Demetria McKinney became a household name playing Janine Payne on the TBS sitcom “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne.”
The 31-year-old actress said she can barely walk through the grocery store without someone asking: “Where’s CJ? Where are the twins?” After taping 240 episodes of the show that still airs daily in national syndication, its not wonder people are so vested in her “House of Payne” storyline.
Though fans recognize McKinney’s face and love her TV character, they really don’t know the lady behind the acting role. Until now, the Fort Walton Beach, Florida native purposely steered clear about opening up for fear she would look like a “victim.”
The among the revelations the actress, who currently stars on TV One’s sitcom “The Rickey Smiley Show,” shared when she sat down with AlwayAList.com for brunch at the popular Cafe Intermezzo in Atlanta was that she never wanted to be an actress; she still doesn’t have an agent; and she once suffered from depression as the result of serious family drama.
People don’t know a lot about you. Why is that?
I’ve really been kind of secluded. I wasn’t necessarily comfortable letting people into everything that I was because of everything that I’ve been through. The big part of that was not being looked at as a victim.
Now you’re using your music to share your story. Why did you choose to be therapeutic with your music?
Two words: Whitney Houston. People don’t know my story but I’ve been through a lot. My mother is still married to the man who wanted to sleep with me. I was definitely homeless for a bit. I’m definitely a single mom at a younger age than I wanted to be. there’s a lot that I’ve been through and music was always that the thing that helped me out. I went through a depression behind that stuff with my mother. Whitney had a voice that expressed what I didn’t know how to pray. With my music and my lyrical content, I want people to know that despite everything that I’ve been through and everything that happens to me on a daily basis. you can still be successful, you can still choose joy and you can still find love. Your circumstances don’t define you and I want that defined in my music.
You’re working on an EP titled “Officially Yours.” Tell me about the first single ‘100’ featuring Da Brat.
‘100’ had to be the first single because it was so far removed from what everybody thought they knew of me. It was a great opportunity for people to see I’m me. I do everything everybody else does. I have the same issues with dudes. Dudes approach me on some bull all the time. It was just a lot of fun to do that record.
It’s a great balance of who I am. I am a combination of where I’ve been and where I’m going. There’s a myriad of me!
How does it feel to have the best of both worlds and doing both music and acting now?
It feels more complete. When you only get to express one side of you, it feels kind of stifling. People come to expect one thing from you and it’s really kind of unfair. I never wanted to act. I’d never taken any classes. I love doing it now, but my passion has always been music. Acting was only supposed to be a bridge to get to the other side of where I really wanted to be.
How did the Tyler Perry connection happen?
I was traveling back and forth to Atlanta to do music. The guy who was managing me was like, ‘you need some exposure.’ So I got involved in a play, “The Woman I Am Today” by William Parks. It had nothing to do with Tyler, but Tyler would come to our rehearsals every now and again. We were doing a show in Alabama with about 30 people in the audience and Mr. Perry was there. He asked me for my information and kept me going from that.
What did you learn working with Tyler?
Working with a visionary like Mr. Perry, at such a fast pace I got to learn how to manage my business, how to still enjoy my life and how to be who I am. I learned so much on that show and I’m so grateful for it.
What’s been one of your profession highlights since starting in the business?
Getting called up by the one and only Jennifer Holliday, the original Effie White, and asking me to play her Deena.
Now that you’ve overcome your own battles, what’s the best advice you can offer others facing obstacles?
You’re a blessing, walk in it! Things happen to us and sometimes we wonder why. But if you really sit down and you look at it and you come through it, that next person that you meet my go through the same thing and not know how to get out. You can reach back and bring them in. God brings up through things to help the next person.
About those rumors of McKinney joining the cast of Bravo’s hit reality franchise “Real Housewives of Atlanta,” she was mum on the matter.
She’s read the headlines like everyone else and would only acknowledge that the speculation of her participation on the show landed her first negative story on a gossip blog. “Now that’s not something I’m used to,” she admitted.
I guess we’ll have to tune in to Bravo this fall to see if McKinney is part of the cast. In the meantime, check out her music video for the single ‘100.’