who have worked with her say she is a dedicated actress and a good sport, and for Perry, who had his pick of leading ladies, choosing Jurnee was the perfect casting choice.

“Jurnee is a brilliant actress,” shares Perry. “She is one of the most profound, powerful actors I’ve ever worked with, and although her character in the film can be unlikeable, she finds a way to make you love her all the way through the movie.”

Therein lies the secret of Jurnee’s appeal. An award-winning actress and a selfless activist,  she  is the youngest board member of Artists for a New South Africa (ANSA), a nonprofit organization working in the U.S and South Africa to combat HIV/AIDS.  An organization she has been involved with since the age of 12, she has traveled extensively to South Africa through her efforts with ANSA and recently completed an official U.S. mission for the U.S. State Department in which she was sent to Botswana and Swaziland to conduct workshops with women and children about activism, empowerment and HIV/AIDS.

Tyler Perry (right) with Jurnee Smollett-Bell (center) and Robbie Jones (left) on the set Photo credit KC Bailey

Tyler Perry (right) with Jurnee Smollett-Bell (center) and Robbie Jones (left) on the set. Photo credit KC Bailey

“Every time I go to Africa, it’s like food for my soul,” she shares. “The continent is unlike any other place in the world. The people are so beautiful, so humble, and are so grateful for what they have. I have learned so much about human beings and what we should strive for.”

Everything about Jurnee broadcasts that she is a grounded person despite the fact that she has been in the public’s glare since she was 10-months old, when she modeled diapers.  Although she doesn’t have an extensive résumé, one of the reasons people take her seriously is that combined with the star quality, she exudes this quiet confidence.

“I was blessed to have such an amazing mother who is strong and not fazed by any of this stuff and who just kept me grounded,” Jurnee says. “She had me doing things where I volunteered with non-profit organizations at an early age and put this activist sprit inside of me. “I have causes and passions outside of my profession like HIV causes and fighting for children’s right, and that helps keep a level headed mind. All of this doesn’t faze me. It comes and goes. There are waves where it is up and there are waves when it is down.”

Also starring Lance Gross, Kim Kardashian, Vanessa Williams, Robbie Jones and Brandy Norwood, Tyler Perry’s “Temptation” releases in theaters April 29.

Samantha Ofole-Prince is a journalist and movie critic who covers industry-specific news that includes television and film. She serves as the Entertainment Editor for Trendy Africa.


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