Thursday, 5 May 2016

KEEPING UP WITH KAREN: The iconic actress finds bliss and embarks on a fresh chapter of her artistic life

MUST LOVE DOGS: The actress at home with her beloved pooch, Pompeii.

What’s the secret to aging gracefully and staying young at heart? For actress Karen Harriott, star of this season’s hot tickets Woman Tongue and He Said, She Said, it has a lot to do with watering the inner landscape and keeping positive energy around you.

“The thing I’m doing more and more nowadays is trying to find joy in whatever I do,” admits the veteran star of the stage and small screen, who celebrates a milestone birthday this year but doesn’t feel a day older than 25. “Because sometimes we take life so seriously that you forget to live. So I’ve made a decision that I’m going to enjoy everything I do – the people that are around me and the situations that I find myself in.”

Add to that list her acting career that’s as vibrant as ever, thanks to a couple of gratifying theatre roles that have thrust her back into the glare of the public spotlight – where she belongs – after a self-imposed hiatus. By all appearances, this joy thing is working out.

It’s a cool late-April evening backstage at the Courtleigh Auditorium in New Kingston, where Woman Tongue just wrapped another successful showing. As a few of her castmates primp and titivate ahead of calling it a night, Harriott is treating herself to a well-deserved slice of watermelon. What better way to cool down after the adrenaline rush of a near two-hour performance, laced with emotionally charged monologues and high-energy scene work?

For Harriot, who only a week ago ended her run in another high-energy show, nothing beats the thrill of getting back into the ring to deliver another knockout. “I like the challenge of taking on interesting and complex characters,” she admits. “The truth is I hadn’t been seeing a lot of characters in scripts that I really wanted to play. But the women in these two shows really spoke to me, and I felt that it was important for their stories to be told in a particular way.”

Karen Harriot has made a wonderful career out of inhabiting the lives of strong and complex Jamaican women, powerfully telling their stories to critical acclaim and multiple award nominations. Who can forget the stern, disapproving mother in Karl Williams’ Not About Eve or Tiny Winey, the flame-hearted exotic dancer with a fiery tongue on TV’s Royal Palm Estate? These are just a couple of the iconic roles that brought her recognition and the respect of her peers in the industry.

And she continues to add to an impressive body of work that also includes, I must point out, roles in crowd-pleasers like Basil Dawkins’ Forbidden and Love and Marriage and New York City, a David Heron smash hit. Taking on Woman Tongue, Harriott was not only drawn to the layered writing but was thrilled about getting to share the stage with a group of actresses she considers friends.

“In the previous play [He Said, She Said], I worked with a lot of young people and they had a different energy, but in this cast I’m working with people I’ve known for years,” she explains. “Carol [Lawes] knew me from I was a child. Bertina [McCaulay] and I went to school together. But it’s the first time we are all in one production together.”

Off-stage, this happily married mother of two has always found fulfilment in watching her kids grow older and smarter. The younger, a son, is currently a first-former at Ardenne High, while her daughter is about to graduate from university. “Family is a source of strength for me, and you need that,” says Harriott, who has a nine-to-five in the petroleum sector and devotes some of her time to the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission as theatre arts judge for the National Festival of the Performing Arts and consultant for the Miss Jamaica Festival Queen pageant.

Those young ladies (and all Jamaican youth for that matter) couldn’t ask for a better role that Harriott, whose signature poise, accomplishments, schoolgirl glow and utter realness keep her in the company of today’s quintessential Jamaican wonder women.

Harriott may be entering her, ahem, f----h decade on the planet but, in some respects, this latest chapter of her evolving success story feels like a fresh start. “I want to achieve a lot more but, by and large, I can’t complain,” she tells TALLAWAH. “I’m thankful. You take each day as it comes, and you make the most out of it. That’s how I see life.” Evidently, gratitude, next to joy, is paramount in Karen Harriott’s world. 

“I like the challenge of taking on interesting and complex characters.”

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